What do you think of when you think of Indian food? Curries? Butter chicken? Samosas? Roti, naan, and papadums? Or do you recognize Indian cuisine by region?
To think of a cuisine from such a populous, geographically sprawling, culturally diverse, and historically extensive country as merely homogenous would be doing it a grave disservice—not to mention potentially depriving diners of new dining experiences.
In that vein, Sharv Ramachandran hopes to introduce a cuisine that many West Enders may not be familiar with. It's the food his mother made every day for him while he was growing up in Chennai, India: southern Indian cuisine.
Ramachandran's Davie Dosa Company opened on October 1 in the former premises of the longrunning Café Luxy at 1235 Davie Street.
While the former Italian restaurant had its loyal customers, there are many aspects from that establishment that will carry over into its new incarnation.
In fact, Ramachandran chose the spot because he liked how the décor, including the furniture and warm colour scheme, easily segued into an Indian cultural context. Little had to be changed at the 1,000-square-foot premises, with only the addition of few Indian decorative touches (with more to come over time, Ramachandran says).
In an interview in the welcoming dining room, Ramachandran told the Georgia Straight that he chose the West End because it's his favourite neighbourhood in Vancouver, having lived here since 2002.
"I want to learn and grow up with this neighbourhood," he said.
He was well-aware that opening a dosa restaurant in the West End was a risk. But with several dosa places already populating Surrey and East Vancouver, Ramachandran, who has worked in restaurants and hospitality industry since 1989 in both India and Canada, sought to stake out new territory.
"We just wanted to introduce our dosa to downtown Vancouver, particularly West End, because there is a clientele always looking for something new and tasty, and they're not afraid to explore," he said.
Unfamiliar with dosas? They're savoury crepes made from rice and lentils that are grilled and rolled into a cylindrical form, then filled with various ingredients. A single serving is about one-foot long but can be made into two-feet long versions that serve up to four people.
Ramachandran insisted that his chef, Leveil Arockiasamy, make their dosas gluten- and nut-free. All are served with three types of chutney: coconut, tomato and ginger, and lentil and vegetable broth.
He highly recommends eating the dosas right away in house, rather than take-out, in order to appreciate the freshly made crisp texture.
A basic, plain dosa is $9 and prices rang up to $16, depending on added ingredients.
Vegetarian ingredients range spiced potato masala, curried cauliflower, eggplant, or cheddar cheese. Non-vegan options include egg, chicken, beef, lamb, fish, and prawn.
Special versions include ghee, spinach and cottage cheese, cheese and garlic, butter chicken, and even Cajun chicken.
Add-ons (which range from an additional $1 to $3) include onion, housemade spicy powder, cheese, vindaloo sauce, and egg.
The other main component of the menu are the South Indian curries, which include vegetarian (such as chickpeas, yellow lentils, or buttery cottage cheese) and non-vegetarian (like chicken, lamb, fish, or prawn) options ($12 to $17), which are all also gluten- and nut-free.
Birayani (mixed rice dishes) are also available with vegetarian or chicken, lamb, beef, or prawn versions, all accompanied with vegetable gravy and raita.
In addition to pakoras, samosas, rasam soup (tamarind, tomato, and peppercorn broth), and other Indian selections, the menu incorporates international influences as well.
As Ramachandran previously ran an Indo-Chinese restaurant in India, he has included Manchurian dishes on this menu, which feature an Indo fusion sauce with either cauliflower ($10) or chicken ($12).
There are also quesadillas filled with cheese and either vegetables ($9) or chicken ($12).
Café Luxy fans will be heartened to know that Ramachandran did his research and talked with the previous eatery's customers for a month before it closed.
One thing he discovered that the previous clientele loved in particular was the salads.
Accordingly, Davie Dosa Company is offering six types of salads, ranging from Caesar or spinach to bocconcini tomato or steamed broccoli and mushrooms ($6 to $12, with Cajun chicken or lemon prawns for an additional $5).
Drawing upon his previous experience as a beverage manager, Ramachandran has a drink list that covers beer, wine, and cocktails that include beer from Granville Island Brewing and wine from France, Italy, Spain, and Canada.
As the restaurant is open from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., dosas are available all day long. After all, Ramachandran says that his mother would often make them for breakfast and they have been served and adapted for all meals of the day.
As another nod to their predecesors, tiramisu has a spot on the dessert menu, alongside rasmalai, gulab jamun, carrot halwa, pistachio kulfi, hot fudge sundaes, and more.
With all of these elements, Ramachandran has placed an emphasis on making his establishment inviting and welcoming so that patrons can become more familiar with various aspects of Indian food that may be new to them.
"I don't want to disappoint the people when they come in," he said.