Loyal fans of Manish Tyagi — who built a following in his three years at SF’s Amber Dhara, then solidified his local reputation at the groundbreaking August 1 Five — have a new option for his playful take on high-end Indian food. As of December 22, his new restaurant, Aurum, is open in Los Altos, with a takeout and delivery menu of humorously named dishes with influences from around the globe.
Aurum means “gold” in Latin, a name that Tyagi says is intended as exuberantly as the names of his dishes: there’s a cheese toast called “double trouble,” for example, and a pulled pork on thepla taco called “the spoiled generation.” That mix of comforting dishes like tacos and toast with irreverent names is a reaction to the times we’re in, Tyagi says. “People are sitting at home, unhappy and feeling trapped,” he says. “We have to bring some sort of humor in these hard times.” You can see Arum’s full menu, below.
Tyagi is in those hard times with the rest of us. Already struggling under the years-long construction project on Van Ness Avenue, August 1 Five announced its closure earlier this month. But “I can’t survive on stimulus and unemployment” payments, Tyagi says. “I have a beautiful wife and two kids to support ... this is a project of necessity for me.”
That said, it’s also an opportunity for Tyagi to freely create a new menu, after years leading kitchens inside restaurants created by someone else. “I really wished to use my style of cooking in other places,” Tyagi says, a style in which he eschews traditional dishes in favor of “showcasing very uncommon favorites.”
It’s a style, Tyagi says, that prompted celebrity chef Bobby Flay to ask “Am I the only one cooking Indian here?” when they faced off on Flay’s eponymous competition show. Tyagi’s a fan of unexpected ingredients like blue cheese and truffles, ingredients not typically found at your Indian takeout mainstay down the street.
“We are living in a totally different world now, and the boundaries of countries are a mere resemblance of what they were 30 years ago,” Tyagi says. “We are far more liberal about sharing our cultures and festivals, so why shouldn’t the food also evolve?” And that’s how you end up with a menu of entrees like “three musketeers” (mutter mushroom, peas, fox nuts, and melon seeds) or “raga kofta,” which Tyagi describes as a “neither Indian nor Italian” mix of sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, cilantro, and cashews.
Aurum isn’t intended to be a standard Indian takeout spot. It’s a new kind of restaurant for Los Altos, which only has one other higher-end Indian spot, a location of Amber India that Tyagi says is actually closer to Los Gatos. “People have been asking me ‘why don’t you open something in the South Bay’ for years,” Tyagi says, and it was Tyagi’s partner in Aurum, Anupam Bhatia, who helped make those people’s wishes come true.
The pair met at Amber Dhara, then parted ways, with Tyagi hearing to August 1 Five while Bhatia founded Redwood City’s Broadway Masala. Bhatia’s the one who scouted out Aurum’s Los Altos location, and who will run the front end of the business “while I produce in the back,” Tyagi says.
Unlike many takeout operations that have opened during the pandemic. Aurum isn’t inside a commissary or ghost kitchen: its location is the former home of Ambiance, a fine dining spot known for its French/Asian tasting menu and its attractive dining room. Of course, given the shutdown, that dining room is dark for now ... and might stay dark for a while. “You don’t know how long this COVID thing is going to go on,” Tyagi says, so delivery and takeout are fine, for the present.
Besides, there’s his menu to perfect. “If something tastes good, let’s try it out,” Tyagi says. “I can bring a hardcore knowledge of traditional food and still make them mine ... I’m not saying I’m the best, but let me put my food out there, and everyone else can be the judge.”
Arum opens for delivery and takeout on Tuesday, December 22, and will be open Tuesdays-Sundays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Closed Christmas Day, but open New Year’s Day.) Takeout orders can be placed here, delivery is via Doordash, Uber Eats and ChowNow.