By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov.
For the enormous amount of ethnic cuisines that constitute the fabric of San Francisco’s restaurant scene there’s a relatively small number of eateries that venture into a fusion territory. Even if in the past the mixing of vastly different culinary traditions hasn’t offered anything as exciting as it was original, the current display of cultural crossovers in the City by the Bay appears to be full of promise, and makes for impressive discoveries along the entire spectrum—from haute cuisine establishments to neighborhood joints. The interplay of various cuisines ranges from the use of non-traditional ingredients and borrowing of foreign techniques to complementing the food menu with unusual libations, and when done right, brings even more amazingly delightful choices to the restaurant wonderland that is San Francisco.
ROOH, a progressive Indian restaurant
Culinary art is called thus for a reason, and Chef de Cuisine Pujan Sarkar at ROOH San Francisco is a true artist (also a TV star of Food Network) that boldly mixes the traditional flavors of his Indian homeland with Californian bounty and the spirit of innovation. The incomparable multi-spice sauces from India add sophistication to locally sourced fresh ingredients making a weeknight dinner at ROOH a memorable special occasion.
This reporter had a good luck to indulge in Chef Pujan’s artful Tasting Menu that reads like a poem in produce, and tastes as enticing as it sounds. The inspiration for the innumerable intriguing courses comes from Indian street food as well as from the banquet classics—all precisely executed and plated in a highly picturesque manner.
Our amuse-bouche was served in a bowl of dry saffron rice that worked as a holder for the two cutest tiny bites—a well-toasted Yogurt Puff Cornet with mango and raspberry chaat masala (inspired by Dahi Puri—Indian street chaat from Delhi) and Asparagus Pepper Fry Tart with curry leaves (a classic South Indian pepper fry recipe enhanced with asparagus in a Brik pastry tart).Another starter, Jidori Bhurji presented a soft-boiled and scrambled to a liquid state Japanese egg with thecha, a Maharashtrian condiment of green chili and garlic.
The Small Plates menu included some true masterpieces. The Pacific Coast shellfish arrived as Cold BBQ of fresh Kumamoto oysters from Californian Humboldt Bay topped with sturgeon caviar from Sacramento, and large escargots with chili-garlic sauce. The entire composition produced quite a theatrical effect with liquid nitrogen poured over from a cast iron teapot, and streaming down the sides of a ceramic pedestal lined with green moss.
Edamame Fava Kebab (vegan) looked like a bright-green dream of springtime, made up of fresh edamame and fava beans, sugar pea and snap pea coulis, fresh pea shoots and tiny purple edible flowers.
And then there was a highly enjoyable Green Peas Goat Cheese Kulcha (or stuffed naan) generously sprinkled with shaved Perigord truffle; followed by two more surprises—Chicken Ghee Roast of dark chicken meat cooked in clarified butter with South Indian spices and topped with kataifi (shredded phyllo dough nest), garlic aioli, Aleppo chili, and curry leaves; and Tandoori Octopus—a fat tentacle of Spanish octopus, marinated and cooked in tandoori oven, decorated with fresh and pickled radishes and edible flowers, and garnished with Santa Barbara uni mousse and corn thecha crowned with wakame seaweed salad and red tobiko.
On the Large Plates section of the menu, a classic Indian dish, Traditional Butter Chicken, headed a slew of delicacies. It was made of dark chicken meat marinated overnight, and cooked in a clay oven, then smothered with makhani—a buttery red bell pepper and smoked tomato gravy.
Charcoal Roasted Honey Nut Squash from San Francisco’s Ferry Building Farmers Market followed, marinated in chili yogurt, baked in charcoal oven, and served with coconut and brown onion gravy, crispy tempura fried okra and pearl onions.
Finally, charred Tandoori Monkfish brought in yet another symphony of flavors atop savory porridge of millet, lentils and rice cooked in North Indian Punjabi style, with a garnish of Bay shrimp, house-made rhubarb jam, and fried chili. These plates were served with sides of golden Saffron Rice, Garlic Naan, and house pickles.
As a sweet finale, came some amazing desserts—Cashew Praline Cake of phirni mousse (a slow cooked creamy pudding) with housemade thandai (saffron, cardamom, peppercorn) ice cream and Californian black rice wafer; Masala Chocolate Tart with pistachio cream, chai-spiced sauce, and kulfi (traditional mixed nut gelato); and Coconut Leches Cake with lychee mousse and coconut jelly.
Working on par with the talented chef is an outstandingly creative Head Bar Mixologist Marco Hernandez whose multicolored cocktails are inspired by the six tastes of Ayurvedic Rasas—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent) and equally pleasing to the eye and to the palate. They not only provide a perfect match to Chef Pujan’s dishes, but also are interestingly delicious enough to be enjoyed on their own. (Would that have anything to do with the always lively bar area at the gorgeously stylish restaurant?)
An amaranth-colored Just Beet It in “pungent” category is made of Copper Kings apple brandy, red beet juice, pomegranate, and cinnamon. A “salty” Harayana Sour is a pleasing combination of Novo Fogo cachaça, mandarin, carrot, and chipotle, cleverly decorated with tiny carrot greens. An “astringent” Imli Express, made with Milagro Reposado tequila, tamarind, pineapple, and habanero bitters, is visually enhanced with a little dry ice, while a “sweet” Chai Fusion made with Reyka vodka, Orgeat syrup, masala chai, and coconut, is crowned with coffee foam.
The wine list at ROOH is extremely well-curated by the hospitable General Manager and wine director Sergio Blandon, and includes some delightful rare selections, like the champagne Telmont Réserve Brut of three grape varieties—rich and creamy with remarkable freshness and fruitiness; the best in class Talbott “Sleepy Hollow” Chardonnay from San Lucia Highlands, California; and “The Language of Yes” Grenache from Santa Maria Valley, California.
The concept of ROOH (which means “soul” or “spirit”) was created by a husband and wife of co-founders Anu and Vikram Bhambri, and their team, led by the Executive Chef Sujan Sarkar and Chef de Cuisine Pujan Sarkar. The very design of the San Francisco location emanates a feeling of contemporary sophistication, steeped in centuries-old tradition. The service is impeccable, friendly and efficient, with all servers wearing made-in-India elegant aprons (yes, there’s such a thing as an elegant apron!) emblazoned with ROOH logo.
ROOH San Francisco is located at 333 Brannan St, #150, San Francisco, California. Call (415) 525-4174 or visit https://www.roohrestaurants.com/.
Don Pisto’s and Chubby Noodle
Two neighborhood restaurants in the North Beach area belong to the same restaurateur, chef-owner Pete Mrabe, and present a good example of international cuisines interconnectedness.
Don Pisto’s offers Mexican-inspired fare starting with an assortment of variously flavored margaritas (tamarind, lime, orange, plus seasonal hibiscus and guava), a classic Michelada (Cerveza Pacífico, Clamato, lime, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce) and delicious housemade salsas, including a bright-green tomatillo salsa verde and a fresh guacamole made with California avocados.
A signature appetizer Queso Fundido Chorizo, a rather warming dish, highly recommended on a chilly winter night, is served in an oval cast iron skillet, and is simply delightful with hot freshly made flour tortillas and classic tortilla chips.
Another popular staple is Beef Shank Birria made of tender shreds of slow braised beef in savory consommé with a side of raw onion, cilantro, and lime.
From the charcoal grill comes Puerto Nuevo Lobster, a whole live Maine lobster prepared the traditional Puerto Nuevo style—pan-fried in the lard so the lobster meat stays tender and juicy. Served alongside small side dishes of flour tortillas, garlic butter with greens, arbol salsa, rice, and beans, this is a truly spectacular dish.
Don Pisto’s is located at 510 Union St, San Francisco, California. Call (415) 395-0939 or visit https://www.donpistos.com/.
Chubby Noodle serves Asian comfort food with distinct influences from other cultures.
A buttermilk-marinated Chubby Fried Chicken is made succulent and intriguing with a side bowl of Malaysian-origin creamy sambal sauce composed of chilies, spices, herbs and aromatics.
Wok-tossed Szechuan Green Beans with garlic, ginger, and oyster sauce maintain their bright color and crispiness enhanced with chili flakes.
Six jumbo tiger prawns in Singapore Chili Prawns on the Barrio Chino section of the menu are bathed in a thick sauce of hot guajillo chilies and garlic, and garnished with parsley and fresh lime.
Birria Ramen of Noodles & Rice menu contains a shredded braised beef shank, guajillo, onions, and cilantro on top of the traditional ramen noodles.
A list of creative cocktails at Chubby Noodle includes signature Chubby Mango (Teremana Reposado tequila, mango, chipotle, lime) and Smoky Passion (Los Vecinos mezcal, passionfruit, prickly pear, lemon).
Chubby Noodle is located at 570 Green St, San Francisco, California. Call (415) 296-9600 or visit https://www.chubbynoodle.com/.