Paper Dosa

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

It’s 6:30 on a Wednesday evening and Paper Dosa is packed. Groups of people stand in the hallway or at the host stand, waiting for a table. The smell of frying onion, cumin, cilantro and mint fills the air while I sip a glass of Vinho Verde. A friend and I are lucky enough to get two seats at the bar, overlooking the kitchen. Our placemats are lost beneath an array of appetizers. We begin with handfuls of crispy pakora: thinly sliced red onion and jalapeño battered in rice flour, which we dip into a creamy eggplant chutney with a heady, earthy flavor. Next comes the cashew calamari, surprisingly not fried. Instead, discs of sliced squid are buried in a thick, spicy cashew curry. The flavor pairs beautifully with the strong, pungent ginger of a cold glass of Thistly Cross Ginger Cider. We lose ourselves in the spicy mango and goat cheese salad, crunching on colorful watermelon radishes and walnuts. Every so often we bite into lusciously ripe cubes of mango coated in spicy red chili.

Chef Paulraj Karuppasamy and his wife and business partner, Nellie Tischler, have found a home for their first restaurant and Santa Fe’s only eatery dedicated to south Indian cuisine. The couple spent the last year catering for private events and putting on pop-up dinners across town in an effort to build followers. After several events and an amazing 32 consecutive pop-up dinners at Café Fina, Paper Dosa has earned a reputation for its flavorful cuisine. The pair also received support from BizMIX, an annual startup and business plan competition that teaches aspiring business owners about financing and how to plan and pitch their business. The organization awarded the couple $13,000 towards opening their restaurant and in April they took over the old Mail Call space on Cordova Road, next to Maria’s.

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

Paulraj (or Paul, for short) was born in Tamil Nadu in the south of India. There were no restaurants, so food was a big part of each day—his mother would begin cooking at 5:00 every morning. They lived across the street from a market where his father bought ingredients three times a week. Everything was made fresh from scratch each day and leftovers were thrown out for the dogs, cats and chickens. “Paul’s mom makes food that’s spectacularly bright,” Nellie says with a smile. “There’s always a little punch to everything, so Paul got that from his mom.”

After attending culinary school in India and working as a chef for a cruise line, Paul landed in San Francisco at Dosa, a south Indian restaurant that had just opened up. Paul had never worked cooking Indian food before. “Until I came to San Francisco I was not much into south Indian cooking,” Paul says. But as he experimented with new techniques and spices, he began to miss the food he grew up eating. “I really fell in love with south Indian cooking,” he says. At the same time, he fell in love with Nellie, who was working as a server. They got married two years later and eventually made their way to Santa Fe, where Nellie grew up.

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

The white truffle masala dosa looks like a giant enchilada. But when it arrives at the bar, I can see that it’s delightfully thin, delicate and crispy. Fermented rice and lentil batter is artfully crafted into a giant crepe and then rolled around the masala, a stuffing of spiced potatoes blended with white truffle oil. Across the top of the plate three dipping sauces are lined up: sambar, coconut chutney and tomato chutney. The sambar, a hearty lentil and vegetable stew, is my favorite. I tear off pieces of dosa and dip them into the stew, searching for chunks of crispy vegetables. The coconut chutney sends my palate soaring in the opposite direction, cool yet spicy and chock full of fresh cilantro.

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

South Indian cuisine is distinct from the cuisine in the north of the country. In the south, the climate is tropical and hot, so the food is based on rice and lentils, instead of the wheat-based dishes found in the north. The food, cooked in coconut and gingelly oil (Indian sesame oil), is light and fresh. Whole or ground spices and herbs are heated in hot oil or ghee and added to a dish, a process known as tempering. The hot fat of the oil extracts the aroma and flavor of the spices and herbs, enhancing their presence in a dish.

The couple envisioned a menu that was simple, streamlined and reasonably priced, so they included street food like dosas, vadas (doughnut shaped lentil fritters) and pakora. Prices range from $4 to $9 for appetizers, $9 to $13 for dosas and $13 to $18 for curries. Each dish is powerfully flavored and some are very spicy. “Heat is a big element in south Indian cuisine,” Paul explains. He uses an array of ingredients like mustard seeds, curry leaves and Thai chili in addition to generous amounts of ginger, garlic, onion and tomato.

The list of ingredients for the chicken curry alone is impressive: cilantro, mint, ginger, garlic, Thai chili, habanero, cumin, coriander, poppy seed, peppercorn, garam masala, bay leaves, cinnamon and cardamom. The restaurant goes through an incredible 60 bunches of cilantro each day. The food is made from scratch and can easily accommodate vegetarian, vegan and gluten free customers. “For south Indian cuisine you need spicy, tangy, bitter, salty and a little bit of sweet,” Paul says. “You’ll find those five flavors in multiple dishes.”

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

It has always been the couple’s dream to open their own restaurant. “I know the kitchen,” Paul says, “and Nellie knows the floor.” But Paul was hesitant about opening a business in Santa Fe, where no one has exclusively offered south Indian cuisine before. The market is also much smaller than in San Francisco. “It’s hard to sell this business,” he explains. “People don’t know what south Indian cuisine is. If I can get them to try it once, they’ll become a fan. But how can I get them to try it?”

“We knew that once people tried the food, it wouldn’t be hard to sell,” Nellie says. “If you have a good product, all you have to do is get it out into the market.” Paul agrees. “Pop-up dinners and support from BizMIX really gave me the chance to get my product out to a lot of people.” The two have been surprised by an outpouring of support from the community and especially from other business owners who have brought the couple in for pop-up dinners and events, including Murphy O’Brien of Café Fina, Soma Franks and Fiona Wong of Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen and Mu Jing Lau of Mu Du Noodles.

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

Support from these members of the culinary community shows an eagerness for the continued expansion and growth of Santa Fe’s culinary scene. “Other business owners have really supported us,” Nellie says. “We couldn’t have done it without them.” Customers have also contributed to the initial success of Paper Dosa, filling the restaurant every night. Paul says, “People are welcoming and grateful and really supportive. It’s just amazing.” The addition of Paul’s south Indian cuisine to the Santa Fe dining scene is a definite sign that our culinary community is maturing.

Back at the bar, we’re on the last course: tastes of three different curries. We begin with the vegetable curry, made with coconut milk and tomato and spiced with chili powder. I wrap pieces of uttapam, a thick south Indian pancake made from rice and lentil dosa batter, around crispy cauliflower, carrots and parsnips. The chicken curry with its long list of ingredients is one level up in heat, spiced with Thai chili. But my favorite is the very spicy lamb curry. Local lamb is seasoned with red chili, green cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves and peppercorn. The result is an irresistibly pungent, earthy curry with a deep, broody flavor and lots of heat.

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

“This food makes people feel alive,” Nellie tells me, and I agree. “Life can be difficult and sometimes our day-to-day life can run us down. People come here and for that hour and a half life is driven by food and the senses. That to me is fun—it’s exciting.” For Paul, sharing his cuisine is the most rewarding thing about his new business.

“When I’m cooking, when I see that people are happy with that first bite, that makes my heart happy.”

Paper Dosa is located at 551 West Cordova Road in Santa Fe. 505.930.5521.

Originally published in the May, 2015 issue of Local Flavor Magazine. Photography by Gabriella Marks.

Hearty Feasting Fare

Cafe Pasqual's

Santa Fe restaurants like Cafe Pasqual’s emphasize healthy dishes with local, organic ingredients.

For those of us living in the high desert, where the growing season is glorious but short, winter means we bid adieu to some of our favorite produce: We’ll have to wait until next year to enjoy fresh local lettuces, berries and summer vegetables. But the first hard frost and dusting of snow doesn’t mean the end of fresh food in Santa Fe. Local restaurant owners are committed to providing fresh and organic food year-round. Instead of spring onions, we enjoy local fennel. Grass-fed meat from ranches around New Mexico takes center stage on winter menus. Chefs and bakers make everything from pasta to fresh bread from scratch. Food integrity is a vital part of Santa Fe’s culinary scene year-round, and there’s something for every meal and budget, whether you’re looking to start your day with a light breakfast or sit down to dinner and wine with friends. Bon appétit! 

Breakfast on a winter morning

If you’re looking for a small bite to start the day with, a trip to Revolution Bakery, Santa Fe’s only 100-percent gluten-free bakery, is in order. Everything here is made from scratch daily, from cakes and pies to muffins, scones and bread. As a participant in the Albuquerque and Los Alamos farmers markets, Revolution bakery spends the summer and autumn months trading baked goods for local farmers’ fruits and vegetables. During the off-season you can still depend on Revolution for fresh, local food. Try their egg muffins made with local, organic eggs and Hatch green chile. Breakfast dough placed in a muffin pan is stuffed with egg and chile and baked in the oven. This is a dish I don’t mind waking up to! Also try Revolution’s homemade sticky buns, which are topped with pecans from Pecos Diamond Pecans in Artesia, New Mexico, or the French toast made with Revolution’s fresh-baked bread and local apples.

Pumpkin cinnamon roll (with icing) and egg and cheese muffin at Revolution Bakery

Pumpkin cinnamon roll at Revolution Bakery

If you’re looking for breakfast with a focus on local, make sure to pay Joe’s Dining a visit, a restaurant known for its passion for local and sustainable food. The list of local ingredients at Joe’s is impressive: Lamb, bison, chicken livers, chile, eggs, flour, feta cheese, fruits and even some of the wine and beers served at Joe’s are all from our state. The restaurant even makes its own mozzarella cheese! I love to visit Joe’s for a breakfast burrito made with organic eggs, local potatoes and, of course, local chile. Even the tortillas are from Albuquerque. It’s a classic, delicious and truly New Mexican dish. Also be sure to try the blue corn pancakes. Santa Fe Culinaria makes the blue corn pancake mix, and the fluffy cakes are served up with ham, bacon and local jam. 

If you happen to pop in for lunch, branch out and try the grass-fed liver and onions, with liver from Sweet Grass Cooperative in Colorado. This co-op is composed of ranchers who have a passion for the land and the animals, and many of the member ranches are certified organic. The liver and onions will be served with winter vegetables from the farmers market, like winter squash, pumpkin and beets.

A tour of healthy breakfasts in Santa Fe wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Café Pasqual’s, where chef and owner Katharine Kagel has been a vocal proponent of all things local and organic for the past 35 years. Pasqual’s purchases products from certified organic farmers and producers who don’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones or GMOs. This tiny café embodies the concept of food integrity, and the time and energy Kagel spends sourcing food for Pasqual’s demonstrates her dedication. For example, the restaurant uses only Askinosie chocolate, a small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer located in Missouri that sources 100 percent of its beans directly from the farmers. Nearly everything at Pasqual’s, from beef and pork to sugar, flour and spices, is organic. Even the wine list offers only wines that are sustainable, organic or produced biodynamically. Are you vegan, vegetarian or gluten free? Not to worry, Pasqual’s will adjust many of their menu items for you.

This winter, try the eggs benedict with bacon from Red Mesa Meats, available at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. “It’s some of the best bacon I’ve ever had by far,” Kagel says, adding that the hollandaise for the dish is homemade using organic butter, lemons and eggs. I can’t think of a better breakfast for a cold desert morning.

Quinoa burger at Cafe Pasqual's

Quinoa burger at Cafe Pasqual’s

Local lunch

Izanami, the new, beautiful, izakaya-style Japanese restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves, boasts 90-percent organic produce, as well as non-GMO organic soy and locally raised chicken, beef and pork. The restaurant introduced a new chef in September, David Padberg, who worked the past 12 years in Portland, Oregon, and brings with him a strong knowledge of sourcing locally. This winter season, he’ll be serving up Lone Mountain Wagyu beef from Golden, New Mexico. Raw slices of the premium Wagyu New York strip are presented tableside along with a hot stone, which guests use to sear the beef themselves. Served alongside the beef is an array of sauces including freshly grated wasabi root, soy sauce and momiji oroshi, a mix of grated daikon radish and red chile peppers. 

Harry’s Roadhouse is an old favorite offering fresh, organic ingredients this winter. The restaurant uses organic eggs and squeezes its own fresh juices, as well as offering organic oatmeal and homemade granola during breakfast. For lunch at Harry’s, try the buffalo burger, which uses locally raised buffalo. For an extra boost, have it with the organic New Mexico gala apple salad, made with blue cheese, walnuts, celery and a sweet-and-sour poppy-seed dressing. Be sure to check out the daily specials, which emphasize local and homemade ingredients and change according to what’s available.

Although relatively new, Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen has been an amazing addition to the Santa Fe culinary scene with its focus on high-quality, nourishing food. Owners Soma Franks and Fiona Wong are proponents of local and organic ingredients. They participate in Santa Fe’s Farm to Table restaurant program and use the restaurant as a drop point for a local community-supported farm. A grow bed on the back patio provides fresh herbs and edible flowers. They also make some items entirely from scratch, like their delicious 100-percent organic gRAWnola, which is made using sprouted live-food granola and buckwheat, pumpkin seeds, goji berries and coconut topped with sugar-free almond milk. The pair also mills their own flour each day, which they use in pasta dishes and fluffy pancakes. 

Turkey tortilla soup with green godess salad at Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen

Turkey tortilla soup with a green godess salad at Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen

This winter, try Sweetwater’s spicy lamb burger, made with local lamb from Talus Wind Ranch Heritage Meats. Have it with soup or salad, both of which are made using any available local ingredients. It’s a lunch that will leave your stomach, and soul, feeling nurtured.

Dinner by the fire

Another new spot and an instant favorite is Fire & Hops, the gastropub recently opened by Josh Johns, formerly of Second Street Brewery, and Joel Coleman, back in town from a stint in San Francisco. Coleman is committed to using local ingredients for his menu, and Johns is equally enthusiastic about local tap beers, offering an IPA from La Cumbre, varied selections from Bosque Brewing Company and local ciders. All the lamb for Fire & Hops comes from Shepherd’s Lamb, located 100 miles from Santa Fe at the foot of the San Juan Mountains. It’s organic and, Coleman says, some of the best lamb available in New Mexico. The restaurant uses fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers market, depending on what’s in season.

Green papaya salad with red onion, dried shrimp, peanuts and toasted rice at Fire & Hops

Green papaya salad with red onion, dried shrimp, peanuts and toasted rice at Fire & Hops

Make sure to try the burger — with a tall glass of beer, of course! Burgers here are made with beef from a co-op of New Mexico ranchers, so you can be sure your burger is completely local. It’s topped with caramelized onions and a bun from Sage Bakehouse, itself a great spot for high-quality baked goods — all the bread is naturally leavened, hand-formed, free of additives, slowly fermented and baked directly on the hearth. This burger is simple, delicious and is quickly becoming one of my favorites in Santa Fe! 

A great place to have dinner, especially when there’s snow on the ground, is Terra Restaurant at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado. Although it’s only 15 minutes from downtown Santa Fe, Terra feels like a world away from the buzz and hum of downtown. The elegant dining room with its cozy fireplace and long rows of windows overlooking the mountains is the perfect spot to warm up on a cold night. Likewise, chef Andrew Cooper’s menu is the perfect addition to our list of restaurants that focus on fresh, local ingredients — not to mention his food is delicious! Cooper is an adamant proponent of local ingredients, and you can find him at the farmers market in Santa Fe twice a week year-round, searching for all things local to incorporate into his menu.

Look for the lamb with Parmesan polenta and wild mushrooms, with lamb from Naturally New Mexico Food Products in Rio Arriba County. Mushrooms are from Freshies of New Mexico, a certified organic farm and participant in the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Cooper uses winter vegetables he can find at the market to round out this dish.

Also worth mentioning is the chicken with spiced pumpkin and bacon bread pudding, winter vegetables and bourbon sauce. The chicken comes from Pollo Real, the first certified organic poultry farm in the United States. The pumpkin is from Gemini Farm in Las Trampas and Cooper uses vegetables that are on offer at the market. Even the bourbon is local, from either KGB spirits or Santa Fe Spirits. Dinner at Terra is heaven for any locavore. 

Handmade papardelle, rabbit confit, wild mushrooms, pearl onions, parmigiano Reggiano at Arroyo Vino

Handmade papardelle with rabbit confit, wild mushrooms, pearl onions and parmigiano Reggiano at Arroyo Vino

Another fun spot to check out for dinner is Arroyo Vino, located just outside Las Campanas. Chef Mark Connell is making some of the most innovative and delicious food in Santa Fe right now. Make sure to check out any of his pasta dishes — all the pasta from Connell’s kitchen is homemade fresh each day. He uses “00” flour (better known as doppio zero in Italian), a finely ground flour commonly used in Italy for making fresh pasta. Eggs for the pasta are local, and if you’re vegan, Connell can make vegan pasta fresh on the spot. Try his rabbit confit with pappardelle — savory, full of flavor and great for a winter evening.

The last bite

Also don’t overlook spots like Vinaigrette, where owner Erin Wade grows produce year-round in the 1,200-square-foot greenhouse at her Los Portales farm in Nambé. Try the spinach-mushroom salad with sautéed mushrooms, bacon, red onion and hardboiled eggs — chickens from Wade’s farm provide the restaurant with fresh eggs daily.

Be sure to check out Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, where chef Josh Gerwin uses farmers market ingredients and local meats. The enchiladas are to die for, made with local free-range chicken or buffalo, New Mexico red or green chile and local cheese. 

Need a meal on the run? Bang Bite Filling Station Food Truck is a great stop for lunch. Salsas are homemade, with ingredients roasted on site. Try a bowl of black bean and turkey chili, with beans from the farmers market and turkey from Los Lunas, New Mexico.

A selection of classic cheeses at Cheesemongers of Santa Fe

A selection of classic cheeses at Cheesemongers of Santa Fe

If you feel like staying in on an especially cold night, Santa Fe is host to two new markets for high-quality meats and cheeses, The Real Butcher Shop and Cheesemongers of Santa Fe. The Real Butcher Shop features grass-finished, organic and heritage meats and charcuterie and is Santa Fe’s first whole-carcass, farm-direct, producer-owned butcher shop. Cheesemongers of Santa Fe is a specialized grocery store offering more than 100 cheeses, many of which are domestic. Small-scale and farmstead goods are emphasized, and the shop works closely with local and regional producers to stock local products ranging from mustards and chutneys to honey and pickles.

It’s winter. The trees may be bare, the ground hard as stone and the skies a bit grayer, but there’s no shortage of fresh, healthy food in Santa Fe, a food lover’s paradise all year long. 

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Originally published in the Santa Fe, New Mexican’s Winterlife Magazine, November 2014