Masala Dosa, Vegetable Kathi, Assorted Indian Pastries
Occupation: Film Festival Director
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Viks Chaat Corner
Reviewed Viks Chaat Corner: Sunday, October 16, 2005
Why would I recommend a place like Viks? After all, you can’t really get a complete meal there, and it is, in part, a nuthouse. You sometimes have to wait in a long line stretching out the door, only to have a few moments to decide among the dozens of regular chaat (Indian street-food snack) offerings or daily specials that come out of the kitchen, where at least a half-dozen women work furiously to turn out freshly crisped dosas (large, thin crêpes made of lentil and rice flour) filled with savory meats, airy-light poori breads, scrumptious samosas stuffed with spicy lamb filling, or moist chickpea cakes flecked with fresh coconut and mint chutney. Dining in a warehouse on paper plates is not exactly fine dining, but Viks is a stunning example of a type Indian cuisine that, while more at home in the alleyways of Madras than in the shadow of Berkeley’s precious 4th Street boutiques, deserves to be widely known and shared.
What started some ten years ago as a friendly, backroom snack service of an Indian goods market has blossomed into a full-scale chaat factory. The owners expanded the hot food service a few years ago into the market’s next-door warehouse, which now has been fitted with a few long counter tables, little round cocktail tables, rather uncomfortable chairs, and a ceaseless flow of delectable savory snacks. After placing your order, you have to listen for the announcement of your food’s availability over the East Bay’s worst public address system that manages to make every announcement sound like the same garbled message. Orders need to be picked up from the friendly counter person and brought back to your table, which hopefully has not been occupied in the meantime by another hungry party. To add to the frenetic experience, your order, which, if you are smart, will contain at least four snacks, even if you are eating alone, comes up, not at once, but in a kind of haphazard sequence… So just as you have made your way back to your table and are ready to tuck into your ground lamb kabobs in a spicy-hot chocolate-brown sauce, you may be interrupted with the news that your dhokla (the aforementioned chickpea cakes) or mirchi vada (potato-stuffed Anaheim chili peppers) are ready to be picked up. The daily specials are worth paying attention to -- crumbly idli (mounds of little rice flour cakes topped with daal), or fish kebabs, or lamb samosas. As you are ordering, grab a few of the super-sweet desserts from the display case, so you don't have to wait in line a second time.