Dosa Temple is a family affair. The original location in Ashland is owned by Gokul Krishan, who found the perfect location for his Southern Indian restaurant right down the street from a Hindu temple. He decided to make the menu entirely vegetarian. Last December, his cousin, Gopala Krishan, opened a second spot just outside Union Square in Somerville, and brought the chef, Siva Kumar, with him.
For those accustomed to Northern, and British-influenced, Indian cuisine - dishes like creamy tikka masala, butter chicken, and coconut milk curries - Southern Indian food is a new adventure. Dosa offers Northern Indian favorites as well. The extensive vegetarian or vegan menu adds another layer of interest.
We start with sundal ($4.95), perfectly cooked chickpeas that have much more flavor and creamier texture than their canned counterparts. They’re cooked in olive oil with grated fresh coconut, roasted red onion, black mustard seed, cumin, and crunchy toasted bits of dal (lentils). The dish is deeply flavorful and satisfying without being heavy. Chili bhajji ($4.95) is billed as fried banana peppers, but appear to be crisp jalapenos, and addictive, like poppers without the cream cheese filling. The accompanying plum sauce is a nice foil for the heat.
As the name suggests, Dosa Temple offers plenty of dosa, those extremely large crepes available from street vendors in India. These are almost comically large, jutting off the plate, served with a side of delicious mulligatawny soup for dipping and slurping. The soup is made with lentils and curry leaves and thickened with chickpea flour. We try onion rava masala dosai ($10.95), whose batter is thin enough to be crisp at the edges, sturdy enough to billow in the center. The pancake is studded with bits of onion and filled with curried potatoes. It’s served with a carrot and cucumber raita, the traditional yogurt mixture, and a cooling, shredded coconut sauce, flavored with cumin seed. We devour everything but the tomato chutney, which is surprisingly awful, basically ketchup with a few spices and bits of onion.
Pizza uthappam ($8.50) is heavy, and bland, with too much cheese. Pav bhajji ($9.95) is much better, a savory, thick mixture of potato, peas, and onions, in garlic and ginger tomato sauce. It’s served with hamburger buns, so you could make yourself a kind of vegetarian sloppy joe. We sop it up with garlic naan ($2.50), which arrives blistered (naan is available weekdays after 5 p.m., all day on weekends).
Malai kofta ($11.95), despite a rather unappetizing description of “cottage cheese and vegetable balls cooked in almond sauce,’’ is a wonderful dish - small fried “meatballs,’’ something like richly flavored, smooth falafel in a creamy saffron-nut sauce. It’s indulgent and divine over rice. Plain rice ($2.50) is very plain indeed, but there’s an entire section of the menu devoted to specialty rice dishes. Lemon rice ($7.95) is sunny yellow from turmeric, with a nice lemon-rind flavor, flecked with cumin seed, black mustard seed, and more of that delectable crunchy toasted dal.
Also on the menu is a selection of Indo-Chinese dishes, which began in Northern areas like Kathmandu, and are popular all over the country. Sichuan noodles ($10.95) are beautiful, bright red with stir-fried red onion, scallion, cabbage, sesame oil, and chilies. It’s a kind of spicy lo mein.
After dinner, the masala chai ($2) is a richly spiced and creamy brew that comes in a tiny metal cup. If you can figure out a way to drink it without burning yourself, it’s a lovely way to end the meal.
You can’t get tandoori chicken or lamb curry here, but you won’t want them. You can get so much more that you’ll like just as well.
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.