Hyderabad to the Bone

Ruchi will delight fans of northern and southern Indian cuisine alike.

Our plan was simple. Dinner at the new Indian restaurant Ruchi and then the late showing of Superbad at a nearby cinema. We were certain the plan would work. We bought our tickets online hours before the meal. We figured, barring a kitchen catastrophe, we'd have no problem getting to the move in time.

But we didn't account for the leftovers. Eggplant pakora, lamb saagwala, goat curry, rice, naan, various small side dishes: A little or a lot of everything we'd ordered remained on the table when we finally cried uncle. Even after we decided there wasn't enough of the pakora or the sides to bother saving, we had a couple of meals' worth of leftovers — and nowhere to refrigerate them during the movie (well over two and a half hours with commercials and trailers) and the drive home (which would include a traffic jam at midnight, thanks to highway roadwork).

I've politely declined or conveniently "forgotten" more than a few doggie bags since I became a restaurant critic. This feast — the rich curry, the verdant saagwala — I couldn't leave behind.

Owners Sanseev Reddy Guduru (left) and Niranjan Reddy Seelam (right) take diners on a tour of India from north to south.
Jennifer Silverberg
Owners Sanseev Reddy Guduru (left) and Niranjan Reddy Seelam (right) take diners on a tour of India from north to south.

Details

Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily Dinner 5-10 p.m. daily.

Vegetable pakora...$5.95
Mysore masala dosa...$7.95
Goat curry (with thali)...$12.95
Hyderbad biryani (with thali)...$15.95

12513 Olive Boulevard, Creve Coeur; 314-576-7272.

Across the parking lot from Ruchi is a supermarket. We went over there and bought an insulated lunch bag and four sixteen-ounce packages of frozen store-brand green beans. We packed the green beans around the leftovers inside the lunch bag and — voila! — we could have our curry and eat it too.

(My lawyers advise me to state that in no way, whatsoever, do I or Riverfront Times endorse the method described in the previous paragraph as a safe or effective means to store cooked food for a prolonged period of time.)

(But that goat curry sure made a tasty lunch the next day.)

Ruchi is a restaurant that forces you to change your plans. Even if you understand that "Indian food" is a term so broad as to be meaningless, the reach of its menu just might surprise you.

Ruchi opened in late spring in Creve Coeur, just west of where Olive passes over I-270. It's actually the second Ruchi; the original opened in Kansas City several years ago. A yellowed Kansas City Star review sits in the front window.

The St. Louis location is in the middle of a small strip mall, which itself is nestled in one corner of a large shopping plaza. You enter into the large, open main dining room. It's an attractive space, if not especially remarkable. The lighting is pleasant, the music unobtrusive. To one side is the buffet area. Besides the standard Indian restaurant lunch buffet, Ruchi offers a dinner buffet on Saturday and Sunday evenings. For the purposes of this review, I had weekday, non-buffet dinners.

Dinner begins with a basket of complimentary papadum and four chutneys: one sharp with mint, a second fiery with chile, a third tart with tamarind and a fourth sweet with mango. The contrasts among the four flavors are thrilling. Yet you might do a double-take at the direct heat of the chiles or the mere presence of tamarind. You're probably used to Indian dishes that are a complex stew of spices, the heat (if any) gradual; you usually associate tamarind with Thai or Vietnamese cuisine.

Likewise, an order of pakora, that reliable appetizer, brings a dish of quite hot and absolutely addictive tomato sauce and, as cooling contrast, a mildly-sweet coconut chutney. The pakora are more or less perfect, the chickpea batter deep-fried to a thin, golden-brown crisp. Ruchi offers several different pakora; I recommend the vegetable sampler: eggplant, potato, spinach, bell pepper and onion. The onion pakora are better than your favorite onion rings.

The tamarind, coconut and overt heat are all indicative of India's south. Ruchi offers numerous specialties of this region's cuisine, which — thanks to historical events and patterns of migration so complicated that they could fill (probably have filled) multiple tomes — isn't nearly as well known in this country as the cuisine of India's north.

The menu groups several of these dishes as "South Specialties," but given the menu's length and its arrangement by type of meat (e.g. lamb or chicken) and by type of dish (e.g. biryani) as well as by region, you might easily miss them.

You shouldn't. And it goes without saying that if you come to Ruchi seeking another variation on lamb vindaloo or chicken tikka masala, you should change your plans.

The most famous dish of India's south might be dosa, a thin rice pancake about as large around as a compact car's tire. It's folded into a wedge that still overflows your plate. I tried the mysore masala dosa: a thin layer of very hot chutney is spread on the inside of the dosa, which is then folded around a mash of onion and potato. Though the chutney is the dominant flavor, the dosa itself has character, with a sour note vaguely reminiscent of East African injera.

The mysore masala dosa is served with sambar, a terrific lentil soup with a tart tamarind flavor and definite heat that's nicely softened by coconut. You can order a bowl of sambar on its own, but you'll receive a taste of it if you order your main entrée in the thali style (a traditional Indian platter in which small servings of side dishes — soup, potato, chickpea and dessert — are arranged around a mound of rice).

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