Ruchi Satisfies FiDi Indian Cravings
I will start this review by confessing that I have never actually been to the beloved Pakistan Tea House. They may have the best Indian food on the downtown scene, but they’re a hike from my office, and I just haven’t made it up there yet.
What I do know is that I’ve got no use for Diwan-E-Khaas. I have to respectfully disagree with Daniel’s positive assessment of their food and say that nothing I’ve ever had there (and I’ve had a lot) has been very good, and some has been very bad. So I’m very happy to have a place like Ruchi around. Their food is neither awesome nor an amazing deal, but very good Indian food for under $10 is something this neighborhood needs. And Ruchi’s got that covered.
First off, an apology is due for the horrible quality of the pictures below. The dimmish red light inside Ruchi apparently made my camera’s sensor go totally crazy, and I didn’t realize how awful the photos I was taking were. Sorry. I’ll try to compensate with exceedingly vivid prose. No promises.
The inside of Ruchi is a little weird. There’s something about pervasive red light that’s a little disorienting. It’s nice enough, to be sure, but it’s not the first place I’d choose to spend an hour.
Especially not if it’s cold outside: My first trip to Ruchi was back in peak of winter, and it was freezing inside the restaurant. Each time the door opened, every single molecule of warm air was sucked out of the restaurant almost immediately. Not ideal. It wasn’t quite like eating outside, but I didn’t take my jacket off the whole time. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem any longer, but just keep it in mind for when next winter rolls around.
My friend Seth tipped me off to this place, and he joined me there for lunch so we could try a variety of dishes. Here’s the deal: The prices on the menu at Ruchi are not appealing and are out of Midtown Lunch range. BUT they have a daily lunch special that offers 50% off all “North Indian food,” which, happily, is nearly everything on their menu. This doesn’t make Ruchi cheap – an entree with rice would be about $8 – but it’s a good price for the meal.
We started with bhel puri ($4.95 before discount), which is one of my favorite Indian dishes. It’s a chaat, which is basically a bar snack. It’s made from puffed rice with potatoes, tomatoes, tamarind, onion, cilantro, chutney, and I think whatever else they’ve got kicking around in the kitchen. It’s crunchy, tangy, spicy, sweet, salty, and amazing. Ruchi’s is a good version of the dish, and for $2.50 with the lunch discount, it’s well worth trying.
Chicken Tikka Masala ($12.95 before discount) is the standard by which I judge your typical Indian restaurant. This may not be fair, since CTM as we know it was invented not in Mumbai, Delhi, or Bangalore, but in the UK somewhere, probably Glasgow. But I love the stuff anyway.
Ruchi’s passes muster: the chicken is tender and the sauce is creamy with a nice kick of spice. Overall I was really satisfied.
If you squint really hard here, you can see the Chicken Kadai ($12.95 before discount), which is “chicken pieces cooked with onion, ginger, tomato in a iron work, rich w/ spices zalore.” Oh how I love spices zalore. The kadai is less creamy than the masala, a little more tomato-ey, and a little spicier. I’d never had kadai before, and I liked this one, but I don’t think it’ll become my favorite dish anytime soon. I don’t that has anything to do with the quality of Ruchi’s cooking, I just don’t think I’m that crazy for Kadai.
Can we just all agree that restaurants who serve food that is meant to be eaten over rice should include said rice with entree? Honestly, I don’t even care if this just means that they add the price of the rice to the price of the entree. I just can’t stand ordering a big, soupy bowl of curry and then being asked if I would like to order some rice. Also, guys, I cook. I know what rice costs. Gimme a friggin’ break.
In my dream world, naan would be included at Indian restaurants as well, but I’m not holding out much hope there. We got garlic naan ($3.95 before discount), and it was just as buttery and garlicky as a boy could hope. Regular naan is $2.95 before discount.
If you go to Ruchi, do not order the Ruchi Special Makai Faansi salad ($5.95 before discount). The menu describes it as “sweet corn and fresh green beans tempered with curry leaves, ginger and coconut on a bed of mixed greens.” This sounded very tasty to Seth and me, and it was something we’d never tried before. What finally arrived at our table halfway through the meal – after we had received and returned a different salad – was a plateful of frozen Bird’s Eye corn and green beans heated in the microwave, sprinkled with tasteless dried coconut, and tossed in canola oil. I will really eat just about anything, but I only took three bites of this before I put my spoon down in defeat.
But there’s good news! As the waitress cleared our plates, she noticed the mostly untouched “salad.” She asked if we were done with it, and we nodded vigorously. When she returned with our check, she informed us that we were not going to be charged for the mostly uneaten salad.
While they never should have served that dish to anyone in the first place, I really appreciated that she had noticed our displeasure with it and had done something about it. I feel like that happens less and less often these days, especially in the financial district where the main game of the restaurant business seems to be a competition among restaurateurs to see who can get office workers to pay the most money for the smallest salad. So when it does happen, I appreciate it all the more.
The discount means that a meal (entree and rice) at Ruchi runs about $8. Definitely not the best deal around, and if it were in Murray Hill, I’d never return. But there’s a serious shortage of good Indian food around here, and so Ruchi is an option I’m very happy to have available.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Good Indian food at a good price in an area where that’s not very common.
- Larger and more diverse menu than your typical Indian joint.
- Fast and friendly service that makes up for its mistakes.
THE — (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Everything is a la carte, and I have a moral objection to a la carte.
- In order to get the lunch special, you have to dine in, and it’s dark and sometimes cold in there.
- The Ruchi Special Makai Faansi salad should be outlawed by the Geneva Conventions.
Ruchi, 120 Cedar Street (btw. Greenwich Street and Trinity Place), (212) 227-8454