After many years without a good upscale option, Palo Alto is finally getting a striking and modern Indian restaurant — one that should tempt locals who are used to traveling further south on the Peninsula for the best Indian food. Rooh Palo Alto, the second Bay Area location of a six-restaurant international chain, opens today on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto with a brand new menu built around something rarely seen at Indian restaurants in the Bay Area: a live-fire grill.
Vikram and Anu Bhambri, owners of the Good Times Restaurant group, run Rooh’s splashy two-year-old location in San Francisco, as well as restaurants in New Delhi, New York, and Chicago. But with the new Silicon Valley location, they’re not limiting themselves to the expected curries, but are instead rolling out a menu focused on fire-grilled kebabs, stuffed flatbreads, and colorful cocktails, all served in a fun, eclectic space.
Chef Sujan Sarkar is entrusting his brother Pujan with the menu at Rooh in San Francisco, while he launches the new location in Silicon Valley. Originally from Kolkata, he’s worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in London, before partnering with the Bhambris to open restaurants around the world. Rooh has been called “modern, contemporary, and progressive,” which is to say, Sarkar applies European techniques, and pairs Californian ingredients with Indian spices, not focusing on any particular region.
All the restaurants in the group have distinct menus, and at Rooh Palo Alto, the big spectacle is live-fire cooking. Specifically, a custom grill that’s 13 feet long, and includes not just the grate, but also a rotisserie and smoker. That means all kinds of kebabs, on skewers of all shapes and sizes, the thinnest one piercing swordfish rubbed down with Bengal mustard, and the thickest punching through duck breast still pink on the inside, served with peanuts and mint chutney. Out of the tandoor oven, the pao are a play on Parker House rolls slathered with date molasses and cultured butter, and the kulcha is a bread stuffed with goat cheese and truffles.
Two large platters should inspire gasps, including a whole sea bream wrapped in banana leaves, and a baby chicken twirled above the open flames. The short ribs are enriched with bone marrow thrown directly on the grill. There are a couple of curry-and-rice concessions, folding in two favorite menu items from SF, including a luscious butter chicken, and distinctive goat pulao studded with Iranian berries. Save room for pudding, because the ice creams and custards are made in house, including the lagganu custard, similar to a bread-and-butter pudding, and kulfi ice cream, flavored with saffron and pistachios and stuffed inside a cute satsuma.
Just like at Rooh in SF, the drinks are also dazzlers. Mixologist Chetan Gangan took inspiration from Ayurveda and organized the list by taste, such as sweet, pungent, and astringent. His creations are also named after local slang from different parts of India. For instance, the “whistle podu,” or “loud whistle,” includes pineapple which is dangled over the grill, slowly juiced, clarified, and combined with bourbon and fresh ginger.
The space is as fun and colorful as the food. Rooh is taking over from Arte Ristorante on a lovely spot on tree-lined University Avenue, a generous 4,300 square feet and 100 seats, including two high tables with trees at the center, a bar that seats 10, and a big communal table that seats 12, with a prime view of the grill. Eaton Hall Architecture designed the restaurant, putting in a clash of patterned wallpaper, pastel paint, and red chandeliers, and artist Amandalynn painted a mural of a striking woman surveying the dining room.
Palo Alto used to have a couple of upscale Indian restaurants, including Junoon on University Ave and Mantra on Emerson, but both shuttered during the recession, and it’s taken a few years to fill the void. The Bhambris are tech people, coming from Microsoft, and Vikram is still a VP at Dell, while Anu manages the restaurant group. So even though they’ve opened restaurants around the world, they live in San Jose, understand the community, and are opening closer to home.
Interestingly, Palo Alto will be getting another upscale Indian restaurant shortly, when Michelin-starred chef Srijith Gopinathan from Campton Place debuts the highly anticipated Ettan. Stay tuned.
Rooh Palo Alto is now open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.
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