Udupi a vegetarian delight.
COLUMN: DINING REVIEW
In an incongruous setting, a storefront in a strip mall, you will find Udupi, a restaurant serving strictly vegetarian cuisine from southwest India. The interior is brightly lit, almost austere in its simplicity, with a few Indian pictures and artifacts near the entrance. The linen-covered tables with glass tops are spaciously placed.
The host greeted us as we came in and seated us immediately. The waiter brought menus and gave us a short time to look them over before he took the order. He was helpful and very good at describing dishes as we asked questions about the menu. He explained that Udupi is a town in southern India known for its temples and vegetarian cuisine.
Wanting to sample as many dishes as possible, my friend and I ordered two of the combination plates offered as house specialties. Hers was the Udupi special ($13.50), mine was the Mysore royal thali ($15; Mysore, another city in the Karnataka region, was the former capital of a kingdom). A thali is a large platter that holds several small bowls or containers of the many foods that comprise the meal.
Not realizing how much food would come with the thali, we ordered soup ($2.75) and garlic naan ($3) to start. The tomato soup was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. A thick puree, it had a silky texture and a complex, slightly smoky flavor. This dish is worth another trip to Udupi. The rasam soup was also very good. It had a thin, spicy, tomato-based broth with vegetables. The naan was very crisp, thinner than the naan I've had previously; I missed the soft, more chewy texture I've come to associate with this kind of bread.
Two appetizers were included with the thali, a cutlet made of minced vegetables, shaped into a patty and fried, and a vegetable samosa. We both liked the flavor of the cutlet. The filling in the samosa, a mix of potatoes and peas, was delicious, but the dough was too thick, even hard on the bottom. Two sauces were presented with my appetizers: a sweet-sour tamarind sauce and a sweet and slightly hot mint-chile pesto which had a cooling effect. Each one added another layer of flavor to these dishes.
The appetizers with the Udupi special were mehdu vada, a fried lentil doughnut, and iddly, a steamed rice and lentil patty. Both of these were very bland in flavor. They came with two other accompaniments: a light green, tart yogurt sauce and sambar, a stew with potatoes, tomatoes, squash, eggplant and a few other vegetables. The seasoning of the sambar was complex: coriander, cumin and chilies, to name a few.
In addition to the iddly and vada, the Udupi special included vegetable uthappam, rice and lentil pancakes with a vegetable filling made from tomatoes, peas and carrots. It was served with chutney and a small dish of sambar. Both of us liked this dish.
I was surprised at how much food came on the thali. In the center there was a large bowl of steamed white rice and next to it a large, soft roti to dip in food along with papad, a round, paper thin, crisp cracker that added a contrast in texture to the other dishes. Several small dishes were arrayed around the edge. The special rice was cooked very smooth with coconut and vegetables. Some of the others were kootu, a vegetable and yellow lentil dish, sambar, chana and avial, two curry dishes: one made of chickpeas, the other primarily vegetables. In addition, there was a small dish of rasam, the soup we had already tried, a delicious plain yogurt, tart and cooling, and a pickled chile condiment that was blazing hot.
Also included on the thali was a warm dessert that we both loved, vermicelli cooked in milk with raisins and cashews. Think about the comfort of rice pudding.
Tea was included with the price of the meals. Alcohol is not served, but diners can bring their own.
The total cost of our meal was $34.65. I consider it a great value. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to friends.
378 Maple Ave., Shrewsbury
* * *
Hours: Monday and Wednesday-Friday, lunch 11:30 to 3 p.m., dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; closed on Tuesday
Reservations: Not required
Parking: Large lot at the strip mall
Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard
Prices: Low to moderate, $5 to 15
Pluses: Very good service, excellent tomato soup and vermicelli dessert
Minuses: Naan not as good as at other Indian restaurants
About the Stars
Perfection: * * * *
Very Good: * * *
Good: * *
Below Par: *
Serious Flaws: No stars
Restaurant reviews are the opinions of reviewers based upon at least one visit to the restaurant. The reviewer is accompanied by at least one companion. Recommendations from readers about restaurants they would like to have reviewed are welcome.