The husband is away working with a software team in India. I am jealous and wistful, so I decided to mirror his trip with my own journey. I am seeking good Indian food in the land of developers—in my case, Bellevue.
First is Abiruchi, which looks like a garish Long Island wedding hall. Its walls are clad with faux malachite and set off with brass pinstripes and crystal sconces; at the center of the gaping room is a babbling eight-lion fountain. Toward the far end of the space are a dance floor and an enormous video monitor playing a Jet Li movie. The air smells powerfully of disinfectant, and but for one other party and a timid, non-English-speaking waitress, we are alone.
It might not look promising, but we order, loading up on the South Indian starchy things I haven't had a chance to eat in a while. We find the podi idli ($4.95), steamed cakes coated in a chili-asafetida powder, all but inedible. The vadas ($5.25), donut-like lentil cakes, and the onion uttappam ($6.95), a thickish fermented pancake, are passable, but get no spark from the mediocre coconut chutney and sambar (light vegetarian curry) that accompany them. A thin, crispy lentil crepe ($7.25) is lovely, but served with the same bleak sauces. Sadly, the disinfectant smell makes it hard to really savor anything. Just as we agree that we should have sampled some North Indian curries, one stellar Southern-style entrée popped up: The hyderabadi biryani ($13.99)—a rice pilaf filled with bits of long-cooked goat and spiced with star anise, cloves, and cardamom—is unexpectedly and unequivocally tasty.
On the way out, I figure out why our servers seemed almost surprised to see us. I grab a slick promo card sitting next to the fennel seeds on the way out the door: On Saturday nights, Abiruchi becomes Savoy Dance Club, offering Noches Centro Americanas. Dinner is clearly beside the point.
After Abiruchi, I am feeling cagey about another meal on the Eastside—so I get take-out from two branches of Bellevue's Mayuri. The first is a strip-mall restaurant decorated tastefully with low lighting and ornamental wall niches. Blessedly it smells, as an Indian restaurant should, of methi, ginger, and onions. But it is at the second stop—Mayuri's video, sweet, and chat shop—that I fall in love a little.
Inside the brightly lit shop, with miles of DVD cases, bachelors search for their movies for the night while little kids cluster around a pastry case filled with mountains of pastel sweets: burfi and gulab jamon and the like. And then there's the chat—Indian snacks that I have been craving ever since I lived in Berkeley. I order plenty, even though I have a full meal of curries to consume.
Back home, the chat pulls me out of my doldrums. Indian snack food is all about brightness (of mint chutneys, cilantro, and tamarind) and crunch (of onions, sev noodles, puffed rice, and crisp chickpea flour batters). My favorite is bhel puri ($2.99), a pile of crispy rice and grains, mixed with spices and onions, then topped with herb and tamarind chutneys. There are also fritters galore—aloo tikki ($2.99), soft fried potato cakes in a bed of delicious tamarind peas; fried chili bhajis ($2.99), too hot even for my neighbor who grew up in Mexico; and, naturally, some very appealing samosas (99¢).
From Mayuri's statelier restaurant, we gorge on tangy chickpea channa masala ($8.95), and a spinach paneer ($9.95) that contains particularly creamy morsels of cheese. Some of the meal is a bit of a surprise: We gobbled down an order of aloo gobi ($8.95), a super-tasty, slightly sweet preparation of cauliflower and potatoes that I don't remember ordering, and we either got the mildest form of lamb vindaloo ($10.95) ever prepared, or we accidentally got another, gentler preparation—no matter, it was still tender and rich. As for our South Indian starchy bits, the lacy rava dosa ($5.25) and chubby onion utappam ($5.25) and their attendant chutneys and sambars were so much livelier than Abiruchi's that I began to forget that first trip across the lake. Sometimes sweet oblivion comes in the form of a few well-placed cumin seeds and a bowl of fresh coconut chutney.