Vietnamese star

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I can still vividly remember discovering Alfrieda Street in St Albans. Bored with the footy game in which Bennie was participating at a nearby oval, I went for a wander, turned a corner and – bam! – there it was: A whole street and neighbourhood of food and fine folks of which I had been utterly unaware. Since those pre-CTS days, St Albans¬† has become a regular haunt. Now, thanks to sponsorship from the St Albans Business Group (see full disclosure below), I am looking forward to getting to know Alfrieda Street and environs even more intimately. This is the first of a series …

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Trang Tien, 11 Alfrieda Street, St Albans. Phone: 9078 1677

Trang Tien can be easy to miss.

It doesn’t front directly on to Alfrieda Street, being angled away as part of a sort-of courtyard it shares with Cafe U And I.

As well, Trang Tien has a somewhat modest shopfront, though it does sport typical photographs of some of the food offer.

Inside, though, is a menu and eatery that offer a wonderful and bewilderingly long range of dishes from all over Vietnam – some of them rarely seen in Melbourne.

 

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Pho?

Sure, you can get that here – and numerous other Vietnamese staples.

But why would you when there’s a grand opportunity to chance your arm a bit?

Banh canh do bien (S $12 and L $13), for instance (top photograph).

This is fat, slippery udon noodles in a viscous broth (think corn and chicken soup) made with, I’m told, seafood but which the internet tells me can also be pork-based.

The broth is of terrific depth in terms of flavour and nicely peppery.

The seafood component hidden in there comprises nice fish chunks, calamari, a couple of prawns, seafood balls, seafood extender and seafood loaf, with onion slices and other trimmings adding textures of a more strident nature.

This a terrific alternative riff on the more familiar soup noodles we all know so well, be they Vietnamese, Chinese or other.

 

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More prosaic, though also not often seen around Melbourne, is bo bit tet ($15).

More of a breakfast dish, this is your Vietnamese steak and egg – beef steak, fried egg, bread roll, salad.

The roll is crusty and hot and right fine for mopping up the juices and fried onions.

Simple and good, this is.

 

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Beef satay ($8.50) looks, let’s be frank, something of a scraggly mess.

But it works!

The mix of fried, nicely chewy meat, onions slivers, roasted peanuts and sticky sauce is just right and deeply satisfying.

Trang Tien is a gem.

(This post has been sponsored by the St Albans Business Group. However, Consider The Sauce chose and paid for the food involved and the STBG neither sought nor was granted any access or say in the writing of this post.)

 

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Sooper dooper new Japanese joint

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Shinmai Tasty, 44 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 3830

My first visit to Shinmai Tasty, the new Japanese eatery at Edgewater, was meant to be all about reconnaissance* – checking the joint out for a more in-depth subsequent look with more people on hand.

I had a lovely lunch, though to be truthful its three elements were enjoyed as something of a mixed bag – miso soup (OK but not great), bento (OK but not great) and dessert (sensational).

 

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But there was something about the place and its happy, obliging staff that made me hasten about organising that return visit.

I felt a buzz of real excitement and an urgent desire to explore the menu in much greater depth.

That menu is a smartly devised two-page affair that runs fromh sushi and sashimi and starters through to salads, mains, bentos and dessert.

There are many classic dishes to be had and a few that appeal through unusuality.

But my excitement was based around more than that – it was and is also very much about the decor and the fabulous artwork.

 

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The dining room is long, with one whole wall – opposite the bar/bench seating – adorned with two utterly gorgeous murals.

Normally, as regular readers well know, decor and artwork aren’t high on the CTS agenda.

But in this case they have massive impact, being wonderful eye candy on the one hand and bespeaking, on the other, a determination to provide an all-inclusive environment to enjoy eating Japanese food.

The art approach even extends to the loo (see below)!

Obviously, I am no expert on Japanese art of any kind, so I know not if this style of painting has a name. It’s not in the manga or anime style, though I do detect a connection with the settings portrayed in the Studio Ghibli films.

On to the food!

Here’s a round-up of what was tried over both visits – luckily I booked for the second, as it ended up with a group of seven (including myself) that made merry during a busy Mother’s Day lunch session.

 

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Miso soup ($3.50 but served free with bentos) – very nice without being great, but certainly packed with lots of seaweed and very fine tofu cubes.

 

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Nasu kara chips ($8.50) – just as well several serves of these eggplant chips were ordered as they proved a big hit and were, to my mind, stupendously fine.

The tempura batter was very good and the long eggplant strands within cooked to molten, delicious perfection.

Served with mayo and dusted with just the right amount of chilli powder.

A knock-out dish!

 

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Edemame ($5) – salt-spirinkled soy beans, a nice snacky diversion for us all as we awaited our more serious, substantial fare.

 

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Wagyu beef tataki ($16.50) – I am used to beef tataki variations being heavily marinated, very garlicky and (usually) served with a raw egg.

This was something different and lighter, the beautiful beef having something of citrus tang about it.

Good for sharing!

 

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I tasted neither the agedashi tofu ($9.50) nor …

 

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… the mixed tempura ($14.50), but the very happy recipient of both could hardly have been more emphatic in declaring both outright winners.

 

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The sushi fan orderers of the mixed sushi/shashimi ($38) were a little underwhelmed.

Big tick for the sashimi; “indifferent” the word used to describe the sushi.

 

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My soy udon soup chicken ($16.50) was superb, with super broth that was both delicate and robustly flavoured.

Along with the fat, slippery noodles and a goodly amount of seaweed, right there in the middle was a whole chicken thigh – a first for me, that I can recall, in a lifetime of eating soup noodles of various kinds.

I wondered how I was going to eat it – but it was so beautifully cooked, not to mention supremely tasty, that I had no trouble getting the meat from the bones.

 

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On the first visit, I enjoyed the sashimi bento ($22.50) with its OK sushi, fine sashimi, very enjoyable sushi rice, seaweed salad, grapes and unmemorable salady bits.

 

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That was mirrored in the second meal by various of my pals ordering bentos of the beef teriyaki ($20.50) …

 

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… chicken teriyaki ($19.50) and …

 

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… unagi (eel, $23.50) varieties, with their respective owners all happy with their lots.

 

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First time around, I was presented with a complementary green tea brulee that I was, in any case, preparing to order!

I loved it then – so creamy and scrumptious, and an outright bargain at $5.90.

Those we ordered for our Sunday lunch were a little below that standard, being – to our collective mind – a little grainy in the texture department.

Still, I’d order it again in a heartbeat!

 

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The green tea and hojicha (another variety of (roasted) green tea) ice-creams we are presented without ordering or paying were fine.

Why the complementary ice-cream?

Maybe because it was Mother’s Day, maybe because we were a largish group, maybe because they’d figured out a blogger/reviewer was part of that group.

I say the above merely to make clear that the mileage of individual patrons and groups may vary in this regard.

 

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As, I hope, the above words make clear, not everything we tried at Shinmai Tasty unequivocally hit the spot.

But some dishes did just that.

We reckon this is a very welcome addition to the Japanese options available in the western suburbs and, in fact, fits in right nicely with the likes of Chiba, Ebi and Ajitoya.

Highly recommended, it is.

My heartfelt thanks to Liana, Dev, Christine, Julian, Eliza and Josh for enabling such an in-depth story!

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*Haha – I can’t believe spelt that word correctly first time!

 

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Footscray’s new spicy place

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Spicy Chef, 359 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 7224

This was something of an impromptu CTS gathering that came together very easily.

A spare Sunday night, a new Indian place to try, who’s in?

So it was that six of us gathered with just one aim in mind – to take for a spin the Spicy Chef opening special of biryani, starter, salad and drink for $11.95.

We had good meals but I suspect there’s plenty more to explore at Spicy Chef in the coming weeks and months – certainly the pricing (compared with other Footscray Indian places) is very reasonable on the menu proper across the usual range of curries and dosas.

 

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The best thing about our meal deals was that they were served on thali trays and that constituted excellent all-round meals for one.

Like many people, perhaps even most, I usually struggle to go even close to finishing a regular, inevitably huge serve of biryani.

So having a smaller portion mixing it with a starter and salad (even if it is just some slices of carrot and cucumber) and a drink thrown in is a fine thing.

Perhaps other restaurateurs could take this idea and run with it!

Our biryanis were uniformly fine, with good raita and spicy gravy on the side and enough fried onion strands to make the rice dishes sing.

We mostly chose goat biryani and it was good, with quite a lot of meat that came from the bones quite easily.

The starters didn’t quite reach the same standard but were OK, ranging from onion bhaji (top photograph) to …

 

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… egg bhaji to …

 

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… eggplant fritters to …

 

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… chicken 65.

This latter was Bennie’s choice and he probably did the best of us.

 

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West Footscray and the winds of change (2)

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Could West Footscray eventually rival Footscray proper – not only in residential terms but also in terms of commercial activity and what I’ll simply call buzz?

I’ve been pondering this for a few weeks, spurred on by a couple of stories written by my Star Weekly colleague Benjamin Millar.

The first concerned the 501 Receptions site on Barkly Street.

When the news broke almost a year ago the paperwork was in on an attempt to get permission to build almost 200 apartments on the site, the general understanding was it was the reception centre owner who was going to do the developing.

Now, as Ben reports, the site is on the market.

The second story concerned the revamp that is going to happen at West Footscray station to accommodate the Melbourne Metro rail project.

And never mind that the station could hardly be more shiny or new as it is!

That, I reckon, makes the mostly vacant land at the CBD end of the station (top photograph) area very valuable, strategically and otherwise.

 

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The land, owned by VicTrack, is home to the Western Emergency Relief Network and the fine people who sail in her.

 

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Right across the road, the building and land that once housed a motor mechanic outfit, has a for sale sign out front.

 

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It lists among the property’s virtues town planning permits for a “4 level complex comprising 30 apartments and 2 shops”.

 

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Right next door to that is Potters House church.

One whisper I’ve heard is that rezoning efforts are being made for this land.

Maybe some residential development is in the longer term future there.

But my understanding is that the church, on a site that was once a sugar factory, has a lease that has about five years to run.

 

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Banbury Village, meanwhile, is seeming more like a regular part of the neighbourhood rather than the closed-off bubble it has seemed for several years.

This is because there are now a number of village roads fully connecting to surrounding streets such as Barkly, Cross and Warleigh.

 

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Switching our gaze to the other side of railway tracks …

I’ve been told the reason there’s a monster hardware store there is because there are toxic soil concerns for much of the land in the area, rendering it unsuitable for housing.

 

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The means the area bounded by the Geelong Road, Geelong Street and Sunshine Road will presumably stay as a home to some fairly gnarly industrial undertakings – rubber, iron and paint among them.

 

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Another whisper I’ve heard is that the council is keen on preserving the jobs capacity of the properties on Sunshine Road from the bus depot up to the wool stores.

One of the wool stores, the one that runs parallell to Roberts Street, is used for I know not what – but when I choose that route to get to work there are always many, very large trucks coming and going.

The other wool store is being used as storage depot/warehouse for Dimmey’s and the associated import/export business, Starite.

Beyond there is a surprisingly large amount of residential neighbourhoods about which it is easy to forget.

A lot of the older houses in this area – bounded by Sunshine and Paramount roads and Stony Creek – were built after World War II by a developer named Hansen, using many recycled materials because of war-time shortages.

 

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His company name and/or motto is still emblazoned on one the Tottenham shops – the one that housed a sub-continental grocery for a few years.

 

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I learn the above information from Evan, who I meet when step foot – for the first time – into the Tottenham mobility scooter shop.

Actually, Evan runs three business on the premises – Mr Mobility, Hamilton Street Antiques and Mr Mannequins.

If I had been previously aware of these diverse enterprises, it was only very dimly.

 

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So I am knocked out the range of old stuff Evan has in here – this is easily the most impressive antique/vintage shop I’ve seen in the western suburbs.

The antique side of the business is named after Hamilton Street in Yarraville, where Evan was located before moving to the Tottenham shops 25 years ago.

 

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In the course of good old chinwag, Evan tells me the bottom has fallen out of the antique biz, mostly – he reckons – because of Ebay.

As well as many houses in the streets behind the Tottenham shops, there is a very big vacant lot – on Cala Street, right next to Opera Australia Props & Scenery Hire.

But perhaps there are soil issues there, too?

 

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Crab burger and hot desserts

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George Jones Eatery, 15 Pascoe Street, Pascoe Vale. Phone: 9304 2917

One of the most pleasurable times of the CTS week is Saturday lunch.

Chores and blogging done, it’s time to hit the road, coffee to go and cool tunes rocking both the car and us.

Such Saturday outings regularly involve travel beyond the bounds of the western suburbs, even given the geographically generous drawing of those boundaries in the world of Consider the Sauce.

And quite often, those Saturday outing involve a romp up Pascoe Vale Road, those outings almost always ending up in Coburg and Sydney Road.

Today, though, and for the first time, we are headed to Pascoe Vale itself.

 

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We’ve been invited to dine at George Jones Eatery (see full disclosure below), and for that we end up being very grateful as without that invite this fine establishment may have escaped our attention for, well, pretty much forever.

George Jones Eatery has been open for about 12 weeks and is already a bona fide hit.

I could be glib and imply that’s because of a lack of dining options in Pascoe Vale.

I’m sure the locals around here are grateful for its presence but the truth is George Jones Eatery would be hit wherever it went.

The room is big and divided up into a variety of sections, some with communal seating.

 

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When we visit we’re told it’s a less-busy-than-usual Saturday yet the place is still hopping – and despite that, the noise levels are fine.

The staff members are many, working hard and very good.

Best of all, from a punter’s point of view, is the menu (see below).

George Jones Eatery is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a separate though not much different list for night-time.

But here’s the thing: The lunch menu – ranging from breakfast with many appealing dishes through to a kids menu, a handful of lunch mains and another handful of burgers (with chips) – features just a single dish priced beyond $20.

That there is right smart pricing – the kind that goes a long way to encouraging repeat visits.

 

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Bennie goes with the soft-shell crab burger with kewpie tartare, coleslaw and citrus dressing ($17.90).

If, somewhat inevitably, he ends up rather wishing he’d plumped for one of the meatier (chook, mushy, cow) burgers, he enjoys his nevertheless.

He should know by now that soft-shell crab – in any guise – is akin to chicken feet: It’s less about the ostensible Crab Prince and more about his courtiers.

Going by the tastes I am offered, this burger and its crab are lovely things, the Asian seasonings coming through strong.

The chips come in a huge serving – more than enough for his dad to eat of them freely – and are excellent.

 

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My seared yellowfin tuna with green beans, “heirloom tomato”, kipfler potato and romesco salsa ($21.90) is a nifty, delicious take on salad nicoise.

The gorgeous fish is barely seared, rimmed with black sesame seeds and served at room temperature.

The salady attendants are very good and all in perfectly complementary proportions.

Best of all, in terms of my own personal preferences, there is a total absence of the usually ubiquitous capers.

 

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We order two desserts, one a special, the other from the regular menu.

Choc tart surprises us – instead of the expected gooey filling cupped in a pastry base we get what seems to us more like a block of fudge.

It has fine, deep chocolate flavour and the raspberry sorbet, salted caramel sauce and honeycomb are beaut.

 

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But banana parfait with salted peanut caramel, chocolate mousse and choc rice crisp ($13) steps up to another level entirely – this is a momentous dessert!

The mousse is mindblowingly intense in terms of chocness and the parfait has a tangy edge that seems almost citrus in nature.

All is rich, sexy and memorable.

(Consider The Sauce dined at George Jones Eatery as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meal. We chose from regular menu and had no restrictions placed upon us in doing so. George Jones Eatery management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to this story.)

 

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Meal of the week No.28: Tahini

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A mid-week appointment finds me in a good place to check out a newish CBD joint of Middle Eastern persuasion, Tahini Lebanese Diner (518 Little Bourke Street, off Guests Lane).

While the other end of Melbourne’s CBD has Chinatown and more going for it, the Spencer Street end teems with eateries and cafes in what seems like hundreds of alleys and laneways.

Trouble, in our experience most of them are average tending towards mediocre.

As I discover, Tahini is neither – it’s hot and cool, and if I lived or worked or both in this area, I’d be eating here at least a couple of times a week.

In the process of nailing down my fine lunch, I also discover that Tahini is tricky to find.

A few twists and turns, though, and I’m there.

 

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I discover a rather lovely cafe-style diner.

Lunch hour is just beginning and there’s a heap of on-the-ball staff members taking care of business.

It’s with a foot-weary sigh that I happily peruse the menu (see below), upon which I find listed very many familiar favourites from our many visits to Coburg, Brunswick and even – these days – various locations in the west.

Feeling like something light, I bypass such meaty items as the shish tawouk and kafta and even the reportedly world-class felafel, though it is fun watching the latter being made.

Zing goes my fatoush ($12)!

It is excellent, every piece of the jumble of cos, tomato, radish, red capsicum, onion, parsley, mint and pomegranate seeds singing with lemony joy.

A bowl of the same herbed pita chips that are in my salad is presented on the side.

Baba ghanouj ($6) is the real-deal, too, my rather modest portion – I mind not, as it’s all I’m wanting – tap-dancing all over my tastebuds with the expected and desired smokiness and lemon and garlic.

 

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Nice place for Indian

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Dosa Plaza, 20 Adelphi Bvd, Point Cook. Phone: 8334 4100

Dosa Plaza is situated in Soho Village, a small, crammed-in commercial/apartment development just off Sneydes Road.

It’s a lovely place – there’s plenty of light and part of the restaurant looks out on to a small park.

There are Dosa Plaza joints also in Camberwell, Preston and Dandenong, while the company website has a section for those interested in checking out franchise opportunities.

The restaurant’s big strength is that it is entirely vegetarian.

On the other hand, the menu (see below) is so very long that a Sunday lunch for a CTS trio is little more than a snapshot of what is available.

 

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Pani puri ($8) are presented to us as separate components and we have a ball combining them.

The rotund puri are crisp-as yet we easily and without mishap crack holes into each into which the stuff the rice puffs, a superb potato mash and the tamarind sauce.

The result is all-round excellence.

 

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Bennie’s mum orders palak paneer $12), a dish on which she’s a self-professed expert.

She likes this one but it is more creamy than she prefers and lacks a bit of zing.

Her naan is fine though it is soft and pliable rather than crisp.

 

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From the Indo-Chinese selections, Bennie picks “paneer schewzan noodles” ($11.50).

He describes them as being OK and falling somewhere between what one may find in a food court or in one of our fave West Footscray spicy haunts.

 

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My Punjabi thali ($13.50) looks a treat but ultimately disappoints.

The best of it are a lovely raita, the rice with peas and a fabulously moreish carrot halva studded with sultanas.

The three curry dishes – the above mentioned palak paneer, a tomato-based vegetable stew and an aduki bean dal – are dull.

 

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We enjoy our time at Dosa Plaza even if our food selections mostly fail to wow us.

We can’t help but wonder if there’s greater wonders in that huge menu.

If we lived around here we’d be in this place at least a couple of times a week finding out!

 

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