Already successful with restaurants in San Francisco and New York, the owners of Rooh are bringing their fine dining Indian cuisine to Chicago’s West Loop inside a three-level space on Randolph Restaurant Row. Rooh’s menu brings tastes from different areas of India and then artfully plating those dishes. Construction could finish by the end of March in time for an April opening at 736 W. Randolph Street (the former The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet). A spokesperson said there’s no guarantee that construction would be completed by the month’s end.
Rooh executive chef Sujan Sarkar will oversee the Chicago location for its opening. He’s worked in London and helped launch Rooh SF in 2017 and its New York sibling Baar Baar last year. They’ll pour cocktails at the first-floor bar that use ingredients like cardamom and turmeric. Rooh will start with an a la carte dinner menu as they figure out the Chicago market. For instance, San Francisco just added brunch. Sarkar hopes to add a tasting menu for the second-floor dining room, a menu that could look like what he served last year at the Beard House in New York. Dishes included a sweet melon rasam, which is a South Indian soup traditionally made with tomato and tamarind. It’s normally a vegetarian dish, but Sarkar’s crew added a prawn. They also served a duck kebob with foie gras. If that’s too avant-garde for some, Sarkar said don’t worry. The a la carte menu includes old favorites.
“Butter chicken is there,” Sarkar said. “But trust me, this is the best butter chicken you’ve ever had.”
They’ll have about 34 dishes to start that include vegan options. The Chicago restaurant will also serve a kulcha, an Indian flatbread similar to naan. They’ll stuffed it with goat cheese and serve it with shaved truffles. While the presentation maybe more Westernized, Sarkar — who worked in London where fancy Indian restaurants aren’t in short supply — wants to assure customers the flavors are 100-percent pure Indian.
“I don’t want anyone thinking that’s not Indian,” Sarkar said.
Popular items in San Francisco include a beef short rib curry, tandoori octopus, and Old Delhi Fried Chicken. Indian-style fried chicken has gained popularity in recent years. Locally, chef Zubair Mohajir serves it his Wazwan Supper Club pop-up, and Netflix’s Ugly Delicious featured a segment with chef Asha Gomez who fried up her Southern (Indian) buttermilk chicken garnished with aromatic curry leaves. The recipe’s from her book My Two Souths.
Rooh’s menu will also include Kashmiri-style lamb ribs braised with milk, cardamom, and ginger. They’ll flash fry them and finish in the oven. Some say apricots originated in India (some say the fruit originated in Europe), and that’s why these ribs will feature an apricot glaze.
Items like beef short-rib curry are rarities at Indian restaurants in America due to India’s complicated relationship with beef. Orthodox Hindus believe cows are sacred, and there can be much anger about beef consumption in India. Sarkar, from Kolkata, pointed out many southern Indian regions don’t frown upon eating beef. And besides, Chicago has much better beef than India. The restaurant stands near the former Fulton Market meatpacking district, so why not make use of the better product and push the boundaries of traditional cooking?
Contemporary Indian restaurants — ones different from most on Devon Avenue, not focused on just feeding the South Asian immigrant community — haven’t found sustained success in Chicago. Rooh hopes to give Chicago an Indian option for special occasions, a place where customers could splurge. There’s quite a graveyard for fancy Indian restaurants in Chicago. Veerasway, once located down the street from the Rooh site, didn’t take off. The restaurant had a quainter space compared to what Rooh has planned. Monsoon lasted about three years in Lakeview. Other Chicago relics include Bukhara (it sat in the River North space where Wahlburgers will open), and the Gold Coast location of the Bombay Palace mini-chain. Then there’s the curious case of Vermillion in River North which continues to chug along. The original in New York garnered a bit of infamy before it closed in 2018. Vermillion started out concentrating on Indian food. It’s since pivoted toward more Latin American fusion.
Rooh isn’t chasing those ghosts. Instead Sarkar wants to establish his restaurant as among Chicago’s best regardless of the type of cuisine.
“We are not just an Indian restaurant, we can compete with any good restaurant out there,” Sarkar said.
Stay tuned for more coverage as opening approaches. Rooh is one of Chicago’s most anticipated restaurant openings for 2019.