|Dwaraka, Brief Review|
|Overall||Service||Food Quality||Atmosphere||Vegan Options|
|Location: 3962 SE Hawthorne Blvd Portland, OR 97214
|Recommended Dish: Masala Dosa|
|Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner: 5pm – 9:30pm Open Daily
|Times Visited: 3|
How many times have you heard Portlanders discuss Indian cuisine, and nothing comes up besides the Chaat Houses? No offense to the Chaat Houses (team BCH!), but vegans are always on the lookout for new vegan options. The latest addition, Dwaraka, knows how to skip the ghee while offering dosas, an array of pakoras, entrees, and a vegan-friendly lunch buffet.
Dwaraka Indian Cuisine opened on Hawthorne Boulevard at SE 40th this past Spring. It is located on a short strip of restaurants in an old Pakistani restaurant location, alongside Mio Sushi, No Fish! Go Fish! and Portland’s Pampered Pets The restaurant is quiet; minimally, yet comfortably lit, and mildly air-conditioned. The aroma of Indian cuisine casually fills the room. These factors, along with a very welcoming wait staff, contribute to an ambiance that’s both date night and family friendly. I’m partial to the seating out front, where a couple of tables overlook a busy area that’s sure to gather even more activity once New Seasons opens in the fall of 2010.
The first course to arrive when you are seated is the complimentary Papadums. These paper-thin discs are airy and lightly spiced with cumin seeds. They should be dipped into two of the table-side jars of chutney: the tomato and coconut. There is a third, mint chutney, but I was warned by both staff and a friend that this contains dairy. If you like black pepper and tomato, go for the highly spiced tomato chutney. If you’ve always wondered what would happen if coconut milk fell into your hummus, the creamy, coconut chickpea sauce is for you. Really, go for some of each on alternate spoonings. Perhaps you’d like to intermingle the two.
Dwaraka’s entire menu features North and South Indian cuisine, and Tandoori specialties. Most vegetarian entrees can be made vegan, excluding anything deliberately including dairy, such as paneer dishes. Across the board, it is imperative to let your server know you are vegan as there are exceptions to vegan-friendliness. Fortunately, the staff is confidently knowledgeable, and notified my dining parties that outside the paneer entrees, sadly – the Samosas, Crepes with Cream of Wheat, and Naan are all not vegan. In regards to the Naan, house-baked whole wheat Parathas can be substituted for $1 in its place. Not fun to spend an extra $1, but an option, in addition to rice. The staff has also been extremely helpful in pointing out what is, or can be, modified as gluten-free.
Now, what to get? Dwaraka’s immediate pull are their Dosas. And by pull, I mean, I justified review research by ordering them twice in a row. For those unaware, here is the description from Dwaraka’s online menu: “Dosas are crepes made with different lentils and flours stuffed with vegetable curry”. As if being a naturally gluten-free vegan crepe wasn’t enough, you have a savory Indian filling to look forward to. I recommend the Masala Dosa and Andhra Masala Dosa ($5 & $6.50). Both are gigantic, substantial folds of crepe with a moderately spiced and salty potato filling in the middle, with sautéed peas, carrots, onions, and other vegetables. The filling is clearly reminiscent of what’s inside a hot samosa. The actual crepe is substantial, and again, gigantic, which works to your advantage if you decide to share or take leftovers home. Break off pieces like you would with injera at an Ethiopian restaurant, or use your fork and knife to dig in and cherish. Whatever way, dip your pieces into the accompanying bowl of salty Sambar lentil soup. On one occasion, this soup was rather spicy; on another, it was milder; both were warming and enjoyable.
The Dwaraka Combo Platter ($7.95) is an appealing deal. It is vegan, gluten-free, and comes with the Masala Dosa, one Idli, one Vada, and the Sambar soup. Combos are great for versatility, but a bite of each new side item was enough for me. The kindest thing I can say about the curious Idli, a round, saucer-shaped rice dumpling, was that I would consider immersing it in Sambar in the future. The rest I can say, is that it was plain, crumbly, and rather uninteresting. If I simply don’t know how to eat this, please let me know! The fried Vada lentil “donuts” had a nice, crisped shell, and savoury inside, but too much unbeknownst green onion for my palate. A dining companion, however, was rather into them.
Another side option are the Pakoras, from the Appetizers section. These fried treats are battered in dough that’s once again, airy, yet crisp. There’s a touch of sweetness, and they avoid suffering from extra grease, like many deep-fried items do. Every variety I’ve sampled has been a winner, especially the tender pieces of eggplant ($4.25). The accompanying small bowl of tamarind sauce is also sweet, but subdued. The portion of sauce is small for friends to share, so be sure to ask for more if you’re dining family style.
The restaurant’s beverage menu includes standard sodas, Chai tea (request vegan, if possible), Madras coffee, wine, and a very decent selection of domestic and Indian beers. On my first visit, our charming server casually recommended another beer to a friend based on his prior ordering selection.
Since the move of India Oven to SE Belmont, Dwaraka Indian Cuisine now offers the most-vegan friendly Indian cuisine on SE Hawthorne.
Perhaps one day, I can look past the dosas and consider entrees, but for the time being I’ll say this: For the love of dosas in the Northwest, independent restaurants, and satisfying pakoras anywhere, check it out.
Papadum and Table-side Chutney