All photos: Shauna Alexander
Mike Isabella. José Andrés. Victor Albisu. Scott Drewno. Spike Mendelsohn. Priya Ammu.
One of these chefs is not like the other and no, it’s not because she’s a woman. It’s because she’s a new talent in D.C.’s restaurant scene, an ever-evolving selection of some of the world’s greatest and most creative culinary endeavors. But as ever-changing and exciting as the flavor landscape may be in our nation’s capital, it remains easy to be overshadowed by the culinary behemoths we know and love. (After all, it’s hard to argue with anything off a Think Food Group menu.)
Enter the StartUp Kitchen, Think Local First‘s attempt at broadening the D.C. dining experience. The program is an intensive eight-week “incubator” for chefs and restaurant entrepreneurs who in turn work under local restaurant owners in a temporary mentorship, eventually opening their own popup.
DC Dosa, the first winner in StartUp Kitchen’s selective process full of business proposals, trial and error, opened last night to a sold-out seating for its first ever three-course Indian meal.
Ammu’s background as a Bombay, India native and experience cooking traditional recipes under her South Indian mother-in-law lend themselves well to the ethnic dish so rarely found in the District, as well as the colorful takeover of Petworth’s Domku Cafe.
Upon crossing Domku’s threshold, diners are greeted by the warm glow of candles and traditional Indian songs. On the floor are stylish chalk symbols and on the foreheads of the servers are colorful bindis–a reminder that your dinner is not just three courses of traditional fare; it’s an experience. Prepare for a very shared one, at that–seating is predetermined and if you’re a small group, you will most likely be ushered to a table with fellow diners (which is neither here nor there, but a casual heads-up for those seeking a more intimate one-on-one meal).
Presented before the first course was a shooter of spicy lentil soup, compliments of the chef. Its thick, tangy puree with the tiniest chunks of onion slid over the tongue with a perfect amount of heat from its various spices. The crunch of the mini poppadoms mirrored the crunch of the crackers in the Bhel Puri, a fresh and textured appetizer of puffed rice with green mango, red onion, peanuts and “crunchy” chickpeas dressed with sweet tamarind chutney.The mango and chutney lend a sweetness while the tartness of the raw diced onion adds a bitterness providing balance. The dish was tart and fresh, even despite a lack of advertised crunch in the chickpeas.
Both Dosa options are fresh, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free, served with two excellent chutneys (tomato peanut and sesame cilantro). The four-lentil dosa with roasted sweet potatoes and eggplant filling proved difficult to eat with your hands (oh yes, silverware is an option though guests are encouraged to eat with their hands. You can always take the fork-and-knife route but where’s the fun in that?) The dosa itself was a bit dry though the filling of soft, fresh vegetables and whole leaves and spices remaining in their natural state was truly delectable.
The clear winner of the night was the trio of fermented rice mini dosas with bell peppers and tomato dressing, which were perfectly moist and flavorful–not to mention easier to eat with your fingers. The trio was mildly spicier and more textured on the whole, providing a burst of flavor with each bite.
For dessert we received a delicious and exotic warm carrot dish served with creme fraiche. The large pieces of fresh carrots were slick, almost buttery and mixed well with the crunch of the almonds. The creme fraiche was a bit overwhelming in its tartness, though perhaps this would have been solved with a smaller serving–even a drizzle–of the topping. Overall, it was an intriguing combination of spice and sweet, of vegetable and an almost cake-like consistency that capped off the evening well.
Not to be overlooked are the popup’s cocktails and coffees–end-of-the-meal options like roasted cardamom coffee (served strong and black) and hot indian chai (not too sweet, not too spicy) cleanse the palette nicely. The cocktail options–named after Ammu’s daughters–are equally exotic. Try the Meera for an intriguing marriage of prosecco, pomegranate and pepper and the Sonia (a personal favorite) for a tart, spicy mix of chile-infused vodka, ginger and fresh lime juice.
As of last night each Monday was sold out but this just in– DC Dosa opened up October 15 as an encore with open seating to give Ammu a taste of what it feels like to serve diners at a variety of times. Tickets can be purchased here. Please RSVP your seating time between 7 and 9 p.m. at Domku (202.722.7475).
If you have any interest in participating in the StartUp Kitchen program, keep your eyes peeled for the next call for business proposals sometime in October on Think Local First’s website. We’re told the next startup will be dessert-and-bakery themed and of course we can’t wait. We’ll see you there.