Cross-posted from Calgary is Awesome.
Most of the Indian dishes that we are familiar with today, like butter chicken, tandoori chicken and naan, are actually from the northern (Punjabi) part of India. For a taste of southern Indian cuisine (and their signature dosas), you can travel north to the industrial area between Castleridge and Prairie Winds Park to find Southern Spice.
Despite being a little hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall, a lot of care has been put into the decor - a giant mural covers one of the walls in the restaurant, and the bar is topped with an intricately carved wood dome. If you're unfamiliar with the cuisine, they offer a lunch buffet every day from 12 PM - 2 PM, as well as an all-day weekend buffet. B. and I went late on a Friday evening, so we were glad that the server was very helpful in pointing out the most popular and most delicious dishes (though he often picked the more expensive options! Hmm...)
With his help, we ordered the non-vegetarian thali ($12.95), which allowed us to sample a variety of dishes, including (going down each column) Indian pickles, Payasam (a dessert made with vermicelli cooked in coconut milk and flavoured with cardamom), tomato chutney, coconut chutney, basmati rice, chicken curry, tomato rice with pieces of goat, rasam, potato dosa (idly - a "cake" made from rice and lentil flour was hidden below), vada (fried potatoes), sambar and yogurt.
All the dishes were very distinctive and well done - stand-outs for me were the crispy fried potato, the tender chicken curry, the sweet and licorice-y Payasam and the yogurt, which had a very strong milky flavour. The dosa, which is like a thin crepe with crispy edges, was perfect for picking up all the different dishes (we saw a few Indian families there eating without utensils). The idly was a spongy, slightly mushy cake, perfect for picking up the soupy rasam and sambar. I couldn't handle the pickles though - super-salty with a flavour that was reminiscent of Chinese medicine. Blech!
Even though it's advertised as a meal for one (?) It was definitely more than enough food for B. and myself, and with all the creamy curries it was actually quite heavy. Next time I would probably just get the vegetarian thali (I assume that it'd be less heavy) and some extra sides of dosa or other bread to help scoop everything up.
We didn't realize that the thali would have so much food, so we'd also ordered the Kadai Goat Curry ($10.95) - it's listed as a "Goat Fry" on the menu, but the waiter gave us a choice of fried or curry - with a side of Paratha ($4.95). At first B. and I were a little unimpressed that the waiter pushed the most expensive bread, but when we tasted how puffy, flaky and soft it was, we forgave him. The goat curry was also very flavourful - there were lots of different spices mingling together and complementing each other; the goat itself was tender and fell right off the bone, and it didn't have any gamey or goaty taste at all. Watch out for those vegetables on the side though - there was an innocent little coleslaw on the side, but the white strips on the top of the curry were raw onion!
The only major quibble I have is that the food took a long time for the food to arrive. It might be because everything is made fresh and/or there were lots of little dishes, but if you are really hungry it can be easy to grow impatient. However, the friendly service more than made up for it - B. and I stayed almost till the restaurant closed at 10, and the waiter was still trying to get us to order dessert instead of rushing to go home!
102-4655 54 Ave NE
Calgary AB T3J 3Z4
Open daily 11:30 AM-10 PM. Madras Masala Dosa $5 every Wednesday. Amma Special $11.95 and live Tamil music every Thursday. All-day brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.