Street Food: N.Y. Dosas
In food cart terms, N.Y. Dosas is practically a relic. Thiru Kumar, the owner and "Dosa Man," has been running this all-vegan cart for eight years now. "I wanted to do something different," he told me, "and since I'm vegan, I thought I would make vegan food."
Perhaps the secret behind N.Y. Dosa's long-standing success is all the hype, aided and abetted by Thiru himself. An incredibly animated Sri Lanka native with a 'stache to rival Tom Selleck's, Thiru hardly needs to be prompted when it comes to talking up his cart.
"I have fans all over the world--over 42 countries. There are fan clubs in California, in Japan. ... Normally you would see all these articles up in different languages--all these reviews." Not that Thiru is the only one to speak highly of N.Y. Dosas: the cart won the Vendy Award in 2007, and a quick Internet crawl reveals countless sparkling reviews from customers and critics alike.
All this, along with the fact that I was thoroughly charmed by Thiru, makes me hesitant to even mention the following: I didn't absolutely love N.Y. Dosas.
I started with the mixed vegetable utthupam, $6.00 (just like everything else I ordered) and "mild spicy." An utthupam is a thicker lentil and rice pancake, in this case with vegetables cooked in. The mix of vegetables struck me as a little haphazard--carrots cut in a round, an assortment of bell peppers, and onions--but they were fresh enough. Or, perhaps more accurately, they weren't on the grill nearly long enough to lose their crunch: not a bad thing since it livened up the utthupam. The sambar that came along with it was far too sweet for my taste; I tried it once with all of the dishes and then decided to abandon it entirely.
The Special Pondicherry Dosa, also dubbed "mild," was again satisfactory: a southern Indian style crepe filled with masala potatoes and more veggies. The masala potatoes were what you would expect, but the dosa itself was definitely the highlight: delicate, flavorful, with a nice snap to it.
After trying the dosa and the utthupam, my mouth was gently buzzing with spice—a little ominous, since I was now moving on to the so-called realm of "Indian spicy" with my Roti curry. The difference between "normal spicy" and "Indian spicy," it seems, is the presence of more of the grainy red hot sauce I had noticed on the others. I took a bite and thought, "This is no big deal!" Then, about a minute later, I wondered why my mouth seemed to have burst into flames.
The curry itself was a bit mushy: a combination of the same vegetables, mushrooms, masala potatoes, a few leaves of lettuce, swollen and moist soy protein, and what I will call "the mushy bits," small balls of dosa dough. It was good as comfort food, but far from astounding.
No doubt, my expectations were far too high for N.Y. Dosas—a result of the rave reviews and my love of southern Indian food generally. Mainly, I would suggest that others manage their expectations better than I did. It's good southern Indian food at a good price—but it's not the best dosa I've ever had.
Washington Square South and Sullivan St., New York NY (map)
Open Monday-Saturday, 11-4