No hyperbole I can muster will ever quite capture how large Dosa Place’s paper dosa is. But I’ll try. It is the size and shape of a telescope powerful enough to see clear to the moon. And as soon as it arrives, no other food on earth can inspire the instant awe that this dosa will. It takes up the entire length of your table. Peer inside the cylinder, and you can imagine what the view is like for Hawaiian big-wave surfers as they skim a cresting tunnel of water.
Yes, it’s big. It’s also delicate. Dosas share properties of their Western cousins: whisper-thin like a French crepe, shatteringly crisp like a waffle cone. But to make any comparisons is to oversimplify. I can make a crepe in minutes; dosas take considerably longer.
If you want to make one for Friday night’s dinner, start preparations Thursday morning. Most recipes require an overnight soak of the rice, the fenugreek and the urad dal (a kind of lentil). This is followed by grinding and a long resting period in which the batter is left to ferment some more.
Many Indian families don’t even bother these days, relinquishing the hard work to Dosa Place in Tustin—the reigning authority on this South Indian staple. Lining up for a seat on weekend nights, you’ll find customers from the owner’s home state of Andhra Pradesh, as well as Sri Lankans who also enjoy a good dosa when they can find one.
In fact, since Vijaya Bharati and Radha Krishna Vedulla opened their restuarant earlier this decade, it has become so popular for its dosas that they’ve now opened a second in the same city. Reclaimed from an old steakhouse, the new space is cavernous and labyrinthine—almost too big. But the larger building comes with a full bar, which is something the original lacked. And to their already extensive menu they’ve added a new category with a few Indo-Chinese dishes.
The prices here are about a dollar more on average than the Red Hill Avenue original, but unlike at its predecessor, the new location doesn’t make you order a separate side of rice—it’s included with every course that requires it, such as the Day-Glo orange, tangy chicken tikka masala. Never mind that it has more in common with Prince Charles than Gandhi; this sauce is boss.
But before you go for that dish, there are dosas to contend with. The menu lists no fewer than 18 kinds, leaving you with some decisions to make. Do you want meat with your dosa? The kheema dosa is stuffed with curried goat, then folded up like a flag. Did you skip breakfast? The egg dosa resembles a massive breakfast burrito (big enough to show up on Man vs. Food), hiding a torrent of scrambled eggs and onions. Or how about the traditional way? The Mysore masala dosa is filled to the edge with an even spread of curried mashed potatoes and peas.
Then there’s the rava dosa, which is an entirely different creature. Made with semolina flour and served with a smattering of cashews and onions, it’s presented flat in rags that are as see-through as Chantilly lace. It’s also blond in color, a stark contrast to the paper dosa’s brown.
Picky pint-sized eater in tow? Shut ’em up with a dosa that’s slathered in jam. It’s the dosa equivalent of a kid’s meal.
No matter if you order one dosa or four, your mode of consumption is the same: tear it into ragged swatches; stuff it in your mouth, perhaps after dunking in sambar, an intense lentil-based soup; and try to not get any on your shirt. This will be difficult to avoid if you drip on copious amounts of the hot-and-chunky coconut chutney or the equally spicy tomato one. Do it anyway: The tables are covered in glass, and you have Spray ’n Wash at home.
Next, move on to the utappam, which are to flapjacks what the dosas are to crepes. They’re about the same diameter and thickness as an IHOP short stack, with browned bottoms crisped up by a griddle. But then the cooks embed jalapeños into them (like banana slices into a pancake). The rest of the discs are covered with either fresh herbs or powdered spices. Each eats like a personal pan pizza, especially the tomato utappam, which does a convincing impersonation of a margherita.
During your meal, you might catch an occasional glimpse of the cook, who will be wearing a industrial-grade mouth mask. The barrier is his only protection against wheezing and lung corrosion as the spices he heats become airborne.
The most volatile stuff ends up in the puliyogare, an aggressively spiced tamarind-based rice dish. Flecks of seasoning color every grain, along with the bits of curry leaves, lentils and peanuts. The taste is a heightened level of flavor equivalent to putting your TV’s color, brightness and tint on their highest settings.
Gentler, but not by much, is the lamb biryani, with chunks of the meat so buttery you could mistake them for beef filet mignon. If you’ve been concentrating on the dosas up to this point, you won’t be able to make a dent in the rice mountain they give you. Best to ask for a box for it. You’ll want to finish every scrap of the dosas before you leave. They are fickle things not meant to last as long as they take to make.
Dosa Place, 17245 17th St., Tustin, (714) 508-7788; www.dosaplace.com. Open daily for lunch buffet, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; à la carte dining, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Dosas, $7.50-$11.95; entrées, $9.95-$18.95. Full bar.