Lots of restaurants host birthday celebrations, baby showers and anniversary parties. But Udipe adds dosai parties (on and off premises) to its repertoire. Owner Santosh Shetty cooks up the crisp, golden crepes in hotels, on lawns and, of course, in the kitchen of his Sunrise restaurant, named after his birthplace in the south of India.
Dosais are just one of the authentic dishes drawing Indian families, vegetarians and adventurous diners to Udipe. Shetty, who has operated restaurants in such disparate spots as Nairobi and Kansas City, and his staff transform humble ingredients like rice, lentils, chickpeas and nuts into wonderful stews, fritters, curries and crepes.
Udipe doesn't serve alcohol or meat, but even carnivores will find much to like: heavenly breads, deeply flavored sauces and aromatic spices.
The extensive menu covers a lot of territory with Indian-style Chinese and Indian-American ''pizza'' -- but these are not your nonna's tomato pies. The thick pancakes or uthappam are topped with chiles and tofu plus sambar -- a lentil vegetable soup -- and chutney on the side.
To feast, and try more of the menu, get the lunch buffet, with about 20 dishes on weekdays and more than 40 on weekends for under $10. With inexpensive prices, you can afford to be daring.
Udipe is easily missed in a typical strip plaza on University Drive, a modest storefront decorated with Indian pictures and lined with lots of large, comfy booths. Servers are accommodating and genuinely pleased when you like their recommendations.
Our young server was on target with a suggestion of ''Mumbai Ka Street Food'' -- bhel puri, a delicious jumble of puffed rice, onions and tomatoes enhanced by a sweet-spicy chutney. We also devoured a starter of idly -- plump steamed rice and lentil patties served with sambar and chutney.
Udipe offers a generous appetizer platter you'll want to share, especially since most everything is battered and fried. You'll find items like medhu vada (a sort of lentil-batter doughnut), potato bonda (like a big dumpling), vegetable pakoras (fritters), deep-fried samosas and heavily battered onion rings. All are perfect for dunking into mint, tamarind, chile or coconut sauces.
My husband loves curry, and he flipped for Udipe's soul-satisfying paneer tikka masala. The Indian curry melds onions, bell peppers and chunks of homemade cheese in a tomatoey gravy flavored with a blend of seasonings that make your tongue tingle. White rice comes on the side.
South Indian thali is billed as a dinner for one, but there's easily enough food here for two, especially if you're ordering another dish. All the courses arrive at once -- 10 small stainless steel cups, from soup to dessert, encircling a bowl of rice. Each dish is a discovery, like rasam (ginger, garlic, tomato, cumin and coriander seeds with tamarind sauce), dal (stewed lentils), sambar and a sweet, milky payasum with tapioca, vermicelli and lentils, plus a choice of Indian bread.
We watched families passing around their dosais, breaking off sections of the snap-crisp crepe, some as large as seven feet wide, made from rice and lentil batter. Dosais come with a variety of fillings including our favorite, potatoes, peas and onions.
There may not be any alcohol on the menu but you can soothe your palate with a cool mango lassi, India's famed yogurt mango drink, or masala hot tea.
Before you leave, savor treats like gulab jamun, deep-fried, cheese balls with rosewater and soaked in syrup, or falooda, with condensed milk and vermicelli finished off with raspberry syrup and rose ice cream. Like Udipe, they're addictive.
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