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  • Allen Pierleoni / apierleoni@sacbee.com

    Lemon rice, left, naan and ginger shrimp are just three of the many dishes – delicious, varied and often quite spicy – on the menu at Ruchi Indian Cuisine in Folsom.

  • Allen Pierleoni / apierleoni@sacbee.com

    Coconut macaroons at Sugar Lillie bakery in El Dorado, where another specialty is the fast-selling cheese sticks.

Counter Culture: Great, varied fare at Ruchi Indian Cuisine

Published: Friday, Oct. 5, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 36TICKET

Admittedly, we're not on close terms with the finer points of Indian food, but we do know what's good.

As in: Everything we tasted at Ruchi Indian Cuisine ($4 to $16) in Folsom.

"I've been driving by this place for seven years," said my dining pal, a meat-and-potatoes guy from the Midwest. "It's never changed, but I have. After watching 'Slumdog Millionaire' and 'Outsourced,' I'm a new man with new tastes, ready for a gastronomical adventure."

Well said. Now, for context, let's consider some of the seasonings used in Indian cuisine: ginger, cardamom, basil, star anise, cinnamon, coriander, tumeric, tamarind, nutmeg, mace, saffron, garlic, onion, fennel, cloves, mint, cumin and, of course, peppers of varying degrees of heat.

We weren't able to explore the lunch buffet at Ruchi ($8.99 plus tax) but dropped by during the dinner hour one recent weeknight. The place was packed. We studied the multitude of dishes on the lengthy menu and ended up pointing to our choices as the dubious but patient server looked on.

Plates began to arrive. First, hot chili pakoras (heavily battered fried jalapeño chilies with cool and hot dipping sauces). "These 'poppers' must be for novices," scoffed the dining pal, thinking I didn't notice him wiping sweat from his brow.

The chunks of fresh fowl in the expertly sauced chicken tikka masala burst with flavors and textures. Tender pieces of lamb vindaloo were equally luscious, but showed more heat. Ginger shrimp gave our tingling taste buds a short break until they were hit with the zinging after-effects of the red, jamlike sauce.

We alternated between those dishes and delicious keerai sadaam, described as "spinach and garlic, pan-fried with basmati rice."

We also tore off big hunks of poori bhaji, a naan (one of several) described as "deep-fried Indian bread served with potato and onion masala (spicy sauce)." We dipped the naan in all the sauces on the table, rotating one by one. Yow!

Afterward, my buddy remarked, "If I could make these sauces, I would never leave the house."

Among my dining notes was this: "Each dish is a melange of flavors and textures, and layers of heat and spicing, but each is unique and not duplicative of the others."

In other words, we'll be eating our way through the rest of the menu this winter.

Behind the tasty curve

Our "reverse karma" kicked in one recent Saturday, turning a spontaneous tasting trip into a mess of miscues. It happens.

We had a hankering for a drive and a big bratwurst at Hangtown Hot Dogs in Placerville (374 Main St.; 530-626-6546). It's owned by Tymphani Schwall, who bought it two years ago from the brash and funny owner who called herself Shell Dogg, who has appeared in this column.

We arrived in town to discover an Oktoberfest was scheduled to start in a few hours. Hangtown Hot Dogs was closed. We learned too late that Schwall was away preparing her two food booths at the Oktoberfest venue.

So we walked around and cruised the farmers market, which was closing. Unfortunately, we didn't see the Sugar Lillie bakery tent in the market, mainly because we weren't looking for it. More on that in a minute.

We ended up in Brick's Eats & Drinks, sat at the bar and wished the volume on the pop-music loop was lower. We did appreciate the marvelous wall-hung photos of vintage Placerville buildings. They were shot by Scot and Sharon Benton of Studio B – Benton Photography of Rescue (530-677-5369, www.bentonstudiob.com).

We chewed on a couple of very good patty melts (hold the onion, please) and substituted the fries with cups of tasty (though lukewarm) shrimp bisque (482 Main St.; 530-303-3480, www.bricksonmainstreet .com).

On the way out of town, we remembered the fabulous cheese sticks from Charlotte's Bake Shoppe in the nearby hamlet of El Dorado.

Though master baker Carolyn Kane's bakery is long gone, we'd heard recent rumor of another El Dorado bakery that makes different but equally good cheese sticks.

We tracked down Sugar Lillie bakery (near Poor Red's BBQ) and chatted with Linda Williams, mother of owner Morgan White and grandmother of 5-year-old Lillie Ann White, the bakery's namesake.

Sorry, said Williams, we sold out of the cheese sticks this morning. You could have bought some at our stand at the Placerville farmers market earlier today …

Duh. Instead, we wolfed down some luscious blueberry Danish and learned that Sugar Lillie's specialty is gluten-free coconut macaroons, called Lillie Macs ($1 to $3 per package), also sold at Whole Foods markets and farmers markets in Placerville and Cameron Park.

Days later on the phone, Morgan White explained that her cheese sticks are made from house-made foccacia dough, rolled in Parmesan cheese, proofed and baked ($2 each).

"We're always selling out of them," she said. Call ahead and she'll save some for you.

Just to be safe, though, we're planning an early-morning cheese-stick run to Sugar Lillie's this Saturday. Maybe we'll see you there (8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 6211 Pleasant Valley Road, El Dorado; 530-626-1900, www.sugarlilliebakery.com).


RUCHI INDIAN CUISINE

Where: 601 E. Bidwell St., Folsom

Hours: Weekday lunch buffet is 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; weekend lunch buffet is 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner is 5-10 p.m. daily.

Food: Four stars

Ambience: Two stars

How much: $-$$

Information: (916) 983-2871, www.indianruchi.com

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