"Ruchi satisfies Southside’s urge for Indian favorites
With popular cuisines like Mexican and Chinese, variety is key. You go to one place for their kung pao chicken on the lunch buffet, another for their Peking duck or dim sum service on the weekends. You appreciate the subtle differences in salsas at a range of taquerias or the various offerings of tamales and tortas. When it comes to less common international eats like Thai or Indian, you tend to court a single restaurant to do it all, a place you can trust to provide the most authentic experience with a country’s cuisine.
Being the two-timing, gadabout diner that I am, however, I’m happy to cheat on a favorite eatery to get a good meal. Unlike a lover, a restaurant demands no explanation when you slink back in after an aborted affair. Thus it was that I found myself on the Southside, trolling for good Indian food. Definitely the most fickle of all Indy’s gastronomic quarters, the Southside has, over the last few years, flirted with Indian cuisine, and at least a couple of notable Indian eateries drew devotees to strip malls to try them out. I still dream about the coconut shrimp at Grill of India on Emerson, and Shahi Daiwat definitely contended with the best Indian restaurants in town.
But neither of these places could make a go of it, neither could draw enough customers away from the mainstays of Indy’s Indian food scene to develop a following all their own. Now, the only Indian restaurant south of downtown is Ruchi, which seems to be persevering, despite the odds. Having neglected it in their first few months of operation, I figured it was finally time to give the place a try.
Given its claim of “royal Indian cuisine,” you might expect Ruchi to be a little more elegant or upscale. But a few letters on the sign are already out, and the place is pretty modest inside, bathed in a coat of lemon yellow paint. On a weeknight, diners were scarce and the corner housing the day’s lunch buffet, a comparative bargain at $6.95, was darkened and barren. Ruchi’s name, of course, implies more about the food, though little on the menu here will look different from other Indian restaurants around town. “Royal” is more a reminder that most of the Indian cuisine we get in this country is the kind of food eaten at celebrations rather than the more everyday cuisine served in homes.
Among first bites, a quartet of chutneys with the typical papadum flatbread (here without spices) included not only tamarind and mint but mango and a relish of blood-red sweet onions. A “Shahi Special” ($5.95) gave us a good sampling of vegetarian appetizers like samosas, as well as various pakoras, the most curious of which was a simple slice of potato with almost more chickpea batter than potato. Better were ones with crunchy cabbage and spinach. Samosas were larger and heavy on potato inside, but with spoonfuls of those chutneys, they made for a tasty pre-meal snack.
Among entrees, nothing exactly floored us, but everything was flavorful and well-prepared. If anything, spicing was a bit more timid than at other Indian restaurants. On a scale of 1-10, a 4 packed only a bit of heat, a 6 was hardly searing. If you’re a daredevil diner, adjust your numbers. By far the best dish was the lamb saag ($10.95), which balanced quite tender chucks of lamb leg with a gingery spinach sauce. This definitely held up against others we’d had around town.
Fish tikka masala ($10.95) was the most curious of dishes, with a big meaty salmon steak that was nicely charred on the outside and then bathed in that creamy, glowing orange sauce more familiar when served over chicken. Tikka masala is purportedly not Indian of origin but actually a creation of Bangladeshi chefs in Great Britain. In this country, for better or worse, it’s often the test of a great Indian restaurant. This was our “6,” and while some heat did build after a few bites, this didn’t have quite the lusciousness or the bite of some versions. For our vegetable, bangon bartha ($7.95) was also fairly straightforward with good spicing but little of the charred, smoky flavor the dish sometimes comes with.
Looking for a sweet finale not typically found on local buffets, we went for rasmalai ($3.95), a dish of rich, slightly grainy cheese “cakes” about the size of a quarter in a very sweet milk. This was a bit small to split, but it was so sweet that we wouldn’t have needed more. All in all, we had little guilt about straying from our typical Indian standbys, and Ruchi is certainly worth a stop when you’re in the neighborhood—or looking for a change of pace in a neighborhood still able to support a respectable Indian eatery.
Ruchi Royal Cuisine of india
2318 East Stop 11 Road
Tuesday-Thursday: 11:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday: 11:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Food : Three stars
Atmosphere : Three stars
Service : Three and a half stars