Meatless Monday: Uttapam at Udipi

Anthony Dominic, Crave

I had doughnuts, pancakes and coffee for dinner last night-Indian-style doughnuts, pancakes and coffee, that is. I usually can't make it to Udipi Cafe's weekday lunch buffet, but the three-course Royal Dinner ($14.99) is the next best bet for sampling the North Side eatery's South Indian (and all-vegetarian) cuisine.

First up is a choice of two soups: tomato or rasam. Unless you have taste buds of steel, go with the tomato. The chili- and cumin-spiked rasam is a doozy-maybe the spiciest soup I've ever tried. The tomato is familiar, but thicker, tangier and sweeter than the American take.

For the second appetizer, skip the idli (steamed flatbread) and go for the medhu vada (fried lentil doughnuts). The doughnuts are carefully deep fried, their firm exterior giving way to a warm and fluffy inside, perfect for dunking into the cold coconut chutney or the tamarind- and lentil-based sambar stew served on the side.

Udipi does uttapam right, so make it your main course. Think Indian pizza: It's an easy mix of rice batter, black lentils and water (similar to injera in Ethiopian cuisine) and topped with tomatoes, peas, carrots, chilies, potatoes, onions, coconut-anything but the kitchen sink. I love the potato masala version. The dough is thick and chewy, and the potato mix is creamy, well-seasoned and topped with cilantro. You get most-welcome second rounds of chutney and sambar, too, so use those generous slices of uttapam to soak up every last drop.

As a black coffee drinker, post-meal coffee at Udipi is dessert. Indian coffee, or kaapi, is a mix of boiled milk and finely ground, spiced coffee powder served piping hot in a silver tumbler. Each sip is sweet and cinnamon-y on the tongue with a slightly bitter finish.