In a culinary landscape of limitless Christmas burritos, lies an exotic island off the coast of Cordoba and St. Francis where chutneys, raithas and dosas reign supreme. It’s Paper Dosa, a hotspot that’s been hot since husband-and-wife duo chef Paulraj Karuppasamy and Nellie Tischler started as a pop-up in 2014 and opened the restaurant in 2015.
Specializing in South Indian cuisine, centered around rice, lentils, spices, herbs and coconut, Paper Dosa is where vegetarians and gluten-free eaters are in heaven. Everything is fresh and naturally gluten-free – only one starter (Behl Puri) and one dessert (Gulab Jamun) are not labeled gluten-free. And almost anything can be made vegan by eliminating the ghee. But carnivores need not fear, as the food is neither shy nor too heavy like North Indian cuisine can be, and there are several mouth-watering chicken and lamb dishes.
For over 5,000 years, Indian cuisine has enjoyed the benefits of Ayurvedic practices that combine ingredients to improve health. But it is not a tasteless health food. Paper Dosa is anything but tasteless. Layers of herbs and spices are ground, fried, sautéed and added to everything. Heavy doses of cumin brighten dishes and smatterings of cilantro bring herbal undertones that, like a good perfume, tickle all your senses.
With many starters and three sections of entrees – dosas, uttapam and curries, this menu calls for a group to come together and share dishes. A cool vibe, Indian music playing in the background and almost all the tables are full by 5:15 p.m. The food is magnificent. It is also playful, artistic and requires eating with your hands, which makes the experience all the more tactile and enjoyable for all ages.
An array of appetizers begs you to make critical decisions. But don’t order too much the first time. Instead, leave your taste buds wanting more for the next visit. Start with the spinach and onion pakora ($10). You and your dining companions will be delighted. Crispy half-moon onion slices and spinach and kale leaves are dipped in tempura batter and fried until perfectly browned and crispy. Accompanied by a spicy eggplant chutney, you’ll be fighting over the last crispy bites.
The Chennai Chicken appetizer ($12) comes with raitha, a spicy yogurt sauce with diced carrots and cucumbers. Tender pieces of chicken are sprinkled with spices and cooked to perfection. After rave reviews, our dining companions said, “Paper Dosa understands the chicken, uses high-quality birds, seasons them well, and doesn’t overcook the meat. This masterful attention to detail and creativity is found in every dish.
A sight that might be too pretty to eat, Dahi Vada ($10) are donut-shaped lentil fritters topped with a blend of three cold sauces – spiced yogurt, tamarind chutney and mint chutney – artistically reminiscent of a kaleidoscope. The profile of this dish reminded me of the famous Mexican chile en nogada, which I never understood. The sauces are delicious on their own and I wanted to put the leftover sauce on something, but overall this gorgeous dish was my least favorite.
The signature entries are the Dosas and Uttapam. Made from black lentils and rice, the paste is fermented to bring out the probiotic benefits. Each plate includes a cup of steaming sambar, a lentil and vegetable stew with tamarind, and two chutneys – tomato and coconut. If you’re wondering what to do when your dish arrives, there are no rules as to how you should use soup and chutneys. As a dip for the dosa, of course. To pour on the uttapam, why not? I recommend you taste everything and see what combinations work for you as this is your culinary journey.
We ordered the Classic Masala Dosa ($12) filled with turmeric-seasoned potatoes, caramelized onions, whole red chilies, mustard seeds, and cashews. The simple dish arrives and the crispy dosa is the star. The sweet and spicy potatoes go well with the thin, crispy dosa which leaves your fingers a little greasy from the ghee.
Using the same dosa batter, an Uttapam is a pancake made with different ingredients. We opted for the Farmers Market ($15) with fingerling potatoes, parsnips and leeks and topped with a perfectly sautéed combination of spinach and kale. Delicate but robust, this dish was my favorite. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of donuts, but the combination of textures and flavors won me over.
Once again the kitchen displays its passion for poultry in the well-prepared Chicken Curry ($19). Served with a side of coconut rice, our dining companion, who was an Indian food skeptic, was impressed with three generous pieces of tender chicken that were so plentiful he took home the leftovers. .
Rich in spice, the food isn’t ‘hot’, although a passion fruit cream ($7.50) for the table provided a scrumptious ending. A sweet and cold passion fruit cream is topped with a light coconut milk tapioca pudding. Stick your spoon to the bottom of the glass to get the fruit cream and sparkling tapioca pearls. It will be just enough sweetness to reset your palate.
The space is warm with vases of colorful and mixed fresh flowers on each table. Our server, Edie, was charming and informative. The kitchen was in full swing as it prepared food for hungry customers as well as takeout. Staff buzzed around the restaurant filling water glasses, delivering dishes and removing plates from tables while a young bartender served glasses of wine and beer while engaging bar patrons.
There was a happy, happy beat that was palpable. Everyone was smiling and their taste buds were dancing to the Indian rhythm.
When you’re swimming in a sea of red and green chilies and need to expand your palate with exotic spices and wholesome ingredients, Paper Dosa awaits with an exciting menu and a dining experience unique to Santa Fe.