Rooh (San Francisco, CA)

Rooh (San Francisco, CA) – It’s a little weird writing about this pre-COVID experience a year later, but here we are. Rooh was one of my last fine dining experiences before the pandemic, so it feels bittersweet writing this! I miss eating at restaurants!

Before I had to start working from home, I was working in San Francisco. I thought that since I was there regularly, I’d go out to eat way more often – so not true! The commute was long both ways, so it didn’t leave me too much time to meet up with friends after work and grab dinner.

One weekday evening I finally managed to organize a dinner with a good friend and we headed over to Rooh after we finished work for the day. I’m always interested in Indian and South Asian fine dining since I’ve grown up with this food and was curious to see Rooh’s take on it. They first caught my attention thanks to friends’ Instagram stories enjoying their their lovely weekend brunches and I was fascinated by their fresh interpretations of classic dishes and beautiful presentation. The name of the restaurant also hooked me in because growing up, I typically heard the word rooh used as “spirit” or “ghost” with a more supernatural or other worldly connotation. But in this restaurant’s case, it’s definitely about the spirit and soul of Indian food.

We walked in right when they opened for dinner, so it was pretty empty! I loved how bright and colorful it was insight while also having a modern feel to it. This mural behind a long dinner table was also nice to see. We were seated right away and my friend and I sat in a booth like pictured above, which was more than enough space since we were a party of two. Having looked at the menu before, I already knew what I wanted and pretty much ordered our entire meal. My friend and I were ready to throw down since that’s what we do when we go out to eat and catch up!

The menu goes from small plates to full entrees, so we picked several dishes from each category. The menu also changes depending on the season, availability, and per the chef’s decisions. Looking at their menu 6 months from this experience to now over a year later (and during a pandemic), the menu is very different! I decided to order some of my favorite South Asian dishes to taste Rooh’s version and how they made it fresh and different.

We started simple with our appetizers. I love assortment appetizers and I love pappads, so this was a must. The Assorted Pappads & Crisps come with homemade chutneys made of avocado & yogurt, house ketchup, and stone fruit, respectively. Pappads are a fun, crispy snack to eat. I can eat them plain because they have this distinct charred taste that mingles with the saltiness just right. Each of the chutneys offered a different profile with creamy and savory from the avocado and yogurt, that salty tanginess from ketchup, and a nice fresh pop of sweetness from the stone fruit, making them all great complements to the pappads.

I love chaat and love introducing my friends to this wildly popular South Asian street food. Chaat has a little bit of everything with sweet, savory, salty, crispy, tang, and heartiness from potatoes. It’s a quick and easy snack that you can eat with a spoon on the side of the road or if you’re eating one of the papdi/pani puri varieties such as the one pictured above, you can pop it straight into your mouth! I also enjoy it in the summer because it’s a cold snack you can eat endlessly. I had it at my college graduation party and I’ve also shared my mom’s homemade recipe for papdi chaat as well.

This is Rooh’s Dahi Puri, with avocado, tamarind, mint & cilantro chutney, with yogurt mousse and pomegranate seeds on top. It really captures the essence of pani puri with the traditional puff shape and all of the different flavor elements, while giving it a modern twist with the yogurt mousse and presentation. Traditionally, the puffs are hollow inside and designed to be filled with the chaat filling (a combination of potatoes, chutneys, and yogurt). With Rooh’s version, they’ve brought the filling to the top while you bite into these crispy, flakey puffs. I really enjoyed these too and could’ve eaten the whole plate myself! It has the perfect savory, tangy, and spicy combination you expect out of chaat.

I love koftas, or meatballs. I’ll eat any cuisine’s kofta but I love South Asian koftas the most because they pack so much flavor like all South Asian dishes do. However, I didn’t really grow up with malai kofta. Malai means “cream”, and I’ve grown up with koftas that are usually in a salaan, or gravy. But, the description intrigued me and I figured – you can’t go wrong with meatballs, especially with cheese!

This is the Chicken Malai Kofta, with Amul Cheese, romaine hearts, Caesar dressing, and a walnut crumble. I thought it was interesting to switch out the heavy cream for cheese and pour that over the meatballs. I personally found this dish too salty and it didn’t have as much flavor as I’d hoped. Chicken meatballs have a different (and drier) texture than beef meatballs, so that was also a factor. This wasn’t a bad tasting dish, but it was my least favorite dish. I felt like i was just eating nacho cheese which makes sense because Amul (which is a brand) cheese is a processed cheddar cheese.

Though these first few dishes were pretty filling, we ordered a couple of more shared plates to round out our meal. I didn’t get pictures of these but we ate the small and large plates with garlic naan and saffron rice. I actually really enjoyed the saffron rice – they were so soft and buttery!

If you’ve followed me for awhile, you know I love potatoes. (Who doesn’t?) Another dish I grew up with were aloo (potato) tikkis. These are potato patties, created with mashed potatoes, seasoned with spices, onions, and then fried. My mom would always make a large batch of aloo tikkis and we would eat them over the next few days for lunch and dinner. You can eat them with roti, bread, or rice. These Potato Tikkis came with Kale and spinach tempura, sweet and sour yogurt mousse, and raspberries on top.

If you look in the bottom-left of this stack, you’ll see the potato tikki peeking out. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting with this dish, but I didn’t expect it to be covered with the tempura. The tempura tasted great – it reminded me of chaat with its crispiness and the creamy element. I felt like it overshadowed the tikki a bit because it’s hidden underneath and we didn’t really end up eating it all together in one bite. The tikkis were delicious though.

Honestly, I hadn’t planned to order butter chicken. While butter chicken or chicken tikka masala is on every Indian and South Asian restaurant’s menu, it’s not a traditional dish. Older generations of the subcontinent do not eat this growing up, and I’ve only started eating it in my household over the last 15 years ago because of how ubiquitous it is South Asian restaurants in America! My friend wanted it so I decided to roll with it – and it’s always a good and filling choice. This is their Traditional Butter Chicken with red pepper makhani (butter and cream), fenugreek, and micro cilantro.

I prefer the makhani variation of this dish because it’s much richer with all of the dairy. Their butter chicken was great – the chicken was soft and tender, it had that lovely hearty taste you want and it had an extra kick with the addition of the red pepper. I enjoyed eating it with my rice and naan. I personally would’ve wanted to try a lamb or beef recipe that was more innovative, but sometimes you just want a classic dish, you know?

After dinner, we were getting ready to call it a night and my friend decided to order tea since he’s a big tea person. We ordered the Mistletoe Kisses which consists of Handmade oolong tea, rose petals, hibiscus flowers, orange, spices, and vanilla. I thought this tea had way too much going on but he liked it. I’m very simple when it comes to tea and honestly would’ve just preferred chai if I had to order tea – and that’s a recent development because I guess I’m truly becoming my parents. I did appreciate the warmth of the tea after eating a filling meal.

Weirdly, my friend knew the host! It was an old acquaintance of his. We hadn’t planned on getting dessert but the host gave us one on the house. The food and desserts that I’ve grown up with are very similar to North Indian cuisine, so I was totally unfamiliar to this dish when it arrived. It looked like shaved ice but it tasted a lot like Kheer, which is a rice pudding. I found its actual name on our bill later, which was Elaneer Payasam, or tender coconut pudding. Payasam is the Tamil word for kheer, so I totally nailed what the dish was! I was super proud of my tastebuds for that one. This Elaneer Payasam had granita (like sorbet), nata de coco (a coconut gel), and almond chikki or brittle.

I’m surprised I ended up enjoying this dish because I hate coconut lol. But it had a lot of the familiar elements of kheer which I enjoyed like sweet cardamom, combined with the grit and nutty flavor of the almonds and the sugary sweetness of the granita. I think it was a great way to cap of a heavy meal by having a light dessert!

Overall, my experience at Rooh was great! I pretty much enjoyed every dish and I really wanted to come back to experience their brunch menu as well as check out their Palo Alto location. When possible, they do have dine in options (as of my current writing, I believe they can only do outdoor dining) and take out options for pickup or delivery via third party apps. Please check out and support!

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