The food is so distinct, racy and fresh-tasting at Reethika that it might have you rethinking what to expect out of a local Indian restaurant. In other words, for our rejuvenating fix of those head-popping flavors, we Columbus diners are often willing to wade through a general sameness of curries along with an over-reliance on dairy. Well, things are different at the terrific little Reethika.
Positioned next to Kihachi in Dublin, Reethika is a modern-looking and brightly lit place. There's no alcohol or much in the way of decor - just a couple TVs, a few geometrically decorative metal pieces and a colorful picture of a yogi sitting in front of a goat - so you know you're only here for the food. But man, that food!
Reethika's flavors are huge, but refreshingly its menu - and prices - are not. From the starters, I was a big fan of the Indo-Chinese dishes Gobi Manchuria ($4) and Chicken 65 ($8). The former were dynamite-red, lightly, spicily and crackly battered and fried al dente cauliflower heads sprinkled with eggy chaat masala. The equally red Chicken 65 was hyper aromatic and super juicy fried poultry chunks powered by fried curry leaves, garlic and toasted cumin seeds. Unlike other Chicken 65s around town, this knockout version was unsauced - and didn't need any.
Two other memory-imprinting appetizers likewise demonstrated how Reethika separates itself from the rest of the local Indian restaurant pack. The Sheek Kebabs ($8) - light and made with ground turkey redolent of mint, cilantro and jalapeno - were crisply fried yet resoundingly ungreasy.
And the unusual Cutmirch ($3) were cute little bugles of de-seeded green chilies filled with a creamy and nutty spice mix, puffily battered and ungreasily deep fried.
Of the following four heady but thankfully not heavy curries I tried, no two tasted exactly alike - they were far more nuanced and focused than what you usually get.
• Green Chicken ($10) - a beloved dish in Hyderabad (the populous and prosperous Indian city whose cuisine Reethika highlights), this was extremely tender boneless chicken chunks swamped in a tangy pesto-ish sauce tasting of cilantro, mint, curry leaf, parsley and fenugreek.
• Hyderabadi Chicken ($10) - the same boneless chicken as above in a rich, complex, highly aromatic and seriously spicy yellow/brown curry sauce with a nice cardamom pop and a cuminy and clovey undercurrent.
• Bagara Baigen ($9) - another powerhouse yellow/brown curry sauce - but this one pulpy and sweeter with pureed veggies and/or nuts - delightfully containing whole baby eggplants.
• Goat Curry ($12) - dark, clovey and cinnamony curry with a powerful chili jolt. The goat (I was told Reethika uses only halal and kosher meats) tasted great but I had to navigate through a tricky minefield of bone and fat.
While enjoying a lovely, light, fruity and nutty kheer (actually a sheer korma, as it was made with vermicelli instead of rice), my super nice waitress brought over some gratis chai tea (cardamomy, barely sweet, with cocoa-type notes). I asked her about the restaurant's pretty name - she told me her parents titled it after her and that "Reethika" means "one who upholds traditions."
Though I usually get a kick going against the accepted grain, if this is what tradition tastes like at Reethika, long may it be upheld.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable