ROOH: a story of belonging

Every now and then I come across a restaurant which makes me question my own food journey and my purpose in keeping this blog alive. I take the time to reflect on what I do and how I do it: Have I kept true to myself while writing all these stories and posting all these recipes? Have I remained authentic to those influences from my past, which have shaped me in profound and lasting ways? Is it still me who’s doing the writing – or is it somebody else, whom I barely know? This striving for authenticity has always interested me. There are so many stories out there that seem contrived, inauthentic, or downright fabricated – and so many restaurants which thrive on providing an embalmed, carefully manufactured version of their supposed true purpose. And then… there’s ROOH.

Meaning soul or spirit, ROOH is a restaurant which brings India to Chicago in a way that preserves the authenticity of the Indian dining experience while also gifting it with a fresh, innovative perspective. As someone who is familiar with traditional Indian cooking, I was looking forward to seeing how acclaimed Executive Chef Sujan Sarkar would rethink the fundamentals of Indian cuisine so as to epitomize a fine dining experience. I thought such a project had its risks, the most obvious perhaps being the loss of authenticity. As I stepped into the restaurant on its official launch night, I had one question in my mind: Will I be able to find the spirit of India at ROOH?

Located in the heart of West Loop’s Restaurant Row on Randolph Street, ROOH is a space of wonder and magic. As you enter, you’re surrounded by a rich interior dominated by vibrant artwork and intricate flowery wallpaper, in an exciting mix of tradition and eye-catching innovation.

A well thought-out interplay of shadows and light adds to the mystery of the space. This is a restaurant which comes to life before your eyes in small steps, little by little, with each corner and small compartment telling a unique story while working in compelling harmony with the others.

Brushes of orange velvet opulence are contrasted with shades of electric blue, teal and turquoise…

…with the interplay of natural and artificial lighting providing dynamism and enduring visual appeal.

The chromatic range used at ROOH is truly inspired and memorable. As someone who loves vibrant colors, I was delighted to see them used at ROOH extensively, from the enchanting pictures of flowers adorning the walls…

… to the breathtaking mural which welcomes you at the entrance.

For rustic traditional touches, look no further than to the diverse ceramics on the walls.

So beautiful, so mindful:

Clearly, at ROOH, beauty can be found in the smallest of details – and each detail is executed to perfection.

It’s at the bar that the magic starts to unfold, from a flavor-related perspective. You can get a glass of wine and enjoy it while marveling at the dramatic countertops…

… or you can go for something more elaborate – and here artistry comes into play.

ROOH’s Ayurveda inspired cocktail menu displays a passion for bold flavors and creative pairings. Most importantly to me, it uses “a blend of unique Indian ingredients, shrubs, spices and artisanal spirits,” and thus persuasively pays homage to the spirit of India, as I see it: feisty, rustic, reflective, and unapologetically spicy.

That’s the case with Pink City, which features tequila, guava, chili, and ROOH’s in-house blend of masala. I instantly fell in love with this cocktail and its sophisticated pairing of fresh, sweet&sour guava, and assertive spice blend. Guava is one of my all-time favorite fruits – its flavor and texture remind me of quince, which I used to eat in large quantities while growing up, but haven’t eaten much since coming to Chicago. Beautiful, innovative, thirst-quenching delicious – Pink City had it all brought to perfection, or so I thought:

The menu items I tried at ROOH’s official opening reflected Executive Chef Sujan Sarkar‘s championing of progressive cooking deeply rooted in tradition, as well as his commitment to bringing to life authentic Indian flavors using fresh local ingredients. Recently named Times Chef of the Year in India, Chef Sarkar has made his mark in restaurants around the world, from London to Dubai. After opening the first ROOH restaurant in San Francisco in 2016 and Baar Baar in New York last year, Chef Sarkar decided to enter the Windy City’s fiercely competitive restaurant scene – and ROOH Chicago was born.

The paneer rolls with ginger chutney were possibly my favorite dish of the night. I absolutely love paneer (I used to eat paneer quite often while living in the UK) and was thrilled to see it in the shape of thin layers and served wrapped in crispy kataifi. These rolls scored highly on the creativity chart in terms of both flavor and application. It was the first time I tried paneer as a thin layer, and also the first time I tasted savory kataifi.

Such an exciting discovery!

A special mention should be made about the beef/potato croquettes, which were sitting pretty on a mint and cilantro chutney. The latter provided a very exciting flavor twist, which took me by surprise.

The perfect bites!

I left ROOH on its official opening night enamored with its menu and mesmerized by its interior. This new addition to Chicago’s Restaurant Row purports to provide “a gastronomical journey in progressive Indian cuisine” – and believe me when I say this journey is one of a kind. Much to my delight and satisfaction, I was able to find the spirit of India at ROOH. Thankfully, in the process of using innovative flavor combinations and exquisite modern culinary techniques, the gifted individuals behind ROOH did not lose themselves, and stayed true to the gastronomic heritage they are honoring each day. It’s authenticity reinvented – skillfully, and respectfully.

At ROOH, I entered a world of sophisticated flavors, unexpected applications, and thoughtful presentations, all coming together to tell a story of wonder, progression, and nostalgia: a story of belonging.Β 

*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.

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