A date night. A wedding shower. An anniversary. A family reunion. These, plus more, are all reasons to dine at the exquisite ROOH, billed as a “progressive” Indian fine dining establishment located on trendy University Avenue in Palo Alto. Let’s start with the vibe – opulent, yet approachable; aromatic, but not overwhelming. Scarlet velvet curtains, scarlet velvet bench seats with backs, leather banquet seating, and anchoring the aesthetic is a floor-to-ceiling mural of a beautiful Indian woman’s visage ensconced by butterflies and flowers. Think jewel tones, jewel tones, jewel tones. The floor plan with high ceilings is segmented into booths, seating by the walls, and private rooms in the back. The gorgeous bar decorated with bottles is lit by the barstools beneath with turmeric yellow lighting. Mango trees and other potted plants as well as vintage 1900s photos harken to the early days of India. “ROOH Palo Alto gives a feel of a heritage family home,” notes its website.
It’s Wednesday night at 6:30, and my husband Frank and I locate the $$$ restaurant on Google Maps. It’s our first time to ROOH. Heck, we don’t know what to expect. Walking past the outdoor dining section already packed with patrons, the indoors sizzles with customers and conversation. Fragrant turmeric, curry, and other intoxicating flavors greet us, a foreshadowing of the gastronomic feast to lie ahead.
When the tagline of the ROOH says it is “progressive,” you’ll notice why when you examine the menu carefully. Chef Apurva Panchal fuses local ingredients with Indian flavors, creating a magical and unpredictable experience with each dish that sails out of the kitchen. For example, take the Avocado & Edamama Bhel appetizer where a pool of green avocado sauce is topped with Edamame hummus, corn, and puffed black rice. Each item is plated with edible flowers or gold-leaf flakes, upping the game in elegance and sheer style. The delectable Tandoori Portobello features a giant portobello in the plate’s center, surrounded with a swathe of popcorn, (yes, popcorn) sauce and reddish truffle oil drizzled in a circular pattern in little dashes. Truffle shavings are sprinkled atop the mushroom with a purple pansy as a crowning touch.
As a side note, the dishes on the menu represent various Indian regions. Vegetarians will do very well here, for the meatless dishes are incredibly innovative and succulent. Jackfruit cutlet ($18) is a dense slice of starchy jackfruit that can be quite filling as it is breaded and comes with slivers of pickled onion and a house-made mayo. House made chutneys such as the chili and peanut, and the tomatillo an green mango are ideal for the assorted papad ($15) best described as large crispy cracker breads that arrive, standing on their sides up in an open box next to three types of chutneys. Dangerously delicious, I think we ate to many of these that we did not pace ourselves for the rest of the meal.
During this date night, Chef Apurva treated us to a generous variety of his specialties. In addition to the ones mentioned earlier, here are more of our favorites:
Dahi Puri – this $14 appetizer is as cute as a button. The size of a mini cupcake, the little puff pastry is highlighted with a light and airy yogurt mousse and the flavoring of raspberry chat masala. The two-bite sampler features a colorful, confetti sprinkling of yellow, green, and red bits and a purple flower.
Corn Cheese Kulcha and Chicken Tikka Kulcha – Each at $18, the appetizers remind me of Chinese pork buns. Instead, these are circular dough disks filled respectively with corn cheese and chicken. Super tasty with a savory kick, the two starters will launch you into India without the need for a plane ticket.
Mali Chicken Lyonnaise – At $22, this is a rich appetizer that could double as an entrée on its own. The unique spin on this dish is the lattice of edible charcoal on the top of the square cut section similar in size to a square cut of lasagna. The creamy cheese sauce with chunks of chicken should be paired with the house-made garlic naan and/or saffron rice to balance rich and neutral flavors.
Beef Short Ribs – Who doesn’t love a good short rib? The $40 large plate tastes very close to New American cuisine, and the hearty chunk is celebrated with traditional lal mash and potato laccha. Tender and moist.
Lamb Shank Biryani – A whopper of a bone with plenty of meat, the $48 lamb shank comes with roasted potatoes and burani raita. The proverbial melt-in-your-mouth treat, this one is worth ordering again and again. Roasted to perfection with a gold leaf to inspire you.
And the restaurant takes equal pride in its bar menu. The mixology duo of Roger Gomes and Izler Thomas go the distance to invent their own delectable and eye catching beverages. The Jalisco Punch, for example, is laced with a torched sprig of rosemary that lingers with a burnt herbaceousness. The Yellow Bird, my drink, represented an intricate blend of gin, saffron, and turmeric. It was a refreshing summer beverage that is worth a second round.
The third drink called the Gint No. 2, featured gin, elderflower tonic, and, of all things, bitter melon. The accent of a green onion sliver provided a decorative punch. While I did not expect to like the bitter melon in the drink, I wound up loving it. The slightly bitter and dry tang went well with the rich sauces, tipping the scales back into balance.
My suggestion for the bar? Why not do a cocktail pairing with the dishes? The Gint No. 2 with the bitter melon would be ideal for any creamy dish. I would definitely come back just to have a seat at the bar and watch the guys do their magic.
ROOH is a fabulous place to bring your friends and family for an exotic meal where service is friendly, the ambiance is romantic, and the food stellar. ROOH is not just a restaurant, it’s a destination.
ROOH Palo Alto
473 University Ave.