Deccan Spice is a new Indian restaurant in what could be called The Mission’s Indian Row: we have Aslam Rasoi, Dosa, and Udupi Palace. At the time I visited, Deccan Spice had only been open a month. They took over the shuttered El Majahual (sniff!) and spiffed it up, with buttery yellow walls, vibrant art work, and red plush booths. The space is small, and has a casual feeling to it, for all that the rather elaborate chandelier in the middle of the ceiling might bode different.
Deccan is family owned: our server’s brother is the chef, and in fact, that first evening we were there, they had family in from India.
The food, we were told, is not of one particular region, but encompasses the specialties of all of India. However, I did learn that the name “Deccan” comes from “Deccani”, another term for Hyderabadi cuisine, developed around the city of Hyderabad, an inland area. When someone says they make food from all their country’s regions – especially one as rich and varied as India’s – I tend to get a bit nervous, I must confess: can they possibly do it all and maintain a high level of quality?
Our first night, we ordered off the specials board outside: Paneer Bhurji Dosa. I’ve had dosas several times, and love the crispy rice crepes.
This one was served in not quite the usual dramatic fashion, but cut into pieces. It was very good, with its filling of paneer (cheese) and masala (spice mix). The chutneys (dipping sauces) were great – tomato, onion, coconut, mint, and dal (spit yellow peas). Also, the visiting sister had made a specialty spice blend that night, of many toasted chilies and spices, deep and rich smelling. It went wonderfully with the dosas. The coconut was my favorite, although the tomato chutney was intriguing, with tangerine notes in the background. They made a great addition to the rest of our meal.
Next, came a Manchurian Gobi/Paneer.
Battered cauliflower and cottage cheese in a special “Manchurian” sauce. I’m not sure what the “Manchurian” sauce was, but these were great – spicy and tangy, crispy and tender. Very filling too, so watch out…
We took the recommendation of our server on our next dish:
A mix of Tandoori (baked in a clay oven) chicken, shrimp, a lamb chop, chicken Tikka (marinated chicken cutlet, typical of Punjabi cuisine), chicken seekh kabab (minced chicken formed into a kabab), fish tikka, with grilled onions. Everything had a wonderful smoky flavor, but unfortunately most of the meats were a bit overcooked, so the chicken and shrimp were dry, and the fish a little mushy.
We ordered plain naan (leavened, oven baked flat bread), because the BF likes it that way.
They do a really nice job with their naans, and Deccan spice has several flavors. On our second visit, I insisted on the “flavored” naan, garnished with cilantro, mint and jeera (cumin). Delicious!
We split a Taj Majal beer….
The BF debated over the Andhra chicken curry and the chicken Chettinad. The latter was described as a spicier dish, but the server said it was bone-in, and that he could have the kitchen make the Andhra chicken – a dish flavored with mustard seeds and curry leaves – as spicy as the Chettinad. It turned out not all that hot after all, but a good blend of spice and creaminess. The chicken was nice and tender. We shared that, and I ordered one of my favorite Indian dishes, palak paneer.
Deccan Spice’s palak paneer was different than any I’d ever had. It tasted more vegetal, more like spinach than any I’d tasted before. Which is a good thing, but at the same time, their version was a little bland. I loved the texture of the big chunks of paneer, however. Spongy and tender. It’s a dish that always satisfies me.
We also ordered a vegetable biryani (a mixed and layered spiced rice).
This one had nuts, spices and a variety of vegetables, and was less oily than others I’ve had. Very good, although I certainly don’t mind a fatty rice dish, now and again.
The BF wanted dessert, because on our first visit he’d seen someone with a towering parfait-like concoction – the Faluda: a milk drink with rose syrup, rice vermicelli, basil seeds and vanilla ice cream – but we were too full. We had purposely not finished everything on our plates this time, to save a little room.
But of course, he didn’t order that! He got the gulab jamun instead, which are juicy orbs of milk solids, swimming in a honey syrup. There were supposed to be nuts and raisins in there too, but we didn’t see or taste any. It was fine, but much too sweet for my taste.
The BF concluded that although the food wasn’t the best Indian we’d had, it was certainly affordably priced. The service was friendly and warm, if a little uneven, but we chalked that up to their having just opened. And it looks like it’s going to be popular; both times we went on the early side, there were either people already waiting outside, or the restaurant filled up completely within minutes, with people waiting.
And I went a third time, because a friend and I were having dinner, and I knew he liked Indian food.
We tried another cauliflower dish.
This was the Chili Gobi. And for the life of me, I could not tell the difference between it and the Manchurian Gobi we had the first time. My friend wished it had been crispier, or had some charring, at least. I agreed, this version was a bit mushier than the last. I probably wouldn’t order it again.
Coming out with my friend gave me a chance to order lamb, which the BF is not a fan of.
Lamb vindaloo, a spicier, typical curry dish, has its origins in Goan cuisine. Interestingly, vindaloo originated with the Portuguese, as a garlic-wine marinated meat, “vinha d’alhos.” The sauce itself was delicious – not super spicy (I’m sure they dumb it down for us Gringos) – but the problem was the inconsistent texture of the meat. Some pieces of lamb were quite tough, while others were tender. It was good enough that I might order it again, though. However, Deccan Spice has a whole host of other lamb and goat dishes I’d love to try sometime.
Next, we got the Fish Tika Masala Tandoori.
Sizzling & steamy! This had looked so good on someone else’s table, and smelled wonderful The flavoring was great, but the fish was again a bit soggy. I was informed it was tilapia, which could be part of the reason; however, I do think they overcooked it a bit. It seems Tandoori is not their strong suit. Although my friend loved the crunchy onions.
We had the garlic naan, which was not overly garlicky, but again perfectly moist with good charring, just as the other breads had been.
Deccan Spice has quite a large menu, including a variety of dosas I’d love to try. So, while it probably won’t be my go-to Indian place, for the money, it’s a worthy contender. I think they’d like to consider themselves as more upscale than they really are, but they’re not in the league of Dosa, for instance, which may be an ok thing. Decent, reasonably priced restaurants are always welcome to join the neighborhood.
1142 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110