Last night I had a chance to visit Ruchi, a restaurant serving homestyle south Indian food, in the south of Market (SOMA) neighborhood of San Francisco. I have dined at other restaurants serving south Indian food (see my review of Dosa) and I love the dosas and piquant vegetable dishes from a region whose cuisine is not well represented outside India.
The food at Ruchi hails from Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu in southern India. They use a lot of tamarind, cardamom, and fenugreek. They also have dry vegetable dishes that include bitter melon stir fried with molasses and other vegetables sauteed with mustard and cumin.
The highlights of the menu are the vegetable dishes and the dosas, which resemble large crepes, and must be eaten at once before they lose their crispiness. I tried the madras masala dosa stuffed with potatoes, onions and tomatoes, coated with spicy chutney. The dosas come with chutneys and sambar, a soup made with vegetables and spices, in which you can dip pieces of the dosa. I had my eye on the pesarattu, a crepe made with moong lentiles, topped with onions, ginger and green chilis.
Because I was yearning for something very spicy, the restaurant recommended the hot mirchi bajji which are stuffed hot chili peppers in chickpea batter. They were very spicy indeed, and I was glad I ordered a Kingfisher beer to wash it down. Very delicious. I also ordered one of their signature dishes, the chicken chettinadu which consists of pieces of chicken in a light creamy sauce spiced with cardamom.
The vegetable dishes are excellent. I recommend the greens pullakoora (spinach, lentils in a savoury sauce) and eggplant curry. Among the starters, the idli (steamed rice patties) and dahi vada stand out. And one must try the coconut rice!
Next time I go back to Ruchi, I will try the fish talimpu made with onions and tomatoes, or the Nellore fish curry made with tamarind sauce, coriander, turmeric and fenugreek. This dish comes from Nellore, a town on the east coast of Andhra Pradesh.
Prices at Ruchi are friendly to the budget: the appetizers are priced between $4 and $6 (my stuffed hot peppers came in at $5). The dosas are $8 and they are a huge meal in themselves. I got 3 large dosas on a plate and I ate one and a third. Next time I will bring a hungry dining companion. The curries are between $7 and $13; rice and biryani dishes between $7 and $12; vegetable dishes are between $6 and $8.. They do have tandoor of chicken and lamb ($5 to $12), including the ubiquitous chicken tikka kebab (note: if it were up to the owner, she’d leave out the chicken tikka kebab and chicken tikka masala, but because many customers expect to see these dishes in Indian restaurants, she has placed them on the menu).
Service at Ruchi is excellent. The owner herself helps diners select dishes and explains their origins. The restaurant is welcoming and simply decorated.
LUNCH UPDATE: I went to Ruchi today (23 July 2010) for lunch. My lunch companion and I ordered the “thalis”. A “thali” is a platter with a main dish, rasam, basmati rice, salad, naan, yogurt, chutney and a dessert. I had the fish curry thali ($11.95) and my companion had the vegetarian curry thali ($8.95). Both were very delicious and filling. The fish curry is less heavy than the vegetarian curry, the latter being made with a creamy, savoury sauce. The fish curry is not creamy at all, and its sauce is simply divine.