Just past the boardwalk on the north end of Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland stands a building that has housed a vast array of global cuisines over the years, from Mediterranean to Asian. The current incarnation — Kathakali — serves southern Indian cuisine from the Kerala region. When I stopped in on a Sunday afternoon this winter, the place was packed with young families of all ethnic persuasions. White paneled walls with rich wood accents create a pleasant backdrop to the deep red seats and rainbow-hued wall décor shimmering with shiny gold accessories. Though the atmosphere is casual, touches like cloth napkins and water goblets elevate the overall experience.
The menu features a section of “dosa” options — crisp lentil-rice crepes about 18 inches in diameter, folded around selected fillings. We tried the basil spinach dosa laced with pesto and filled with spiced potatoes, and served with chutneys and spiced lentil soup. The crispy-chewy texture had us reaching back, bite after bite. Another specialty that had me scraping the plate for every last taste was the Kerala Appam — crepes made from fermented rice, served with coconut-milk dipping sauce. Crisp and brown on the bottom, the tops are bright white and spongy in the center — bubbles from the fermented batter frozen into place during cooking give it a lacy texture.
Known as the “land of spices,” Kerala was a major trading partner with Europe and the Middle East, with records showing Sumerian interaction as far back as 3,000 BCE. Sauces are laced with chilies, curry leaves, mustard seeds, turmeric, tamarind, black pepper, cardamom, clove, ginger, and cinnamon. I ordered the Meen Pollichathu — sea bass cooked in a banana leaf with tomato, onion, ginger, garlic, green chili, curry leaves, and “seafood” spices. The fish had a meaty texture, a complexity of flavor, and enough heat to necessitate several spoons full of rice, but, oh, was it good.