Palo Alto had a long spell without any modern, upscale Indian restaurants, but the tables have finally turned: Ettan, one of the Bay Area’s most hotly anticipated new restaurants of the year, opens this Friday, February 21, bringing Michelin-pedigreed Cal-Indian cuisine to the heart of Silicon Valley. With a huge skylight at the center of a colorful patterned space, the restaurant is shining the light on an ambitious menu, from snackable naan monkey bread to a feast-worthy whole fish. Along with the new location of Rooh, it marks the second splashy Indian restaurant opening in Palo Alto in the last month.
Ettan is an intriguing partnership, between an Indian businesswoman and a star chef. Ayesha Thapar — who lives in Atherton — comes from a prominent Indian real estate family, has been featured in fashion magazines, and is married to former Google executive Nikesh Arora (Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis attended the wedding, no big deal). This is Thapar’s first restaurant project, but she wisely snagged a star chef — Srijith Gopinathan of Campton Place, which is currently the only South Asian restaurant in the country to hold two Michelin stars.
“I call the cuisine Cal-Indian, in a fancy way,” Gopinathan says, laughing, in an interview with Eater SF. But unlike the $167 Campton Place prix fixe, Ettan is breaking out into a more relaxed a la carte format. “Ettan will be much more free flowing, so you can order whatever you want to order. It’ll be more of a fun affair than fine dining.” The menu is broken up into sections, which range from “grazing and munching” to a full feast with a whole fish. To accompany the cocktail menu, there are “chilled snacks,” such as oysters topped with a fennel and curry leaf ponzu, and “warm snacks,” including chutneys, pressure-cooked peanuts, and little sliders filled with tender jackfruit.
On the full dinner menu, the naan monkey bread is a buttery dough rolled into balls, piled into a cast-iron skillet, and baked to order, so the bread is delivered still warm for diners to pull apart. Small plates include sambal shrimp, big gulf prawns cooked over an open flame, as well as sesame leaves, grown especially by a local farm, which are piled with mint, tamarind, and crispy bits. Large plates include lobster potli steamed in a paper pouch, and black cod roasted in cauliflower leaves. For a full feast for two to three people, there’s a whole red snapper, deboned, marinated, and roasted on the plancha, served with coconut rice and curry.
The restaurant is located in the former Three Seasons, which closed following a fire, and locals will recognize the structure they loved, which is two stories tall with an open center and filled with sunshine from a big domed skylight. But for everything else, “we took it down to the studs,” Gopinathan confirmed, even moving the location of the kitchen, which went down a level. Designer Thomas Schoos went from serene neutrals to big color and patterns, with jades, indigos, and Indian artwork. With 75 seats downstairs, 60 upstairs, and 60 more outside, plus a second-story bar and plenty of room for private dining, there are a lot of levels to explore.
On the move to Silicon Valley, Gopinathan says, “There’s enough going on in San Francisco. Palo Alto lacks a serious Indian restaurant concept, and there’s more demand here, because of the community. And I’m excited to do food that’s more casual, without overthinking it.” By sheer coincidence, another upscale Indian restaurant did open in Palo Alto this winter, when Rooh debuted in January. But while Rooh focuses on colorful cocktails and live-fire kebabs, Ettan promises to be a different kind of restaurant, with its star chef, polished dishes, and glamorous two-story space. “It’s a totally different experience, and there’s space for both,” Gopinathan says, noting that he isn’t worried. “After all, India is a big, complex place.”