Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mini Dish: Kasa Indian Eatery

Everyone has his or her favorite cuisines. Mines include Vietnamese, Italian, Korean, French, California, Japanese, Hong Kong-style Chinese, and some Hawaiian.

Since that’s not an exhaustive list, then that means there are cuisines that are not among my favorites. Such as Indian.

While I don’t go out of my way to seek out Indian food (I find everything either cooked to a mush or barbequed to dryness) that doesn’t mean I don’t eat it now and then. It’s mostly my hopes of someone changing my mind.

A friend recently showed me the Kasa Indian Eatery in the Castro, which opened in June, and I was so intrigued by its concept that I recently visited for lunch.

Kasa is right at the corner of 18th and Noe Streets, in a spot that used to be a cheap taqueria. I remember that I would go to the taqueria for a quick and simple meal when I couldn’t decide what to eat in the neighborhood. So I was kind of sad to realize that it was no longer there.

But enough with memory lane.

I walked into Kasa and immediately thought that this is not like any of the Indian eateries I’ve been to before (not that I’ve visited that many). It was modern, sleek, hip and stylish with its aluminum bar stools, bright yellow flowers and photojournalistic black-and-white images on the wall. It really played to the casual-but-hip approach to eating by the owners, Anamika Khanna and Tim Volkema.

Kasa doesn’t offer a full Indian menu but focuses on a kind of Indian street food known as kati rolls. It’s been described as an Indian burrito. So it’s basically a wrap using a flaky, buttery wrap called a roti. You can order six different fillings for your kati rolls or you can order a thalis, which is basically a deconstructed kati roll with a bit more sides.

(The rolls sell for $5.50 for one, $8.95 for two and $11.95 for three while the thalis plate sells for $10.95.)

You order at the counter and watch the people assemble your kati roll or thalis, and then you sit yourself and chow down. I decided to get a thalis plate of chicken tikka (charbroiled free-range chicken, not to be confused with tikka masala which comes covered in sauce). They also had a special that day of Gobi Aloo, a curried cauliflower and potato dish, so I ordered a side of that.

The thalis is actually a big platter of food, starting with your main (my chicken tikka) and sides of basmati rice, daal (which is typically slow-simmered lentils), raita, chutney, marinated onions and a pickled crunchy garnish salad. On top they place one sheet of the roti, which I guess you can use to roll your own kati roll if you felt like it.

First the side of Gobi Aloo. I’m always interested in any kind of spicy cauliflower dish because I love cauliflower and would love ideas on how to prepare it differently. The Gobi Aloo was, unfortunately, very much like what I think of Indian food to be—a bowl of mush. The cauliflower and potatoes were so overcooked that I wondered if there were any nutrients left in the vegetables. And I don’t think the whole bowl was just cauliflower because it seemed like they mixed in some broccoli as well. It looked like this grey-green mush. I barely finished it.

For my platter, I started with the chicken tikka pieces because they looked the safest. It was good and tasty, but I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as incredibly moist. Then I took a bite of the roti, but I was nervous from the start because the wrap was glistening from either melted butter or oil used to fry up these babies. It definitely tasted home-made, which was good, but I couldn’t get past the greasy buttery coating.

The other parts of the plate were all fresh and tasty, from the cooling raita (yogurt with cucumbers and mint) to the tart crunchy salad. The daal was nice and tasted almost like a chutney. You can tell that the quality of the ingredients is top-notch, but I felt that it actually probably would have tasted better combined. So a kati roll probably would have been the better route to go, if I can just get past the greasy feel of the roti.

Because I spent more than $15 for my lunch ($10.95 for the thalis platter and another $5 for a side of the Gobi Aloo), I felt the food needed to knock it out of the ballpark. Or at least make me an Indian cuisine convert. It did not.

Kasa is a refreshing spot for the neighborhood and you’ll probably enjoy it if you love Indian food. But I kind of wish the old taqueria was still around.

No rating since this is a mini review. And just because I don’t roll with the roti doesn’t mean it might not be for you. I definitely like the scene but am still not sold on Indian cuisine.

Kasa Indian Eatery, 4001 18th St. (at Noe), San Francisco. PH: 415.621.6940. Open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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