Surati Farsan9494 Black Mountain RoadMiramar / Mira Mesa(858) 549-7280
Nothing makes me happier than talking about food while eating food, and when a bartender-friend at a favorite restaurant introduced me and a pal to another regular, we very soon identified him as someone who spoke our shared language. We moved our place settings closer together and immediately started to geek out, telling food stories between bites and sips, exchanging restaurant names and addresses. The conversation turned to Indian food, and a plan for an exploratory dinner was set in motion.
The Little India Center on Black Mountain Road has become a one-stop shop-and-eat hub and was a frequent lunch destination when I used to work nearby. In the years since, the area has turned into quite a fancy strip mall, adding new North and South Indian restaurants and markets. My new food friend and I were familiar with Madras Café, but I suggested Surati Farsan, which also serves vegetarian South Indian cuisine, but here the food comes in small snacks known as chaat. I'd been in once to grab takeout and a menu and was so overwhelmed by the number of dishes and unfamiliar names that I knew some advanced prospecting needed to done before I returned. So I e-mailed another friend who knows his food and asked for some suggestions. I arrived at the restaurant with his list and a printout of the online menu, on which I'd marked everything that sounded delicious. It looked like a remedial student's term paper, covered in circles, notations and exclamation points.
While I waited for my eating partner, I sipped on a chiku shake, a blend of milk and sapodilla, a fruit that tastes like caramelized pears and has a similarly gritty, but not unappealing, texture, while scanning the other tables, matching the most popular dishes to the pictures on my menu. We went up to the counter to order, and the friendly guy at the register was immediately helpful, asking me what I wanted to try and saying that he'd tell me whether I should or not. Dahivada, lentil cakes covered with yogurt, got a slight shake-of-the-head no, but he nodded in the affirmative to most of our other selections.
My friend wanted to try the ragda samosa, two vegetable pockets in a chickpea stew, and I chose the mysore masala dosa, a griddled rice and lentil-batter crepe tucked around a spicy potato filling. It's served with a side of sambar, a soup of vegetables, tamarind and spices that's supposed to be poured on top of the dish, but I like to tear off pieces of the dosa, dip them in the soup and then spoon on a bit of mild and creamy coconut chutney. The idli sambar, fluffy steamed rice cakes paired with the same sambar and chutney, is only thing I wouldn't reorder—I wasn't into their thick, spongy consistency.
We took turns spooning bites of the affordable snacks, all around $3 each. We both loved the delhi chat, bits of crispy whole-wheat shells mixed with potatoes and chickpeas and topped with a blanket of smooth whole-milk yogurt. I also liked the pani puri, hollow shells filled with a vegetable mixture and come with a cup of cool mint water to spoon inside, and that exceptional dosa, which I'd had there once before and have eaten twice since.
I think we were both excited to have new vocabulary words to add to our food vernacular, and, for once, I didn't miss having meat at a meal because all my flavor and texture needs were fulfilled. As the restaurant closed, we were still talking about food (I have other interests, really, but food ranks first), and I took home leftovers for lunch the next day, making for two vegetarian meals in a row. That's progress, right?