Rooh has been on my list for awhile now. We accidentally walked in one Saturday afternoon trying to get a drink, and they weren’t open yet, but it looked like a cool venue, so I was intrigued. Then it started popping up on all “the lists” around San Francisco about how all this amazing, contemporary Indian food is now around in San Francisco. I love Indian food. Six years in the UK definitely let me run the gamut from your late-at-night-very-drunk-curry-house Indian to your tasting-menu-using-primarily-game-meat-fine-dining Indian restaurant. And all the levels in-between. Compared to the UK (and well India), Indian food in San Francisco is just, well, subpar. I was really keen to find something amazing, and sadly, my brunch at August (1) Five didn’t really tick the boxes for the food I was looking for. I was hoping Rooh would be that place. Then, I noticed that they were participating in Truffle Week, so it seemed like an excellent reason to make a booking and go in to give it a try.
We had a 7:30 booking, but we were feeling a bit parched, so we arrived early hoping to get a place at the bar so we could try a cocktail or two. Sadly (or maybe not-so-sadly), our table was ready, so we decided to skip the bar. We were given the cocktail, wine, food and truffle menu, and we perused the menu while we waited for our server. We tried to discuss the menu, but frustratingly, the vibe is more night-clubby than it is “fine dining”. The music is loud. VERY loud. Our table was also down a corridor (near a window at least) that led to the bathrooms, so we did get to see a lot of people pass our table on their way to using the facilities. That’s a nice thought to be having at dinner, isn’t it? Clearly the person in charge of atmosphere wasn’t really thinking ahead. I mean it looks cool, but with the layout and the sound, the venue is pretty impractical.
It also made it difficult to hear our server. The cocktail menu is split into six categories for the six(?) different taste sensations. I’m pretty sure there’s just five. I really don’t know where astringent and pungent fit in on the five taste sensations that I know about, but at least they had sour, bitter, sweet and salty. I immediately glanced at the “bitter” drinks because that’s my jam; give me a Negroni any day. However, the only two drinks I saw there were the Chai Punch (and since when is chai bitter?) and a mustard old fashioned (and since when is an old fashioned that is mixed with sugar bitter?). To my taste buds, neither of those flavor profiles falls under bitter. I did find something interesting in the salty section: Beetroot Kanji. Beetroot is also my jam, so I ordered it. (You can have more than one jam right?) Then I had to attempt to listen to the waitress try to explain why they didn’t have it. It took awhile because the MUSIC IS SO LOUD. Apparently they are in process of changing the menu (although the same menu we had is still on the website), and three drinks are being removed. Because the ingredients are seasonal. That’s right, beets are not in season. In November. Apparently the season for root vegetables isn’t autumn, because it’s not beet season. We then went for a bottle of wine instead. Which they were also out of. So we had to find yet something else to drink on the menu. At this point we decided to order the assorted papad and crisps with chutney to have something to snack on while we looked at the rest of the menu. I feel like this is a good time to point out that that dish is $10. For essentially a few poppadom and chutney. It’s a bit hard for me to believe the cost of this considering pretty much every place in the UK charges less than a pound per poppadom and usually includes the chutneys for free.
For the rest of the meal, we decided to share two small dishes and one large dish. We ordered the pork belly (my husband’s choice) and salt and pepper quail. For our main, we both were liking the sound of the beef rib curry, so we went that route with some cheddar naan. Unfortunately, the three dishes on the truffle menu sounded boring and uninteresting, so my one restaurant we went to for the truffle festival involved no truffle at all. And it turns out two of the “specials” were just the regular menu item with white truffle instead of black. It’s a bit of a cop-out. With the papad and chutneys, the chutneys were pretty good actually. They had some nice flavor, but the “spicy” chutney was far from spicy. I didn’t think they were amazing, but they were definitely a nice start.
The quail and pork belly arrived. I think they must have had complaints about the music, because it had been turned down slightly, but not really enough to make the atmosphere enjoyable. It also seemed to take quite some time for the starters. Kitchen issues? The quail was fried and served with a ginger chutney and some sort of weird foam. (Aren’t foams kind of 2007?) On the positive side, the quail had an amazing flavored sauce on the outside and that chutney was heavenly. The quail itself was overcooked and the foam was superfluous. It had little flavor, and when you dipped the quail in it, it did nothing for the dish. Somehow, it feels like the chef was trying to impress with technique, when technique was really unnecessary. The pork belly had a nice sauce, but it was definitely on the sweet side. That’s about it. The crackling on top was soft and stale, so clearly it’s made in advance (or more likely than not, just purchased fried pork rinds crumbled on top). I was hoping for the pork belly to have a nice skin cooked on it while it was roasted, but that was not the case. The pork was also incredibly overcooked. You know how pork belly gets really, really stringy and sticks in your teeth when it’s cooked too long? That’s what happened here. Given the length of time it took to arrive to our table, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just sitting under a heat lamp overcooking.
It also took awhile for the short rib curry to come out. It arrived on a larger plate, but the size of the portion looked like it wasn’t that much larger than the stuff that arrived on smaller plates. I did ask my husband what he though the difference between the small plates and the large plates were and he cheekily pointed at the plate and said, “Look, this is a much larger plate”. The beef also appears to not be cooked in the curry sauce as they pour it over after the dish arrives. It’s served with a marrow kofta, garlic mash and baby turnips. They were baby all right. They were the smallest (and least cooked) turnips I’ve ever seen. And there were two of them. There was also a very small portion of mash. It’s unclear why they even put it on the menu as there really wasn’t much there, and if they weren’t, I probably would have ordered some dal or rice to go with the dish as well. There were two pieces of beef, and I wasn’t really surprised as it felt apropos given the previous two dishes. My husband was surprised I said that, and it turns out, his was cooked well. The curry sauce shouldn’t really even be called a curry sauce in my opinion. The flavors were bland and there wasn’t much there at all. There was a slight heat coming from somewhere, but I’m pretty sure it was in the beef itself and not the sauce. The naan was fine, but nothing amazing (and similar to what I can do at home).
We did look at the dessert menu, and I loved the idea of the the traditional Indian carrot dessert turned into a carrot cake, but given how the rest of the menu reads much better than it is executed, we decided to skip dessert. We had also been there for two hours at this point. It was sad really, I am all about the idea of elevating the flavors of India and making them more refined; however, if one can not execute the basic cooking of dishes, all the flourish and faffing about with foams doesn’t make the dish better, it just makes it prettier. And honestly, while I love a pretty looking dish that I can chuck on my Instagram, I’d rather have a well-cooked, delicious and balanced dish any day. I’m fairly certain that people in San Francisco are desperate for new and interesting Indian places (plus they’ve been told this place is great, so I’m sure it makes it easier for them to believe it), but Rooh needs to step up it’s game in food and atmosphere, especially for the prices it’s charging. Given it’s location in Soma, perhaps I am not the target customer. Perhaps, the target customer are those tech/finance people who need to spend a lot of money on small plates of food to impress clients. I’m not that type of customer, and I definitely won’t be back, that’s for sure.
333 Brannan St #150
San Francisco, CA 94107