photo credit: Sarah Felker
When it opened in 2017, Rooh was one of the best new examples of modern Indian cooking. Several years later, the high-end spot in SoMa is still keeping things interesting. They’re reimagining traditional Indian cuisine and mixing in ingredients and cooking styles from around the world with the precision of a lauded scientist. Simply put, Rooh continues to be exciting and inventive—and they’ll probably still be 10 years from now, long after a crush of falling anchovies strike us down.
This spot is part of a six-restaurant chain that includes Rooh locations in Chicago, New Delhi, and Palo Alto. But Rooh SF is the OG. It’s jewel-toned, swank, and filled with velvet chairs and ambient lighting. The short but varied menu of small and big plates are a lot different than what you’ll find at most Indian restaurants in town (and why we don’t mind paying a higher price point). Rich mawa-stuffed black morel mushrooms are slathered in decadent yakhni sauce. The spiced chickpeas topped with potato mousse and crispy salli shreds are hearty enough to double as the world’s best campfire meal. And the avocado-filled puri puffs topped with chilled yogurt mousse crack in your mouth in a satisfying way when you bite into them.
The aforementioned small dishes are a tad more successful than the entrées at delivering both creativity and balanced flavors. The delicate sheets of paneer rolled up into pinwheels and the crisp vegetable and fava dumplings are both eye-catching, but the flavors in the sauces they’re in are too subtle. And the just-fine butter chicken leans dry. Luckily, you’re not at Rooh for the butter chicken. You’re here to drink fancy ayurvedic-inspired cocktails like a celebrity, pass around baskets of naan and solid housemade chutneys, and eat like this is your last meal on earth. Just hold the anchovies.
We muttered excited expletives to ourselves when we took a bite. The yogurt mousse is chilled and light, and the super crispy puri crunches in your mouth before releasing the creamy avocado and tamarind filling. Six per order.
If reading the phrase “shaved truffles” makes your heart flutter, you will love the mound of it covering everything. The richness of this dish is enhanced by the three small morel mushrooms, filled with cream cheese and housemade mawa, that sit in creamy yakhni sauce. You get soft and spongy textures from the mushroom, saltiness from the cheeses, and greens in the form of asparagus and ramp. Embrace the unexpected flavor parings in this luxurious small dish.
Black Sheep Keema Masala
This vegetarian rendition includes plant-based lamb made of spiced chickpea proteins, plus potato mousse and salli topping. Saucy, hearty, and spicy, this dish makes us feel a bit like we’re camping next to an open flame in the Eastern Sierras. Housemade pav bread goes with it on the side, and our only complaint is the portions aren’t enough to sop up every last bit of the keema masala.
Chicken Ghee Roast
This small plate is actually a full-on entrée in disguise. We’re not complaining—it’s fantastic, and there is plenty to go around. A ton of tender, flavor-packed chicken is underneath the crispy, nutty nest of dough. Texture and flavor galore.
A great tasting dish and a Rooh mainstay, but there are better and more interesting items you should order instead of this. We like the sheets of rolled up paneer, which are simultaneously delicate and firm. And, like the red pepper makhni sauce that drenches the three pinwheels, the flavors are subtle.
Traditional Butter Chicken
Tandori-roasted butter chicken in thick makhni sauce, nothing more, nothing less. Well, there is dehydrated butter. If we wanted traditional butter chicken we would not be at Rooh.
Vegetable & Fava Dumpling
The vegetable and fava dumplings are hearty, packed with flavor, and are wonderfully crispy on the outside. We like the spinachy gravy, aromatic and earthy—it’s more complex than their makhni sauce.