During our trip to Southern California in March to attend the West Coast UPGRD Meetup, my wife’s family was unfortunately out of town, but a former co-worker of mine who lives in Pasadena wanted to get together to catch back up and introduce her baby daughter to us. We decided to get some Indian food, and headed over to “Radhika Modern Indian”, a restaurant that bills itself as providing innovative takes on traditional Indian cuisine. The Dallas area is home to a multitude of very good Indian restaurants, though very few of the “innovative” variety, so I was curious how it would stack up.
Radhika Modern Indian
- 966 Mission Street, South Pasadena, CA
- Hours: Monday-Wednesday 11 am-3 pm & 5-10 pm; Thursday-Sunday 11 am-10 pm
- Price: $25-35 per person (BYOB)
Directions: from the 110 (Arroyo Seco Parkway), exit at Orange Grove Avenue, go south, then turn left at Mission Street. Restaurant is on the left, by the streetcar tracks.
Radhika has actually been around for awhile, its first incarnation appearing in 1995 in Alhambra. By “modern Indian”, Radhika seems to mean Indian Fusion to some extent, at least based on its menu items including Punjabi tacos, vegetable tempura, shrimp ceviche tostadas, and seafood paella. And the small, cozy interior definitely has that Southern California Chic feel to it, as opposed to the sterile, strip-mall feel of most Indian restaurants.
The menu also mixes South and North Indian dishes, ranging from chicken tikka masala, the ubiquitous and popular dish from the far north (Punjab), to Kerala fish curry, a coconut-heavy delicacy from the far south. That’s a little unusual to see, as most Indian restaurants focus on one or the other, since the cooking styles and ingredients can differ significantly.
We decided to try a couple of the modern-looking options for appetizers, ordering the vegetable tempura and goat cheese potato samosas.
I hate goat cheese – as in, I’ll go out of my way to avoid dishes with it – so I didn’t try the samosas. My friend Sheila wasn’t impressed, though. My suspicion seemed to be correct, that a strong flavor like goat cheese wouldn’t work with a small, spicy item like a samosa. There was also one glaring problem with the “tempura” – it wasn’t tempura. They were plain old mixed vegetable pakoras (fritters). I’ll forgive pretentious labeling if something tastes good, though, and the pakoras certainly passed that test with flying colors. They were light, moderately spicy, and delightfully crispy, and the vegetables were tender and juicy. I had to stop myself from bogarting all of them.
For the main course, we all went traditional. I chose the chicken tikka masala, my wife had the Kerala fish curry, and Sheila went with the malai kofta (kinda sorta paneer and vegetable “meatballs” in a mild almond and cashew broth). I don’t remember why, but I skipped out on the naan. Guess I thought better of it after eating so many pakoras.
Though it’s a Plain Jane kind of dish, the tikka masala was excellent. Liberal with the butter and cream, just the way I like it, with a tangy combination of tomato and fenugreek for balance. The chicken was also nicely done, tender but with a nice crust and smoky clay flavor from the tandoor. I’m not much of a kofta person – not spicy enough for my tastes – but the vegetable/paneer combo had a nice, almost creamy texture that was complemented well by the almond and cashew flavors of the curry. I didn’t try the fish curry, but while the color and consistency seemed off for a curry that was supposed to feature coconut milk, Prita reported that it was tasty, and not overly spicy.
One of my major complaints about Indian restaurants is the slow, indifferent service I so often receive, but that wasn’t the case here. Of course, the restaurant was practically empty as it was a bit early for lunch on a Sunday, which probably helped, but still, we were taken care of promptly and were in and out in less than an hour.
Rating: it’s not particularly innovative or fusion-y, depsite the claims and fancy-sounding plate names on the menu. But that’s OK, because what we had was pretty darned good anyway. 4 stars.