In fine dining the word “gastronomy” is thrown around a lot and often times a dining experience isn’t the “gastronomical journey” it’s touted to be. With that said, ROOH, an Indian-inspired restaurant and cocktail bar situated in the financial district of San Francisco, is truly a dining experience worthy of the word.
We all know the common dishes found on Indian menus. Think chicken tikka masala, tandoori meats, biryani, naan… etc. Well you won’t find them here. Not exactly at least. At ROOH, Chef de Cuisine Pujan Sarkar does an incredible job of marrying the intense flavors of traditional Indian cuisine with the seasonality and freshness of California produce. Each dish is reminiscent of your favorite Indian dishes, yet distinct from them in terms of texture, cooking techniques and over all interpretation.
ROOH is an extremely modern, thoughtful restaurant that transforms what you know to to be Indian fare in to a completely new type of dining experience certainly worth the description of culinary genius.
Dishes featured on the tasting menu include California spot prawn with ghee roast; Tandori monkfish and lobster with alleepy curry; beef short rib curry with bone marrow kofta; huckleberry yogurt kebab with figs and beet salad; green pea and goat cheese kulcha with burgundy truffle; and more. Each dish is beautifully presented and a pleasant surprise once tasted.
“Rooh isn’t your typical Indian restaurant. We are more progressive with our ideas, techniques, and flavors,” explains Co-Founders Anu and Vikram Bhambri (a husband-wife team who met while working at Microsoft). “The idea is to combine traditional Indian dishes with modern cooking techniques with fresh local produce.”
Meaning, “soul,” ROOH is described by the owners as representing the spirit of India, combining authentic Indian flavors with California flare to create inimitable dishes.
As many restaurants over the course of the pandemic, ROOH adapted to protocol with unique takeout offerings, expanded new outdoor seating (complete with customized fleece blankets), and partnered with organizations like Frontline Foods and World Central Kitchen to help the community at large.
We spoke with Chef Pujan Sarkar and Co-Founders Anu and Vikram Bhambri on the restaurant, what progressive Indian food really is and giving back. Here’s what they had to say.
What is the inspiration for the menu at ROOH?
Chef Pujan Sarkar: Local Californian produce plays a major role in our day-to-day menu. Besides a few traditional ingredients and spices, the vast majority of our produce and provision comes from within a 75-mile radius.
Also, the idea of elevating traditional Indian food to another level and introducing our dinners to new complex flavors, which have never been reached before with Indian food, inspires, and pushes us to create, evolve and come up with new things.
The methods and technique of cooking this progressive style of Indian food is super unique! Talk about this.
Chef Pujan Sarkar: At ROOH, we like to blend our bold Indian spices with much mellower Californian produce, creating an explosion of flavors on your palette. For example, instead of cooking our meat directly in the ancient tandoor clay oven, we first cook it sous vide before flashing it in the clay pot at high temperature.
In the case of desserts, our Phirni mousse Cashew cake has been on the menu since day one. This dessert is a perfect example of the use of a modern technique. The rice pudding or Phirni on which the cashew praline cake sits, is blitzed and passed through nitrous oxide, thus making it super light and preventing the starches from coating your palette.
Another would be using local peppers, blistered over wood, and then turned into a paste which in-turn forms the base of our Butter Chicken sauce, unlike a tomato base which you would find at a traditional Indian restaurant. This philosophy of cooking we believe creates the perfect balance between the heavy spices and the fresh local produce.
Talk about our pay it forward program and ways you’re giving back.
Anu and Vikram Bhambri: During last year’s first lockdown, we started this as a small initiative to support frontline workers and our staff, which we had to let go due to a sudden lockdown. We were fortunate to provide them with hot meals and financial support whenever needed. With the “Pay it forward” initiative, people could sponsor a meal for the frontline workers. Frontline workers could just stop by, show their badge and get a hot meal any time.
We had an amazing response from the local community. People started sponsoring meals for hospitals, local police stations and fire stations. This was especially popular during the summertime to support our local firemen who were busy putting down fires in the nearby areas. They all appreciated a hot healthy meal.
We were also fortunate enough to collaborate with Frontline Foods and World Kitchen to provide hot meals to senior homes in the area. They loved our food so much that they would request the same food every week. Due to the shortage of our staff, we had to pause the initiative. However, given the kind of response we received last year, we are definitely open to collaborating with other organizations in the future.