Sunday, March 18, 2007

The White Man's Dosa

"Did you hear about the white man who makes dosa?" asked my Indian coworker. This was not the beginning of a bad joke. He had heard about Hampton Chutney from another Indian coworker (this was an IT department, after all). Neither of them had actually been to the place, but they were curious. So was I, especially since it had garnered many rave reviews.

Traditionally, dosas, South Indian rice and lentil flour crepes, are eaten either plain (especially for breakfast), or with a potato masala filling. Certainly, the classic dosa is always a vegetarian item. Recently, a number of New York Indian restaurants, Cafe Spice among them, have added non-traditional fillings, including meat and seafood. Hampton Chutney takes this trend a step or two further, marrying the extended dosa concept with the accursed wrap phenomenon, serving, for example, dosas with "Smoked Turkey, Spinach, Jack Cheese & Balsamic Roasted Onions" or "Grilled Portobello Mushroom, Spinach & Roasted Onions with Goat Cheese." There's no reason in principle that these shouldn't be good, and I'm not a dosa fundamentalist, but the bottom line is that, despite the rave reviews, Hampton Chutney's dosas suck.

Hampton Chutney has three locations, the original being in Amagansset, where the owners sold chutneys before branching out to dosas, hence the name. The newest branch is on the Upper West Side. I went to the perplexingly popular SoHo branch. It's a cramped space, actually a fast food joint with inflated SoHo prices. I wouldn't have minded the prices so much if the food was any good, but ten bucks for a substandard dosa served on a plastic try with plastic utensils is unacceptable. My friend and I shared two dosas. I figured one of them should be as un-Indian as possible, to test the concept, so I chose the one with grilled chicken, roasted peppers, roasted onions and arugula. It came with a scant filling that had a few scattered chunklets of chicken along with the vegetables. Perhaps a SoHo anorectic might consider this a worthy lunch, but not me. And let me tell you, as much as I love arugula, it doesn't belong in a dosa. Our other choice was the "Masala Deluxe," which had potatoes, spinach, Jack cheese and roasted tomato. "Masala" technically means a spice mix, but I don't think the proprietors understand that, considering how bland it was. And Jack cheese? Puhleeze! Then there's the question of the dosas themselves, the crepes. A good dosa should be light, crisp, and fresh tasting. Can you say "cardboard"? Each dosa comes with your choice of one of their "famous" chutneys. We tried the pumpkin and the tomato. Fame, as we all know, has nothing to do with quality.

The meal was especially infuriating since I'd had fabulous South Indian food the night before, at Saravanaas, probably the best of breed in the city. So how the hell did Hampton Chutney get all those rave reviews? Maybe they're all from writers who've trolled the SoHo beat too long and have never experienced a good dosa. Or maybe I'm dead wrong and they're all right.

According to the Hampton Chutney website, the owners, Gary and Isabel MacGurn, met at the Siddha Yoga Meditation ashram in Ganeshpuri, India. Perhaps instead of searching for spiritual enlightenment they should have been searching for a good dosa recipe.

Maybe my Indian coworker's question was the beginning of a bad joke after all.

Hampton Chutney Co. on Urbanspoon


Blogger sah said...

Hi Peter,

I enjoy reading your blog. I am an Indian based out of Bangalore living in NJ. I do not like the dosa in Saravana Bhavan. If you have had Dosas in Bangalore, Saravana Bhavan is not a good option. I would like to suggest a place called Hoysala in Somerset New Jersey. If you happen to visit Bangalore,India you probably want to check out Vidyarthi Bhavan in Gandhi bazaar B'lore. That is in my list of "cannot miss" when I visit B'lore. I feel like eating one right now as I am writing this comment.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love Masala Dosa and the fabulous vegetarian cuisine of the south of India. There are two or three places in Tokyo to indulge it, far outnumbered by Bengali/Punjabi restaurants.
I can't imagine the cheese laden monstrosity you mention, totally gross.


12:05 AM  
Blogger jagdish said...

Love Masala Dosa and the fabulous vegetarian cuisine of the south of India. visit my sites: EasyWayFinder

2:26 AM  

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