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At first I think they’ve given me a big brown napkin to eat.

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Then I touch it. Warm. Crispy on the rim, softer towards the center. I see it’s like a very thin, very large pancake.

“This is the #81, the Mysore masala dosa,” says Kais. “It’s a spiced crêpe with potatoes smeared inside with spicy chutney. It comes from southern India, say Hyderabad.”

Kais the waiter is looking after me here at 8Elements, the new Indian restaurant in the Black Mountain Village shopping center (9160 Mira Mesa Boulevard, near Black Mountain Road, 866-968-0307).

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The idea is good eatin' depends on eight elements: Sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami (that savory thing); then smell, texture and temperature.

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I just happened on these guys when I got lost looking for that cluster of all things Indian they call Little India.

Turns out it’s a country mile south of here.

This place looked pretty expensive. I came in anyway, even though I didn’t have a lot to spend. Nice, classy, chandeliers, solid darkwood chairs, cream cloth table napkins, sophisticated crowd.

Kais could see I was looking for, uh, deals.

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“We have all these dosas,” he says. “Basically Indian crêpes. They’re good value.”

He says the cheapest one is the sada dosa. Thin crêpe made from rice and urad dal… lentil. “That’s $6, with sambhar – the lentil stew - and chutneys.”

It goes up from there, to dosas smeared or stuffed with everything from spinach ($8.50) to mixed veggies and cheese ($9), or chicken ($9) or lamb ($10).

I end up taking #81, the Mysore masala dosa, a “spiced crêpe with potatoes smeared inside with spicy chutney.” Costs $7.

When it comes, first thing it reminds you of is a golden linen table napkin. Second thing is injera, the juicier fermented bread disks of Ethiopia.

Third thing though is how much there is. And how much flavor the dosa has, even before you add any of the three chutneys, or the little bowl of sambhar. The potatoes and spicy chutney smeared inside give it guts and flavor. And there’s something about rice crêpe cooked for like seconds in an 800-degree tandoor oven, the way Indians have been cooking things for, oh, 5,000 years? It tastes tangy, different.

Then you dip into the three bowls of chutney that come with it. The white one’s coconut, the red is a tomato-based, and the brown is peanut-based. And if you want a break, the sambhar’s gentle, lentilly.

Dosa’s the kind of thing you should share, all ripping it off with your fingers.

Oh man. So much more to this place

Including a real original take on samosas.

More in Tin Fork, soon as I can.

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