Heena Patel’s marriage of California produce and flavors from her native Gujarat, India, has captured the attention of local diners and chefs like Daniel Patterson, with whom she opens her first restaurant tomorrow. Besharam (Urdu for “shameless”) replaces Patterson’s Alta restaurant, which closed two weeks ago for a remodel, at 1275 Minnesota Street, tucked inside the Minnesota Street Project art gallery and studio space. The new restaurant opens first for lunch with flatbread wraps, sandwiches such as pav bhaj, and Gujarati snacking staples like shakarpara (sweet, salty biscuits). The whole menu is below.
Cooking is Patel’s first love but her second career. “My culinary school was seeing my mom, my grandmother, and my mother-in-law cook,” she says. She and her husband, Paresh, are now in their 50s with adult children: They moved to the Bay Area from their previous home in London on a business visa. To stay in the US, he opened a liquor store, and she opened a flower store, working long hours while raising two children.
Patel pursued her passion for food through La Cocina, the nonprofit business incubator for women of color. With Paresh, she opened Rasoi, a stand at the Ferry Plaza farmers market. They built an ardent following, but it took work: Waking up at three or four in the morning to to start cooking and arrive at the market.
And breaking through to customers wasn’t easy, either: “I’m not doing chicken tikka masala, or something that people are familiar with,” says Patel. “People have to trust you to try something.... hopefully with Daniel’s name [attached to Besharam], it gives me more of a platform,” she says.
Besharam is the second of Patterson’s restaurant collaborations with a La Cocina graduate, following close on the heels of Dyafa with Reem Assil in the former Haven location in Jack London Square. It’s also the second Alta location where Patterson has changed concepts to incorporate a new chef’s vision: The original Alta, on Market Street, is now Kaya, a Caribbean restaurant from chef Nigel Jones.
“As a diner, this is the food I want to eat,” Patterson says in reference to Patel, Jones, and Assil’s restaurants. “These are restaurants I want to see. As a chef who’s spent his life in fine dining, I feel like our community needs these restaurants.”
Patel’s lengthier dinner menu will arrive in a few weeks, including “Heena’s set menu,” a tasting menu for customers to get acquainted with her cooking. Brunch, which was popular at Alta’s MSP location, will follow in June, with dishes like an egg naan sandwich that were among Rasoi’s best sellers.
At Besharam, Paresh Patel will use his background in wine and spirits to assist Alta Group beverage director Aaron Paul. He’s a supportive presence likely to be found in the front of house or by his wife’s side. Meanwhile, the restaurant space has been lightly updated to reflect the new chef’s sensibilities. One noteworthy new feature: A pop-art style mural by Patel’s favorite irreverent artist, Maria Qamar.
Starting tomorrow, May 17, Besharam is open for lunch, from Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Next is dinner, Tuesday to Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., with drinks and snacks available Tuesday through Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.