Restaurant Review Paper Dosa
Judging by my unscientific method of walking inside and looking around, Paper Dosa has been drawing enthusiastic crowds from the moment it opened in March. This may have something to do with the restaurant’s origins as a catering and pop-up business, which is a good way to build a fan base. Chef Paulraj Karuppasamy and his wife and partner Nellie Tischler had been serving south Indian food in the Santa Fe area since early 2014 — many people caught their pop-up act at Café Fina, on Old Las Vegas Highway — when they announced last fall that they were setting anchor in a space at Plaza Sienna, next door to Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen. I started hearing good things about Paper Dosa right away from my informal network of restaurant buffs. Two recent visits confirmed that they were right.
Pretty much everything about the place is clicking, starting with the bright, modern interior, which is roomy enough not to seem crowded but lively enough to feel like part of a fun urban scene. (On that note, be prepared for some noise — the hard-edged decor doesn’t do much to muffle the sound of a few dozen gabbing diners.) You can eat at one of several simple wooden tables that are arrayed to the left and right of the entrance, at a wide L-shaped bar that dominates the room (with an open kitchen behind it), or in an enclosed spot to the far right, designated for groups. With the help of friendly, knowledgeable servers, you can also consume plenty of good food at a relatively low price. We ordered a lot. Still, the totals were barely north of what you’d pay for, say, a single porterhouse steak at one of Santa Fe’s high-end restaurants.
Of course, Paper Dosa has a pricing advantage, since the majority of what’s served here is vegetarian. The menu’s stars are dosas, uttapams, and curries. Dosas are thin, crispy crepes that are a staple in south India. They’re made from various recipes; the ones at Paper Dosa start with a batter that contains fermented rice, lentils, and ghee. (If you’re vegan, you can ask them to leave the ghee out.) The result looks like a traditional European crepe, but it’s crispier, with more flavor coming through once you start cutting and crunching. The menu offers different savory fillings, six of which are vegetarian and one, lamb keema, that will please carnivores.
We tried two dosas: the classic masala and a three-cheese one. Both were excellent. The masala dosa was flipped over like an omelet — a huge one — and filled with a yummy mix featuring coarsely mashed potatoes, onions, cashews, and spices. The three-cheese dosa was folded — the end product looks like a big flattened crepe burrito — and contained a delicious blend of melted mozzarella, fontina, and cheddar. Both were served with side ramekins of sambar (Indian-style vegetable stew), coconut chutney, and tomato chutney.
This meal started with one of the best salads I’ve had in months — butter lettuce, goat cheese, mango, radishes, and walnuts — and ended with a seasonal vegetable curry dish that was ample and rich. Notably, though, it wasn’t too spicy. The heat level at Paper Dosa is generally milder than at many other Indian restaurants.
During a second visit, we started with two appetizers, dahi vada and chile and onion pakora, and both were memorable. The dahi vada consists of a lentil fritter that’s served in a bowl under a thick layer of spicy yogurt sauce, mint chutney, and tamarind sauce. The menu describes the dish as a “beautiful display,” and it was indeed: delicate lines of the two colorful sauces were laid on the yogurt in a Spirograph pattern. The onion pakora, also known as “south Indian onion rings,” was lightly battered, fried just right, and served with an eggplant chutney that had a delicious kick.
During both trips, we tried the uttapam, which is described as a south Indian pancake but which has a texture more like a thin, rough-crust pizza. These are not as large or as filling as the dosas, and a good one to try is the paneer (cheese) and peas. I also ordered one meat dish (chettinad lamb) and a dessert (rasmalai) that didn’t suit me as well. The lamb was too peppery and just a touch overcooked. The dessert was mainly sweet, spiced rice. That isn’t how it’s described on the menu, which says the main ingredients are “fresh farmer’s cheese soaked in sweet cream.” But those are minor complaints. Santa Feans are lucky to have this exciting new restaurant on the scene.