Field Notes

At Kricket Club, Nostalgic Indian Food Gets Fancy

Preeti Agarwal's follow-up restaurant in Ravenna unstacks an upscale take on dishes from across the subcontinent.

By Allecia Vermillion August 15, 2022 Published in the Fall 2022 issue of Seattle Met

The restaurant's menu leans into nostalgic home dishes from across India.

Image: Amber Fouts

I make this all the time at home,” my friend—Bengali and an adept cook—mused, surveying her menu from our seats in the rear dining room at Kricket Club. She was looking at the jaljeera—a spicy, summery drink on par with lemonade. Here it’s sweetened with lilikoi into a non-alcoholic cocktail in a majestic shade of magenta.

She wasn’t disappointed, the way I would be if the jarred spaghetti sauce and baked chicken of my own upbringing showed up on a menu. More intrigued. Homestyle Indian dishes at a restaurant fancy enough to dole out amuse-bouches? 

Kricket Club opened in late 2021, a polished arrival even against a winter backdrop of variants and upheaval. That seems on brand for owner Preeti Agarwal, who leapt into professional kitchen life from home cookery with only a (very successful) popup by way of transition. In 2020 (talk about upheaval) she opened her first restaurant, Meesha, with astonishingly few visible hiccups. That’s probably because she spent a year running that space as its previous incarnation, Pomerol. Agarwal served steak tartare and watermelon salad—and learned the prosaics of inventory and health inspections—before her own recipes took the stage.

Preeti Agarwal imbued her restaurant (and its menu) with rich hues. 

Image: Amber Fouts

Now, at Kricket Club, she fills the soundtrack with sitar covers of “Big Pimpin’” and expands her menu well beyond the butter chicken and tikka masala that often stand in for an entire subcontinent’s worth of flavors on Indian menus in America. “It’s not just very heavy sauces, or things you can only eat once in a while,” she says with force. “I want people to taste more of the spices. That’s the essence of Indian food.” 

To be clear, Kricket Club has its own version of butter chicken, known here as chicken ruby for the glowing red hue achieved when tomato sauce and a custom spice blend get cold smoked for private jet–level richness. But often, Agarwal maintains, India’s simplest dishes are its best, like a dal you might take to work in a lunchbox, or matar ka nimona, a side of rustic spiced peas from Agarwal’s native Uttar Pradesh. 

Like Meesha, Kricket Club magpies recipes from different regions of India, from Goan mussels to the kathi rolls of Kolkata. But Agarwal’s follow-up restaurant takes cues from the finer dining of India’s elite social clubs. She adapted her jeweler’s color scheme from an old cricket jersey of the India national team and infused high contrast and metallic flourishes (not to mention some fresh, unsullied energy) into the Ravenna address once home to Salare. 

Actual sports references are marginal: a framed photo, a stenciled homage to three seminal cricket players from different generations (for cricket the sport, see page 110). Most Indian clubs don’t have dramatic walls the color of a nighttime ocean. Agarwal mostly channels the essence of their venerable dining rooms—ample cocktails, plus a mix of homestyle dishes, street food, and upscale fare calibrated to appeal to the multiple age groups who might hang out there. (She bypassed the typical white tablecloths and the club sandwiches that decades of British rule bequeathed to these spots.) But the dish that’s becoming Kricket Club’s signature is something you’d never see at an actual cricket club.

 

Our server’s chatter subsides; he becomes almost reverential as he presents a hammered brass tiffin glimmering in the low light. He frees the lunch box’s top clasps and starts to unpack its four stacked chambers onto our table. It’s part YouTube unboxing video, part practiced tableside elegance of a Canlis salad or bananas foster ignition at El Gaucho. The column collapses into four dishes: saag paneer; slightly nutty missi roti; the house dal; a chopped salad of tomato, cucumber, and onion. Suddenly the table feels luxuriously full.

Custom tiffins from London get unpacked tableside.

Image: Amber Fouts

Agarwal ordered those handsome tiffins from London; the stainless steel ones she could find in India look all too true to their intended purpose of toting homey lunches anywhere other than home. She’s right about simple food—these dishes let her meticulous spice blends shine through.

Elsewhere on the menu, nobody’s calling the gilafi kebabs simple. The delicacy dates back to Mughal royal kitchens—it’s usually made with minced mutton, but always difficult to prep. A satisfying gilafi kebab experience involves a melting texture achieved by precision temperatures and stuffing the inside with an extra form of flavor. Kricket Club uses minced goat; a bit of chili and cheese hide in the center. My dining companion proclaims them “pretty close” to the best ones she’s had. 

“Pretty close” also describes the degree to which I considered requesting a ladle from the kitchen, in order to inhale the sauce that surrounds the kathal kofta, or jackfruit croquettes. No surprise, vegetarians have ample options here. Kricket Club also devotes an entire section of the menu to bread, cycling through India’s compelling leavened and unleavened repertoire—roti, paratha, kulchas stuffed with cheese or lamb and spinach—with four options at a time.

Relatively removed from the region’s critical mass of Indian residents on the Eastside, the restaurant sees an even split, says Agarwal, between diners who’ve never tried biryani and Indian families who drive in from the suburbs to celebrate a special occasion.

An old jersey from India's national cricket team inspired the dining room's color scheme.

Image: Amber Fouts

Though Kricket Club is upscale in the Seattle sense of the word: You’re just as likely to see parents with a toddler, or retirees in hiking pants and New Balances sitting down to dinner. The special occasion–ness of it all surfaces in those pre-dinner amuses (usually a tiny kulcha and sipping cup of soup), and the heft of the cocktail tumblers, whose contents mirror the food’s facility with spice. Like Meesha, Kricket Club’s wine pairings ditch the notion that Indian food and red wine aren’t a good hang.

A syrah with a plate of beetroot vada pao and a kathi roll displays the same elegant subversion necessary to re-define a weekday lunch bucket as an object of interactive finer dining. Agarwal’s working this same paradigm shift on the timbre of Indian food offerings in Seattle proper; surrounded by chef-owned restaurants, she feels more freedom to weave burrata or ceviche into her menus. But Kricket Club’s best meals happen when its owner re-examines familiars closer to home. “India is so wide,” says Agarwal. “I never feel bored.” 

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