Review: Rasam’s in Sunnyvale – modern Hindustani cuisine – SJ Mercury News
By JENNIFER GRAUE, Correspondent, San Jose Mercury News. Published April 17th, 2014 —
From Rasam’s in downtown Sunnyvale I saw a long line of people waiting for a table at Dishdash nearby. I wanted to run outside and tell them they really should come check out this place. We’d just finished our first couple of dishes and were impressed.
Of course, Dishdash has built its reputation for good reasons. But diners should give Rasam’s a try. Almost everything we ordered on two visits was good, if not excellent. We experienced one pleasant surprise after another. Chef Arindam Bahel trained in Goa, India, and worked at top hotels in Mumbai before moving to the Bay Area. He worked at Amber Dhara in San Francisco before becoming executive chef at Rasam’s.
His menu features Indian royal cuisine with some street food classics added for good measure. His inspiration comes from a number of regions: dosas from the South, rich curries from the North. He also incorporates local foods not often used in traditional Indian recipes.
The flavors Bahel creates are clean and distinct without being overpowering. Each curry has its own personality, from the sunshine yellow, coconut milk-based sauce in the shrimp and scallop moilee ($22) to the brick-red curry in the paneer, asparagus and mushroom kadai ($15).
He possesses an uncanny ability to calibrate the heat in spicier dishes. He takes them to the precipice of too spicy for the average diner, then pulls back a fraction, leaving a pleasant tingle on the palate.
Rasam’s bar/lounge area has several tables for dining but converts into a live music space a few nights each week. The other half of the restaurant is devoted exclusively to dining. The look is modern and clean, with wood paneling and walls painted with a palette plucked from an Indian spice box. Modern art adds visual interest, but there is no hint of Bollywood glitz.
Meals begin with a complimentary cup of lightly spiced broth called a rasam, which whets the appetite for choices from a huge selection of small plates. One could make a full meal on those alone. The several we tried were consistently good. From the menu’s street food section, the chaat sampler ($8), perfect for two to share, is a must. It’s smartly presented with papdi chaat, corn bhel and, the best element, clementine panipoori. The papdi are fried dough chips, topped with yogurt, tamarind chutney and avocado, instead of potatoes or chickpeas.
The bhel, with corn standing in for puffed rice, is similar to corn salsa. The clementine panipoori were an absolute delight. Bahel uses clementine juice, instead of plain water, in the batter for the hollow fried orbs called puri. He then partially fills them with a mixture of chickpeas and finely chopped vegetables. A cool broth of bright green herbs is poured into the puri, then you pop it into your mouth in one bite for an explosion of flavor and texture.
In paneer pepper parsley ($10), another favorite, the mild cheese is seasoned, then cooked in the tandoor oven. Samosas ($8) are also good, but they’re small. Served four to a plate, they’re fine for two diners.
We settled on cocktails ($10 each) with our meal, since the wines by the glass looked uninteresting; the bottle selection is better. The Sunnyvale Sip, with gin, basil and lime, was refreshing; the masala-spiced Old-Fashioned, with Indian Amrut whiskey, was a good stiff accompaniment for the meal.
For bread, the roti basket ($8) — a selection of whole-wheat roti, naan and mushroom kulcha — includes a sample of everything. The subtly seasoned thyme and olive naan ($4) is also good.
The main course Bombay Biryani ($18) is a masterpiece — seasoned rice and tender chunks of chicken steamed in a large bowl (dum) that’s been covered with naan. The heavenly aroma that wafts out when the server cuts through the top merely hint at the deliciousness inside. Butter Chicken ($15) and Kamal Kofta ($15) were served lukewarm, but the chicken had thoroughly become one with the saffron-colored curry, and the kofta had a delectable savory filling of lotus root and cheese.
Although the curry in the moilee was wonderful, the seafood lacked flavor. A happy accident occurred when our server brought asparagus, mushroom and paneer, instead of the paneer with pepper and parsley we’d ordered. He left it for us to enjoy at no charge. I’d happily order it again.
For dessert, the Mithai sampler ($10) is a good choice, with small portions of baked yogurt accompanied by berries, cheese dumplings in sweetened milk and probably the best gulab jamun I’ve had. Although the fried dumplings are intensely sweet, they were nice and hot, a huge improvement over the many that have been chilled. On the next visit, a lychee chili mousse ($7) was disappointing.
But the few disappointments here were buoyed by outstanding service. Rasam’s high-quality modern Indian cuisine is a welcome addition to Sunnyvale’s Murphy Avenue dining scene. It won’t take long until diners lined up here waiting to get in.
Email Jennifer Graue at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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193 S. Murphy Ave.,
The Dish: This new kid on the block brings modern Hindustani cuisine to historic Murphy Avenue. Think Indian but with slight twists and subtle uses of local foods.
Prices: Appetizers and small plates $5-$13; entrees $14-$28; desserts $7-$10; cocktails $10; tap wines and by the glass, $7-$12; by the bottle, $32-$320.
Details: Owners of Sunnyvale’s iChaat Cafe teamed up with Goa-trained chef Arindam Bahel to create a menu with a multiregional approach to street food snacks, small plates and full entrees. The large bar area offers live music a few nights each week.
Pluses: Knowledgeable, enthusiastic servers. Interesting cocktail list. The heat level of the spicier dishes hits that sweet spot between pleasure and pain.
Minuses: Dessert menu is weak. Service sometimes lacks polish, such as used silverware left on the table between courses.
Hours: Monday-Sunday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10:30 p.m.
Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. The Mercury News pays for all meals.