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Photograph by Paul Myers

Currying Flavor: Co-owner Madhu Das reveals the treasures of southern Indian cuisine at Dasaprakash

Meatless Wonder

Dasaprakash serves up vegetarian food that will have you reconsidering your place in the food chain

By Traci Vogel

LET'S JUST TAKE a moment to orient ourselves. Right now, we're gazing across the far, far reaches of a grand canyon called Everything This Reviewer Doesn't Know About Indian Cooking. Not long ago, I was perched obliviously on the near north end, completely unaware of my ignorance.

Then, I had dinner at Dasaprakash.

Set in a nondescript strip mall on Homestead Road, Santa Clara's Dasaprakash is a revelation to anyone who thinks of Indian food as the delightful but predictable plates of tikka masala and tandoori chicken. In fact, Dasaprakash's all-vegetarian menu is likely to be a revelation to any meat eater who thinks that feeling of "Wow, I'm so full" is unlikely to occur without devouring flesh.

The revelations of Dasaprakash's menu are rooted in southern Indian cuisine, a regional gourmandism built around the vegetarian delights of lentils and vegetable stews. There are several Dasaprakash restaurants, in India and in Los Angeles--the chain is affiliated with a family-run group of hotels in southern India--but to call Dasaprakash a "chain restaurant" is to miss the point completely.

The Santa Clara branch of Dasaprakash is a square room dressed in the lush, nearly mod colors of Indian festivals: fuschia, muted orange, taupe and mustard. Booths line one long wall, and various tables provide vectors that can be rearranged to accommodate the extended Indian families who are regulars here. The walls are decorated with traditional masks and black-and-white photos that evoke the restaurant's ethnic history.

My going-on-15-years-as-a-vegetarian dining companion and I were greeted with a cheer as we entered the restaurant--but it turned out to be a birthday party in progress, not a recognition of our first visit. The speed with which the hostess seated us, however, did restore our sense of being special.

Then came the first inkling of our geographical dislocation: we opened our menus. Dasaprakash arranges part of its menu by family and clan. Thus, the Dosai Clan embraces everything from plain dosai ($5.50; a dosai is a crepe, usually made of rice and lentil flour) to rava masala dosai (Cream of Wheat crepes with spicy potato and onion, $7). A subcategory called the Vada Variety features variations on lentil "doughnuts," which turn out to be puffy, light breads, sometimes stuffed with potatoes or lentils, sometimes served with gravy.

Vegetarian Boy and I stared bewildered at this gourmet genealogy until Dasaprakash's co-owner, Madhu Das, rescued us.

"Surely you have been here before?" he greeted us, kindly.

"Um, no, this is our first time," we admitted.

Mr. Das took over, conjuring up an order of North Indian thali ($13) and an American Combo ($11), and--back on the safe ground of beverage selection--we added a mango lassi ($3.25) and masala tea (a.k.a. chai, $2.50).

The entrees came piping hot, served on platters loaded with delectable samplings from each category. The North Indian thali platter included tastes of spicy, whole red-bean dal, three vegetable stews, the yogurt-based mouth-cooler raitha, pilau (rice with vegetables), a pickled salad, a nonpickled salad and two poories, which are puffed wheat bread. The American Combo included one samosa, rice, kurma (spicy vegetable curry) and a perfectly browned masala dosai the size of a small elephant's ear.

Each dish sparkled with subtle spices, and each was a delightful contrast to its neighbor. The vegetables and legumes, cooked to toothsome perfection, ranged from fiery to complex. The pickled salad was tart and spicy. In one little tub nestled one perfect gulab jamoon, a sweet dessert covered in honey.

Later, in the car, Vegetarian Boy suggested he might have to have therapy to recover from such a perfect meal. It was going to be difficult to go back to garden burgers and burritos. I suggested we just eat at Dasaprakash every single day.

Address: 2636 Homestead Rd., Santa Clara
Phone: 408.246.8292
Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2:30pm Mon-Fri; dinner 5:30-9:30pm Mon-Fri; Weekends 11:30 am-10pm
Cuisine: South Indian
Price Range: $9-13

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From the June 20-26, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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