We wanted the antithesis of a turkey dinner today so we went to Vik’s Chaat Shop (726 Allston Way, Berkeley) for some spicy grub. The weekend is the best time to go to Vik’s because they offer their full menu. We shared four items: 1). One kathi kabob. This is an egg-covered paratha wrap with boneless chicken chunks, onions and cilantro and comes with mint chutney on the side. Paratha is a relatively thick, flaky, buttery whole wheat flat bread. 2). One lamb baida roti, a wrap made using a flour roti (another flat bread) and spiced ground lamb filling. This is a very savory item and I highly recommend it! 3). One masala dosa. The dosa is a crepe made of ground rice and dal (lentils) that is often stuffed – in this case with spiced potatoes. On the side you receive coconut chutney and sambar, a subtly-spicy warm lentil sauce. This dosa is large and hangs over the plate it is served on. 4). One bhatura cholle. We always get this vegetarian item, basically a huge puri (puffed, fried bread made of fermented wheat) served with chick pea curry and Indian pickles, which are pungent and hot. The big puri is the bhatura and the chick pea curry is the cholle.
When you order an assortment to share you wind up with several breads to dip into various sauces and condiments. For example, most of the dosa stuffing is in the middle so you can tear off plain pieces of the dosa on the ends and apply them to whatever looks good to you on other plates.
I love this place, and it is an antidote to bland food. Update on 12/5/08: Steve had off so we went back for lunch and had four different things: keema samosa, pastry-wrapped minced lamb and peas with mint chutney; bhel puri, a cold dish of puffed rice mixed with potatoes, onions, cilantro and various chutnies, including tamarind, so it’s on the sweet side; uttappam, a thick rice pancake topped with tomatoes, onions and cilantro that comes flat like a pizza with sauces on the side, and lunch special B, which today was chicken do-pyaza. The lunch specials come with a small serving of the main dish, chapatti (flat whole wheat bread), papadam (thin, crisp, chick pea flour bread), some kind of dal (lentil sauce), rice, raita (cold yogurt sauce) and pickle. Lunch specials work well when you share because one provides three dipping options for crepes or bread. The star of the meal was the samosa. Oh, man, so savory with a deep, rich flavor! Vik’s has the best samosa I ever ate – and that goes for the vegetarian ones, too, which are stuffed with spiced potatoes. They manage to get real complexity in their dishes, and each is distinctive. The potato stuffing in the masala dosa, for example, is different from the one in the samosa. The bhel puri was fine, but there was too much of it for two people given its sweetness and our use of it as a condiment. The uttappam has an interesting texture and the toppings wind up being cooked into it, so you get it dry and can use it to dip into sauce.
The average cost of an item at Vik’s is in the neighborhood of $5.50, so it’s a great place for a cheap meal, but one thing to be aware of is that almost everything has some heat to it. This would not be a good place to take people who cannot tolerate a slow, steady, pleasant burn as they eat. The people who work in this huge industrial space a nice, and service is quick, but they get busy during lunch. When we arrived today at 11:00 a.m., there was already a line and they had not yet rolled up their metal door.