After last week's Battle Grilled Cheese, we received a gentle prod from one of our readers and favorite local food mavens, Dr. Ricky: "I think there need to be more creative choices for the food battles. Down to grilled cheese sandwiches?"
It was with a heavy sigh and a heavy heart that we admitted to ourselves that Dr. Ricky was right. Food Fight has been taking a turn for the bland (if comforting) lately. We suddenly felt remiss and very disappointed in ourselves for neglecting the vast array of ethnic food that Houston has to offer. So much ethnic food, in fact, that making a Food Fight out of things like pad see ew, roti canai, kibbeh, xiao long bao or even just bouillabaise is relatively easy to do. So we took Dr. Ricky's first suggestion -- masala dosai -- and ran with it.
Dosai is a very typical South Indian dish that can be eaten for breakfast or dinner. Why is it so flexible? Because it's basically a giant pancake. Actually, crepe would be more accurate, as it's very thin and generally stuffed with all manner of delicious fillings. The dosai itself is made from rice and black lentils and -- as a result -- is high in protein and good carbohydrates but low in fat and cholesterol. (We mention this as, for some reason, both restaurants made sure to mention this in the dosai section on their menus.) Although you can shove whatever you want to inside a dosai, the most popular filling is masala, a mixture of potatoes and onions in a mild curry.
Sunday night we set out with Dr. Ricky and a few South Indian food connoisseurs to see who had the best dosai in Houston: Udipi or Madras Pavilion. How did the crepe crumble? The results are below...
The old guard of the Indian restaurant community, Madras has been around for nearly as long as we have, and for good reason. The restaurant works hard to serve a diverse array of diners, not just Indians. It's one of the few kosher-certified restaurants in town and -- despite serving food that one doesn't normally associate with alcohol -- it has a good selection of wine and beer. The service is also top-notch, although you should make sure to come with your entire party intact, as they won't serve you until everyone has arrived.
Instead of simply ordering dosai, our group went for the multi-course dinner that was a steal for only $15.95. It came with lentil soup, vegetable samosas, heaps of naan bread, an individual-sized dosai for each person and an assortment of curries (palak paneer, our favorite, was included).
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The dosai was the perfect size for one person and was served with sambar and a coconut chutney for dipping. Inside was not only potatoes and onions, but peas and carrots as well -- and a lot of it. The side of coconut chutney -- thick, rich, sweet and with the faintest undercurrent of mint -- pushed it over the top.
And just for comparison's sake, we ordered a mango lassi at Madras to contrast with our lassi at Udipi. It, too, was better.
Although we had heard talk that the food quality at Madras had declined heavily in the past few years, there was no hint of that on Tuesday night. The restaurant was as packed as our happy bellies, and the entire table agreed that Madras had easily won this battle. That said, we still love Udipi and will be returning for the amazing pesarattu upma. We sense a rematch in the future...