First Look at Pondicheri

Categories: On the Menu

pondicheri1.jpg
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Kachumber salad and saag paneer-stuffed samosas.
"Oh, good. There are other brown people here," my friend remarked with a laugh as we walked up to Pondicheri's front door one recent evening. "That's always a good sign."

Indeed, one of the things that first struck me when I heard about the new restaurant from Indika's Anita Jaisinghani was its location in the middle of River Oaks's swankiest new development. Pondicheri has a view onto Tootsie's entrance and valet parking that sweeps up Bentleys and fancy sports cars by the dozen.

I worried that the upper-crusty denizens of the area wouldn't venture into an Indian restaurant when their old cohort Robert Del Grande's newest restaurant is just steps away. I also worried that the restaurant wouldn't draw regular folks like my friend and me, folks who might be turned off by aggravations like the constant traffic on Kirby and valet parking.

Luckily, there's plenty of garage parking at Pondicheri. And the restaurant itself seems destined to draw all comers, with a starkly industrial yet cozy aesthetic that is a bit like an old metal dress form draped in radiant sari material. The menu, too, is simply too attractive to ignore.

pondicheri2.jpg
Texas wild-caught black drum.
Lush black drum from Texas waters cloaked in a warm haze of mango and chili powder, sweetened up even more with a creamy zing of raita. Sedona-red lamb stew, the dusky meat brightened with ginger and still more chili powder. A bright jumble of cucumbers, mango and finely chopped peanuts in a kachumber salad that may be the best dish in all of Houston for the coming summer. A simple salty lassi with rich notes of cumin humming through the tart beverage.

It was a meal fit for my earliest memory of Indika, eating there as a teenager with my parents when it was still in the little white "witch's house" on Memorial Drive. Every aspect of that meal is seared into me, as it was the first time I'd tasted Indian food that didn't hold back. Every spice, every vegetable, every bubble on the naan bread was pure and unalloyed by American temperance. This was not the Indian food I was accustomed to eating on lunchtime buffets around Houston. This was something whose heart shone through fully. It was also something that set my mouth ablaze and cemented my lifelong love of spicy food.

pondicheri3.jpg
Who wants wine when there are salty lassis to be had?
The food at Pondicheri didn't have that same fire, but I wouldn't expect it to. This is food that's embracing the tidepool of various ethnic cuisines that has formed in Houston: Indian first and foremost, but also deeply Gulf coast and with a few scattered British influences as well (naturally).

And while not all the food comes cheap at Pondicheri (which is fine, really, given its location and the local provenance of most of the ingredients), it's still a highly useful restaurant and one that you can enjoy thriftily as well. That amazing kachumber salad was only $4 and fed two of us. Three very large saag paneer-stuffed samosas were only $8. And a thali (which we didn't get) is $12.

pondicheri5.jpg
English biscuits sandwiched with housemade Bournvita malted chocolate ice cream.
Main dishes are reasonably priced -- most in the $14 range -- but the cost adds up when you supplement them with rice and naan (not included with the main dishes). This is fairly standard, and both are worth the extra cost, especially the warmly-spiced long-grain rice. But it's something to watch out for nevertheless.

I did find myself vaguely wishing that Pondicheri had a better view out its windows than the rather soulless, manufactured cityscape of West Ave. But next time I'll just sit facing the resplendent interior and its careful contrast of metal and glass with rich saffron, turquoise, vermilion and jade. And next time I'm ordering that thali.



Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

Location Info

Venue

Map

Pondicheri

2800 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
17 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Stephen2982
Stephen2982

My wife and I designed our evening around cocktails then dinner. We arrived at thisglossy place ( not one indian person in sight) at 9PM (with advertised closing at 10PM) and were told that as it had been a slow evening so we are closing and no dinner for us! In other words( *&%) the customers we are off home. Unbelievable and very upsetting .Words cannot say how upsetting this was and the only reason I am being so restrained is because my wife is looking over my shoulder!

HeightsKat
HeightsKat

Had dinner there a few weeks ago...the drum was amazing and so was the baby goat. The biscuits served with the baby goat were frozen in the center. We asked for na'an and they were happy to accommodate. Biggest draw back? The NOISE. We sat at the bar away from the dinning room and could barely hear our bartender let alone each other. Might visit again but probably not. :(

Phloyd
Phloyd

The "drum" was amazing? Is that a dish?

traveller
traveller

Reading this in Mumbai and it sounds like something to try back home

Emilystkn
Emilystkn

I'm willing to bet that you could find better in Mumbai, for 1/10th the price.

PPetersen38
PPetersen38

Sounds great, I'll give Pondicheri a try. I thought Indika was over-rated, with some startlingly good dishes beside others that fell flat.

And with so many fine Indian places in the Mahatma Gandhi District on Hillcroft, and a variety of others on Highway 6, it might be hard to justify spending double at the trendy West Ave location.

PattyT
PattyT

Those fine Indian dining places on Hwy 6...could you drop a few names for me?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

"And with so many fine Indian places in the Mahatma Gandhi District on Hillcroft, and a variety of others on Highway 6, it might be hard to justify spending double at the trendy West Ave location."

This thought struck me, too, but you have to keep in mind that this isn't just standard Indian food. This is Gulf coast-Indian fusion, with ingredients you simply won't find in other Indian restaurants around the city, no matter how tasty. For what it is, I didn't find it excessively pricey.

Doc Ricky
Doc Ricky

Just mulling it over: shouldn't the use of local ingredients and a fusion with local techniques, make things, ah, cheaper? Isn't that one of the points of exhorting locavorism?

Kevin
Kevin

Rarely cheaper. Maybe if gasoline prices skyrocket to $10/gal and shipping costs swamp government subsidies and efficiencies of mass production. Locavorism is appealing if there's more guarantee of freshness and quality, verification that their practices are "sustainable" (not raping the environment around them), and knowing that you're buying from someone whom you could indeed know and befriend.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

"Should be's" aside, I don't think I've ever heard the argument that locally grown food is cheaper. I don't think it's possible for it to be truly "cheap" in the sense that Walmart's produce is cheap, given the massive government subsidies that keep large-scale farms up and running. Not being either positive or negative here, just realistic.

Kyle
Kyle

One of the points of locavorism is things are cheaper? I thought it was the opposite and that eating locally is more expensive because you're not harnessing industrial farming and giant distribution channels.

ClementineO
ClementineO

how is "Gulf-coast" fused into the food?

Jeanclauderinas
Jeanclauderinas

I can understand the breakfast items you mention as being sorta gulf coast; no so much the local veggies, fish and other ingredients. Other Indian restaurant use local fish, veggies and the like, no?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Have you taken a look at the menu? Here's a sampling:

"Texas French Toast: With fresh fruit and jaggery maple syrup"

"Grilled Cheese: Brioche grilled with Texas cheddar, onions, tomatoes and cilantro" (both from the breakfast menu)

And, of course, the black drum above as well as the wealth of local vegetables and other ingredients that are being used to make the dishes.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...