Spice Route

Ruchi unearths a new set of South Indian specialties

Considering the relative dearth of South Indian restaurants in San Francisco, the mere arrival of Ruchi would be cause enough for rejoicing.

Better still is the new SoMa restaurant's unique menu, riddled with dishes that are rare even in the South Indian-dense cities of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara.

Take masala vada ($5). You've probably tried the spongy lentil donuts known as medu vada, often served adrift in a pool of spiced yogurt. The masala vada from Ruchi's chef Chinmaye Kakuturu substitutes ground chana dal (split chickpeas) for the more common urad dal (skinless split lentils). The batter is then fortified with chilies, onions, cumin and curry leaves, and fried in patties crackly on the outside like the demurest tempura.

Or consider pesarattu ($8), a heftier incarnation of the familiar dosa. As a whole-wheat loaf is to Wonder bread, pesarattu is especially hearty, since its base is made partially from ground skin-on mung beans.

The fiber-rich dough is then spread thin and griddle-cooked to a shattering and chewy exercise in contrast. Like many dosas, pesarattu is stuffed with mashed potatoes seasoned with turmeric and cashews, then served alongside sambar (soupy lentil stew) and tomato and coconut chutneys.

And you thought you knew from South Indian food.

Ruchi, 474 Third Street (at Bryant St.); 415-392-8353 or ruchisf.com