The restaurant is easy to miss, but once you’re there, Kathakali will be a pleasant surprise with layered flavors from Kerala, the state on India’s southern tip.
If you go looking for Kathakali, you may drive right past it, distracted by the orange construction drums and traffic cones guarding the stand-alone building across from Columbia Athletic Club in Kirkland’s Juanita Bay neighborhood. The sidewalk is nothing but gravel, thanks to a municipal improvement project expected to take several more months. The only signage on the building is a drooping banner that says “coming soon.”
Kathakali opened in April and word-of-mouth is doing a fine job of filling the dining room. I first heard about it from my dermatologist. She’s a vegetarian married to an omnivore. They both like to eat out and they live in the neighborhood. If I lived nearby, I’d be regularly indulging in Kathakali’s dosas and curries.
Husband-and-wife co-owners Ajay Panicker, the chef, and Ramya Balachandran, a friendly, front-of-the-house presence, established a following on the Eastside after opening Aahaar, an Indian restaurant in Snoqualmie, five years ago. The couple met in New Jersey, but both were born in Chennai, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, as was Srinivasan Anandhakumar, their longtime friend and also a partner in Kathakali.
11451 98th Ave. N.E., Kirkland
Reservations: accepted for dinner only Tuesday-Thursday
Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday; dinner 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday and Sunday, 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday
Prices: $$ (plates $7-$24)
Drinks: Indian and other beers by the bottle; wines by the glass; wild berry lassi, lavender coconut lemonade and other soft drinks
Parking: free lot on site
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Aahaar is a more traditional Indian restaurant than Kathakali, which concentrates on the cuisine and culture of Kerala, the state west of Tamil Nadu on India’s southern tip, a lush, verdant land of rice paddies, coconut groves and spice plantations. Kathakali (accent on the last syllable) is a storytelling form of classical dance in Kerala (accent on the first syllable). Examples of the dancer’s elaborate costumes and masks dress up the restaurant’s white-walled, wood-trimmed interior. A…