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Review of Southern Spice Restaurant (South Indian Cuisine)

Summary: An adequate restaurant with good value for money (and some pretty tasty offerings) that can be more than it is right now.

India is such a diverse country that evenIMG_0026 the cuisine varies from region to region. India can be roughly divided into the four corners of the compass, where each region has it’s own unique blend of spices and dishes.

Most people in Calgary are probably only familiar with North Indian cuisine, with restaurants serving up their standard fair of butter chicken, aloo gobi, mutter paneer, chana masala, etc. that taste oh-so-good but also are pretty rich.

Personally, I am originally from the south of India, so North Indian cuisine is always a treat for me. South Indian dishes tend to be heavily rice-based and plainer than their North Indian cousins. Geographically this makes sense as North India is drier and cooler (during winters), whereas southern India is pretty much a tropical paradise where rice grows abundant.

It’s great to see that Calgary is slowly developing an alternative to what’s typically offered at well-established stalwarts such as Glory of India and Namskar. We personally reviewed one such hidden-gem – Canada Dosa Corner – which became such an instant hit with all our friends that we had to seek out other similar restaurants and see if they matched up.

Walking into the restaurant is a bit discombobulating as the exterior doesn’t match the interior whatsoever. The place appears pretty unremarkable and drab from the outside, but on the inside, it’s actually quite dramatic. The high ceilings together with plenty of natural light gave the place a “tiffin hall” feel that is reminiscent of those in India. All in all, it actually worked quite well.

We had the option of either going for the buffet or a la carte. In the interests of checking out their entire offerings, we opted for the buffet, which also came with unlimited (!) dosas. We immediately went over to the buffet area to check out their offerings. I was pretty wowed by the number of the dishes in the buffet.

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The buffet had all the traditional South Indian dishes like rasam, sambar, medu veda, radish curry, and paysam, which all tasted pretty authentic, but also watered down. They were spicy, but almost spicy for the sake of being spicy – like they added a couple of tablespoons of chilli powder just to bring the heat up. There was a coconut-infused broccoli dish that tasted delicious, but is traditionally prepared with carrots. It was weird though, tasting an Indian dish made from non-traditional ingredients. There was also a chowmein noodle thrown in for good measure. it wasn’t too bad, but kinda felt like French fries at a Chinese buffet. It was all fairly generic.

The dosas were another story though. Hot off the pan, they were more soft than crispy, but the stuffing of masala potato was pretty amazing. The combination of the sambar and masala dosa was also pretty tasty. The most delectable part of the night was the potato fry. It was a bit greasy, but it was the perfect combination of sweet, salty, and spicy. It wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked it to be, but that’s just nitpicking.

Overall, I felt like this place doesn’t know what it wants to be. Part of me wants to break my own rule and revisit the restaurant to give it another chance (primarily cause a brown co-worker of mine loved it), but that remains to be seen. If you want another viewpoint, Foodosophy has a great review on Southern Spice that is also slightly mixed.

Richard’s Ruminations

For whatever reason, Indian food and buffets seem to be as common a pairing as wine and cheese, and Southern Spice is no exception.  However, their offering of freshly-made dosas as part of the buffet seemed to be a nice little addition that sets them apart from your everyday self-serve-curry line.

Unlike most Indian buffet places in Calgary, this place has a very sparse selection of non-vegetarian options – in this case, only fish or chicken curry, and they were all out of chicken.  I opted not to try the fish curry either as it had eggplant in it, which, unfortunately, I am allergic to (Hmm, I did not know that.  –Kiran)

One of the downsides of a buffet is that the food could have been sitting there for quite a while – and when we went, it sure seemed like that was the case.  This doesn’t matter for curries, really, but the pakoras were not very hot and were crunchy (instead of crispy) – kind of a shame, since they tasted pretty good and would likely have been pretty awesome hot out of the fryer.  Unlike Kiran, I thought the curry noodles was one of the better tasting dishes, despite being some kind of rip-off of Chinese cuisine Winking smile  (It’s hakka)

As for the dosas – the do have the huge-ass ones available, but not as part of the buffet – instead, the buffet dosas are the size of a side plate, and come out upon order from the kitchen.  Probably smart that they come out in that size, given that it’s all-you-can-eat!  I found the dosas to be kind of greasy, soft, and a little more sour than the ones at Dosa Corner – but the filling was still quite tasty.

South Indian food doesn’t rank among my favourite cuisines, so I didn’t eat until the point of gastro-intestinal rupture, but it still seemed like a reasonably valued buffet.

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Ranking

  Richard Kiran Kent
Ambiance 4/6 4/6 N/A
Service 1.5/3 4/6 N/A
Plating N/A N/A N/A
Taste 3/6 4/6 N/A
Authenticity 5/6 5/6 N/A
Value 4.5/6 5/6 N/A
Overall 18/27 = 66% 22/30 =73 %

 

Southern Spice on Urbanspoon

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Review of Canada Dosa Corner

Canada Dosa Corner (CDS) has been on my hit list for a long time. It fits every definition of a hole-in-the-wall place (HITW). In a seedy part of town? Check. Ethnic clientele? Check. Almost hilarious lack of attention to detail and decor? Check. Owner and chef from original country? Check. I could go on. To say that I was excited to check out this place would be an understatement.

CDS’s claim to fame is their ginormous dosas (crepes) made from rice flour and are a staple of South Indian cuisine (kinda like pasta for Italians). Unlike most French crepes, dosas are a traditionally savoury dish served either plain or stuffed with meat or potatoes and eaten with sambar (vegetable broth).

We sat around and twiddled our thumbs for a few minutes before our server came out. He was short line cook from Bangalore, India whose family has been in the catering business for generations. I ordered the Mysore Masala Dosa and Idli-Sambar whereas Kent & Richard ordered Minced Goat Dosa and Sri Lankan Lamb Curry. In addition, Richard ordered Mango Lassi while Kent & I decided to stick with Sri Lankan chai.

Kiran’s Thoughts

I have been eating dosas since I was a kid and was excited to finally find an authentic South Indian eatery as opposed to the saturated North Indian fare that one typically finds in Calgary. I couldn’t resist ordering Idli Sambar (steamed rice cakes) for my appetizer. Like dosas, I have been eating idlis like a good boy since I was 5 and was anxious to compare them to the ones my mum makes at home.  The Mysore Masala Dosa came stuffed with mashed potatoes, onions, green chillies all cooked in aromatic Indian spices. All dosas came with the standard sambar and two assorted chutneys.

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As you can tell from the above picture, these dosas are frickin’ massive. Believe it or not, that’s the way they are made back home. When your portions get this big, it is pointless to maintain any decorum by using utensils – I dug in with my hands, using my fingers to tear the dosa into smaller chunks and dipping them into either one the sambar, onion chutney, or tomato chutney.

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IMG_0031.CR2The dosa was exactly like my mum makes it – mix of crispy and soft with just the right amount of salt in the batter. The stuffed potato also was perfectly done. The prize, however, had to go to the sambar. It was everything I could ask for – a perfect blend of spicy, salty, tangy, and umami. It was like being transported back to a food stall in India with every bite. Absolutely fabulous.

Idli is typically had as an appetizer/breakfast, but is a time-consuming dish to make as the rice cakes have to be steamed. The idlis were piping hot when they came out, fresh out of the steamer. They were a tad stickier than I am used to but were fluffy and moist.  The idli also came with the standard thoroughfare of sambar, onion and tomato chutney. IMG_0055.CR2

The only issues I had with CDS was the relatively poor service and the off-putting taste of the chutneys. There was a moment in time where the server completely forgot about us and we had to ask him a couple of times to refill our water. Also, the Sri Lankan chai that Kent and I ordered turned up towards the middle of the meal instead of the beginning…or even the end. As for the chutneys, I just wasn’t a big fan of them. They had a weird off-putting taste which I can’t describe that completely turned me off them.

Richard’s Ruminations

The place smelled delicious even when standing outside in the parking lot – that was surely a sign of good things to come!  Entering the restaurant, we were surprised to see that it was completely empty, given how much hype this place has been getting (though there were a few tables with reservation placards on them).  Like many an ethnic restaurant, they had sweets prominently displayed in glass cases, which caused some excitement in the group (not for me though; I’m not a fan of Asian desserts in general).  The menu, on the other hand, sparked my interest substantially – ultimately, Kent and I decided to split a goat dosa as well as a Sri-Lankan lamb curry.

The curry came out first, quite quickly (probably one of the few things that is slow-cooked and hence already made – the waiter made sure to inform us that they freshly cook virtually everything upon order).  The curry came with rice by default (as it should, IMO), a nice change from many places where prices for curry may seem deceptively low if you don’t take into account the extra rice order.  The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender and the depth of spices was terrific, though there were a lot of bones in the curry.

Then came the dosas.  These things were f*cking huge!  They were literally the length of your torso and looked like they could feed a small country.  The crepes themselves were thick (for a crepe) yet crispy, with decent filling and a few nice chutnies on the side.  I also ordered a mango lassi, which ended up being kind of plain tasting.

Kent’s Two Cents

Everyone, this place is effin amazing. South Indian/Sri Lankan cuisine is hard to come by in Calgary. The dosas are gigantic and could be ordered on its own if you are looking for a meal for yourself. And if you are not that adventurous, the more well known Indian dishes are also excellent. It might be my favourite place in the city for butter chicken, and I NEVER order butter chicken at an Indian restaurant (its equivalent to the California roll for sushi for me). The service could use a bit of work depending on the server, but that is mostly due to miscommunication and a language barrier. Don’t let that stop you from visiting Dosa Corner, everything there is absolutely delicious.

Summary

It is hard not to see why CDS was recently crowned as the hidden jewel of Calgary 2011 by Avenue Magazine. Although the service was ok, and the location out of the way, CDS is an must for everyone looking for a taste of authentic South Indian cuisine. This is definitely where the real locals eat. I took a huge dump the next with a solid ring of fire around my anus and that’s how I knew it was good times. Thank you, CDS!

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Ranking

  Kiran Kent Richard
Ambiance N/A 4.5/6 4/6
Service 3/6 4.5/6 3/6
Plating 6/6 4.5/6 6/6
Taste 5/6 6/6 10/12
Authenticity 6/6 6/6 6/6
Value 5.5/6 5/6 5.5/6
Overall 25.5/30 = 85% 30.5/36 = 85% 35.5/42 = 85%

Canada Dosa Corner on Urbanspoon