Calming Cravings at Shiv Sagar

The bad thing about going back to read old reviews is that I start craving certain dishes from that restaurant. This happened on Tuesday with a recent review of Sweet n Namkin and dahi puri.

This isn't always bad, per se. It's only bad when I can't get what I'm craving, which was the case with those magical little dahi puri that day. Sweet n Namkin is too far of a drive for lunch (and I'm not quite sure about its fluctuating hours right now...) and my other standby, Krishna Chaat House, was closed. As my friend Nishta put it when I bemoaned these facts, "The problem with craving chaat on a Tuesday is that many Hindu-owned restaurants are closed! It's our holy day."

I decided to gamble on one of my other Indian favorites that Tuesday afternoon anyway. I never get chaat there, but it was worth a shot, so I headed out to Bissonnet and 59 to Shiv Sagar (6662 Southwest Freeway, 713-977-0150).

I first came across Shiv Sagar between visits to London Sizzler and Himalaya, two of the other restaurants in this large strip center. Those two restaurants are far more popular, although Shiv Sagar is pretty popular in its own right. My first meal there was an Indian "brunch" on a quiet Sunday morning, just me and an Indian version of American Idol on the flat-screen TV in the dining room as I plowed through a masala dosa and a mango lassi.

Lunchtime sees the place far more crowded, like it was on this Tuesday afternoon. I was so happy to see it open and bustling, as my fallback was going to be the equally delicious yet chaat-lacking Himalaya. My dining companion was excited for her own reasons: "How have I never noticed this place before?" she wondered aloud as we waited in line at the cash register to order.

That ordering/food procurement process isn't the best system, but it cuts down on food costs and you don't have to worry about waiters hovering at your table. Before you order, you'll need to have a table picked out -- and note the number sitting on top of it. You'll tell that number to the cashier, who'll place your order and call that number out when it's ready. Beware: The more times they have to call your number because you aren't listening, the angrier they'll get.

We made off with a masala dosa platter (at my dining companion's request) as well as an order of samosas, aloo paratha and -- of course -- dahi puri. A salty lassi, which tastes like a milkshake made with tangy Greek yogurt, washed everything down with a tart, palate-cleansing finish.

Longtime readers might remember Battle Masala Dosai that took place about this time last year. A whopping 75 percent of the commenters mourned the fact that Shiv Sagar wasn't one of the contestants, and with good reason. The dosai here are truly wonderful, and it's all down to that crispy crepe with a soft underbelly. The idli and vada that come with a $6.99 combo platter are less memorable, but that doesn't detract from the dosa itself.

The samosas are also among the best in town, as evidenced by Battle Samosa that took place earlier this year. And, like the masala dosa, it's all about the crispy exterior. The fennel seed-studded shells of Shiv Sagar's samosas are pure, crunchy, slightly greasy bliss, even if the chutneys that come along with them are rather bland.

Those same chutneys, however, take on a different personality entirely inside Shiv Sagar's dahi puri. Unlike the ones at Sweet n Namkin, these little shells are filled with spicy potatoes along with chickpeas, and are dotted on top with peppery bites of raw red onions. The chutneys are almost an afterthought with all those other ingredients coming into play, especially the sweet, cooling yogurt, but it all ties together to make one of my favorite dahi puri dishes in town.

Afterward, I reflected on the meal with one thought in my mind above all others: Battle Dahi Puri is well overdue. Any suggestions, readers?

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