Southern Indian food shines at Santa Fe's Paper Dosa - Albuquerque Journal

Southern Indian food shines at Santa Fe’s Paper Dosa

Dahi Vada ($10) is doughnut shaped lentil fritters topped with a mélange of three cold sauces at Paper Dosa. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

In a culinary landscape of unlimited Christmas burritos, there lies an exotic island off Cordova and St. Francis where chutneys, raithas and dosas reign supreme. This is Paper Dosa, a hot spot that has 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 Southern Indian food, which centers on 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 appetizer (Behl Puri) and one dessert (Gulab Jamun) are not labeled gluten-free. And most everything can be made vegan by eliminating the ghee. But, carnivores should not be afraid, because the food is neither timid nor too heavy like Northern Indian cuisine can be, and there are several scrumptious chicken and lamb dishes.

For more than 5,000 years, Indian cuisine has enjoyed the benefits of Ayurvedic practices which combine ingredients for improving health. But this isn’t 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 light up the dishes and handfuls of cilantro bring herbaceous undertones that, like a good perfume, tickle all of your senses.

With ample appetizers and three entrée sections – dosas, uttapam and curries, this menu calls for a group to gather and share dishes. A cool vibe, Indian music plays in the background and nearly every table is filled by 5:15 p.m. The food is gorgeous. It is also playful, artistic and requires eating with your hands, which makes the experience that much more tactile and enjoyable for all ages.

An array of appetizers begs you to make critical decisions. But don’t over- order 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 table mates will be entranced. Crispy half-moon onion slices and wilted spinach and kale leaves are dipped in a tempura batter and fried until perfectly golden and crispy. Served with spicy eggplant chutney, you’ll be fighting over the last crunchy morsels.

Classic Masala Dosa ($12) at Paper Dosa is filled with potatoes seasoned with turmeric, caramelized onions, whole red chiles, mustard seeds and cashews. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

The Chennai Chicken ($12) appetizer comes with a side of raitha, a spiced yogurt sauce with diced carrots and cucumbers. Tender pieces of chicken are dusted with a spice rub and cooked to perfection. After rave reviews, our dining companions declared “Paper Dosa understands chicken, uses high-quality birds, seasons them well and doesn’t overcook the meat.” This masterful attention to detail and creativity is shown in every dish.

A show-stopper that might be too pretty to eat, Dahi Vada ($10) are doughnut shaped lentil fritters topped with a mélange of three cold sauces – spiced yogurt, tamarind chutney and mint chutney – that are artistically reminiscent of a kaleidoscope. The profile of this dish reminded me of the famous Mexican chile en nogada, which I have never understood. The sauces are delicious on their own and I wanted to spoon the leftover sauce on something, but overall, this gorgeous dish was my least favorite.

The signature entrees are the Dosas and Uttapam. Made from black lentils and rice, the batter is fermented to bring out the probiotic benefits. Each plate includes a steaming cup of sambar, a lentil and vegetable stew made with tamarind, and two chutneys – tomato and coconut. If you find yourself wondering what to do when your dish arrives, there are no rules as to how you should use the soup and chutneys. As a dipping sauce for the dosa, sure. To pour on top of the uttapam, why not? I recommend you taste it all and see what combinations work for you because this is your culinary journey.

We ordered the Classic Masala Dosa ($12) filled with potatoes seasoned with turmeric, caramelized onions, whole red chiles, mustard seeds and cashews. The simple dish arrives and the crisp dosa is the star. The smooth, spiced potatoes play well against the thin and crispy dosa that leaves your fingers a bit greasy from the ghee.

Using the same dosa batter, an Uttapam is a pancake featuring 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 sturdy, this dish was my favorite. Perhaps it is because I am a fritter fanatic, but the combination of textures and flavors won me over.

Once again the kitchen displays its passion for poultry in the Chicken Curry ($19) which was well-prepared. 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 was so plentiful, he took the leftovers home.

Heavy on spices, the food is not “hot,” though a Passion Fruit Custard ($7.50) for the table provided a luscious ending. Sweet and cold passion fruit custard is topped with a light coconut milk tapioca pudding. Stick your spoon all the way down to the bottom of the glass to get the fruit custard and the bubbly 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 every table. Our server, Edie, was delightful and informative. The kitchen was in full swing as it prepared food for hungry customers as well as take-out. Staff buzzed about the restaurant filling water glasses, delivering dishes and removing plates from tables while a young bartender served glasses of wine and beer while engaging the bar patrons.

There was a joyful and happy rhythm that was palpable. Everyone was smiling and their taste buds were dancing to the Indian beat.

When you are swimming in a sea of red and green chiles and you need to expand your palate with exotic spices and healthy ingredients, the Paper Dosa awaits with an exciting menu and culinary experience that is distinctly unique to Santa Fe.

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