San Francisco’s Rooh to open live-fire Indian restaurant in Palo Alto – San Francisco Chronicle

Restaurant News

The Bay Area’s first Indian restaurant to focus on live-fire cooking is slated to open in Palo Alto on Jan. 10.

It’s a new location of San Francisco’s Rooh, the Chronicle Top 100 Indian restaurant from Vikram and Anu Bhambri and executive chef Sujan Sarkar, who also run restaurants in India and England. The team has been busy, opening Roohs in Chicago and New Delhi in 2019. The Palo Alto location, however, is the only one centered on an open-fire grill.

“The focus here is going back to our roots,” Vikram said. “Indian culture has been very ingrained with using live fire for cooking.”

During the team’s travels through India, they’ve seen live fire or charcoal grills used differently in various cities from New Delhi to Kolkata (whereas tandoor ovens in the U.S. are generally gas-powered). Sarkar’s goal is to merge those diverse traditions with the Bay Area’s seasonal ingredients in a 4,300-square-foot space inspired by havelis, old Indian mansions with an open feel.

Inside the 100-seat restaurant, diners will be able to see cooks in the open kitchen place kebabs on the large, custom-built grill, which includes a rotisserie and smoker. About 60 percent of the menu will come from the grill.

“Most of the charcoal cooking in India is focused on meat: chicken and lamb. In Palo Alto, it’s going to be much more,” Sarkar said, citing beef, pork, fish, seafood and vegetables as all destined for flames. “The flavors are going to be Indian — not just from east, west or any specific region, but from all over.”

Each kebab will have its own marinade, spicing, sauce and accompaniments, so a meal full of kebabs shouldn’t feel repetitive. Sarkar said he’s excited to bring Middle Eastern touches to some dishes, inspired by the Mogul Empire’s influence on Indian kebabs. A chicken kebab, for example, will feature cinnamon and orange with a pistachio dukkah sprinkled on top.

Beyond the kebabs, the menu will feature other new-to-Rooh dishes, such as a small salad of green chickpeas and a chaat of charcoal-roasted Indian sweet potato finished with tamarind. A tandoor oven will cook flatbreads, including naan and kulcha. Sarkar noted different sauces, condiments and pickles to go with various dishes, including a prawn pickle that’s popular in Mumbai. A few San Francisco favorites, including butter chicken and dahi puri, will carry over to Palo Alto, too.

Rooh executive chef Sujan Sarkar (left) and owners Anu and Vikram Bhambri have opened new locations in Chicago and New Delhi. Palo Alto is next.

As with the San Francisco Rooh, the Palo Alto restaurant will put serious effort into its cocktails, built around the tastes of Ayurveda. There will be nine specialty cocktails, named after regional Indian slang and inspired by those specific regions. Some will also take advantage of the kitchen’s grill: One drink channeling Kolkata features bourbon, smoked pineapple juice and mango ginger.

Rooh will start out with dinner service before eventually adding lunch and brunch. After that, Sarkar hopes to also offer a kebab-oriented tasting menu, served at a table positioned right in front of the grill surrounded by a decor dominated by pastel pinks, greens and tans in contrast to the bold blue-and-gold palette of the San Francisco location.

“Even though it’s under one brand umbrella, each one has its own unique identity. There are things that blend together but we want to make sure we don’t turn into another chain restaurant,” Vikram said.

After opening two new locations last year, the team plans to take a breather before looking for more expansion opportunities. While the focus has been on Rooh, the owners also have a restaurant in New York called Baar Baar, which they might bring elsewhere in the future.

Rooh Palo Alto. Opening Jan. 10. 5-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs. and Sun., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 473 University Ave., Palo Alto. 650-800-7090 or

Janelle Bitker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @janellebitker

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