Chef/owner Rupam Bhagat opened Ritu about nine months ago as a brick-and-mortar follow-up to his very popular food truck, Dum. Billed as “Indian Soul Food,” the food at Ritu (which means “seasons” in Hindi) is meant to span the disparate regions of India. Bhagat’s idea is to touch on the traditional, but play with new ideas from his culinary travels while elevating the food he cooks up at his truck (don’t panic – it’s still open.)
The space is modern, done up in orange hues. It took over the old Local Mission Eatery spot, and still includes the counter where you can watch the kitchen in action, as well as a communal table.
On our first visit, the BF and I split a sampler of tasty bites:
The other two were a bit too like each other – we shouldn’t have ordered both and our server didn’t warn us, although the conscientious Chef Bhagat, waiting on a table near us, did warn them after we’d already had ours. I did not love the dahi vada, as the “fritter” was more like a soft biscuit. With the yogurt, it turned into soggy bread, with most of the ingredients getting lost. The puri was superiorly crunchy.
We ordered garlic naan to accompany our dinners.
I found it crisper than most naans I’ve had, and missed the fluffiness I’m accustomed to, but the buttery/garlicky flavor was quite delicious. The char was nice, too.
The BF ordered a special for his meal: Braised beef short rib rogan josh with barley porridge and Brussels sprouts.
Oh my Lord Vishnu (sorry), delish! The barley was fantastic, homey, nicely chewy, though I’ve never really gotten into that particular grain. It was very turmeric-forward –– a plus, for me. The Brussels sprouts put up a lovely vegetal/almost funky contrast to the rich beef. I kept picking at his plate and decided it was the best rogan josh I’ve ever had. He wasn’t quite as enamored (is he ever?) but he left his plate clean. For me, this was a perfect summation of Chef Bhagat’s audacious take on his country’s cuisine.
Upon asking, Chef Bhagat explained to us that while it is unusual to see beef on an Indian menu, there are Christians/Catholics in India and beef does appear quite a lot in their cuisine, throughout all areas of India, despite the commonly held Hindi proscription against eating what is considered to be a sacred animal.
For my main, I opted for a small plate.
Tandoori fried chicken with curry leaves, mustard and BBQ sauce (tamarind-based). Very boldly flavored, if a bit one-note, especially compared to the rogan josh. The chicken was crispy, but I’m a bone-in gal when it comes to fried chicken, and that was missing here. I really loved the charred broccoli. The BF liked my chicken better than his dish. Despite being a small plate, I brought half of this home, as I was already full.
Ritu has a small but tasty selection of mostly California wines, and beer as well, including a couple of Indian brews — Taj Mahal and Flying Horse. The BF had a pear lassi (i.e., a chilled yogurt “smoothie”) topped with a little dusting of cardamom — superb! I didn’t taste pear as much as the cardamom, but it was a refreshing drink and a luscious alternative to the ubiquitous (though always wonderful) mango lassi.
On my second visit, I went with a couple of friends, the better to pig out.
We shared the sampler again, although this time we opted for the samosa and kale chaat (as well as a repeat of the sprouts chaat, as I knew they’d love it):
The kale chaat won, hands down. If you think you don’t like kale, this dish will convert you. It was delicate, crunchy deliciousness, tossed with a Mumbai snack mix. I could happily have eaten a huge bowlful of it and not shared at all. The samosa was a tasty enough samosa, nothing more, and maybe a little over-fried. All were served with cilantro/mint and tamarind chutneys.
We also split a small plate of artichoke pakora with jalapenos.
It needed to be crispier, and sadly, even the addition of the jalapenos didn’t give the dish much character. This was my least favorite bite of the night — rather reminiscent of something you’d get at a TGI Friday’s.
For more traditional Indian (American) fare, we split the butter chicken (a creamy chicken dish, here with pumpkin and fenugreek):
And a side of chana masala (garbanzos in a tomato/gingery sauce).
Both were very good representations of these two standards, although I could have sworn I tasted notes of coconut in the butter chicken — may have been the fenugreek. We also had saffron jasmine rice and chili cheese naan — far better than the garlic naan I’d ordered last time, in texture and flavor. One could quibble that it was almost pizza-ish with the melty cheese, but quibble away while I eat your share.
A surprise stand-out of the night was my white sangria with cardamom, which we all tasted and swooned over a little.
It wasn’t awfully sweet, and I love the perfume-iness of cardamom in anything. I’d go back for that drink and the kale chaat alone.
But there’s also quite a bit more I’d like to explore on Chef Bhagat’s menu. I was dying to get the keema pau, with a poached egg on a Hawaiian roll. And on the brunch menu, I’m eager to try his take on shrimp and grits. There’s a very reasonable prix fixe that comes family style, where the Chef selects for you. Lo-fi cocktails, such as a spritzer of Aperol and sparkling wine (that perennial Italian favorite) add to the playful atmosphere.
I found the Mumbai-born Chef Bhagat amiable and willing to chat when he made it out onto the floor – a nice touch. And I love that he likes to play with his food. Ritu is a solid addition to the myriad, more traditional Indian restaurants in the Mission. Go sample some of Chef Bhagat’s inventive, seasonal creations in this upgraded, yet still soulful, incarnation.
3111 24th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110