If your idea of a Valentine’s dinner is a bit more adventurous than the usual upscale Italian, Rooh’s progressive Indian fare makes for an intimate evening studded with culinary innovation. Rooted in traditional Indian flavors, this West Loop staple’s take on the classics is a testament to the place and potential of plant-based cuisine in fine dining.
Artwork in Action
I’ll be the first to admit that Chicago doesn’t exactly boast the best Indian food scene. Seldom do I come across restaurants that can take dishes commonplace in an Indian household to an elevated level of finesse and ingenuity. While emulating comfort through food is a feat in itself, at Rooh, they’re not afraid to wade into undiscovered waters — one velvety, melt-in-your-mouth bite of paneer at a time.
Before the eagerly awaited dishes even make their way to your table, Rooh’s classy ambiance already hints at the meal that is to come. Wood-paneled flooring illuminated by a series of glossy chandeliers casts the restaurant in a feeling of warmth. Eclectic decor — namely royal blue stitched leather and floral South-Asian wallpaper — further amplify the tasteful charm that makes Rooh feel sophisticated. And with contemporary murals of South-Asian culture marking the entryway, it’s clear that at Rooh, art is just as much on its walls as it is in their dishes.
The kitchen’s innovation comes to full fruition with their appetizers: a small, curated menu that’s done to perfection without fail. The first dish we tried was the Sweet Potato Chaat — a tangy dish layered with crisped sweet potato, kale tempura, yogurt mouse, and freeze-dried raspberries. The presentation is beyond inviting with the contrast between the colorful chutneys and raspberries making for a plate that is bursting with color. A riff on the classic Indian chaat (tangy, spicy street food) and pakoras (fritters), Rooh’s take is evidently delicious and genius.
The base of the chaat is the baked sweet potatoes, which have been caramelized to golden-brown perfection to maximize their mellow, rich sweetness. The kale pakoras offer another level of crunchy, piquant flavor to break the texture. What really elevates this dish to the level of satisfaction it evokes, though, is the toppings. With the creamy yogurt mouse allowing bursts of fruitiness from the raspberries or herbiness from the cilantro chutney, this dish is art in all aspects of the word. And as a bonus, it makes for the perfect, bold appetizer to kick off an intimate dinner.
Another standout appetizer that offers a completely different window into South Asian flavors was the Green Pea Kulcha — a leavened flatbread stuffed with peas, goat cheese, and a drizzle of truffle oil. Though not as visually stunning as some of their other dishes, the flavor is a truly otherworldly experience. The buttery kulcha is soft and delicate to the touch, offering a pillowy mouthfeel with just the right amount of chew. The green pea and goat cheese filling is an unexpected match made in heaven with the briny, salty goat cheese brightening up the peas cooked down in a mellow spice blend. Drizzled with a slightly floral, earthy truffle oil, this dish is a skillfully-engineered fusion between upscale Western grandeur and humble Indian comfort food.
Other appetizers worth a try include the Chili Cheese Kulcha, a salty, tangy bread with shishito peppers and Tillamook cheddar baked until crispy, and the Chickpea Avocado Bhel, a fresh salad with crisp apples tossed in a tamarind sauce.
Even through just the appetizers, Rooh’s vision for the future of upscale Indian cuisine is crystal clear. Just as its name — meaning ‘soul’ in Urdu — hints, Rooh is rooted in quintessential South-Asian tradition, yet ever-evolving through experimentation and cultural fusion. Each dish at Rooh exists as a story that spans time periods, geographies, and cultures, one where the beauty of comfort gives way to a new sense of elegance and soulfulness.
Our eventful journey into the creative minds behind Rooh continued as we waded into the entrées, which looked much more familiar than the appetizers. Typically, you order a variety of flatbreads paired with curries, both innovative and traditional.
A clear standout from the night was their Paneer Pasanda — delicate Indian cottage cheese in a red pepper Makhani gravy with fenugreek butter powder. Pasanda is a cooking style where two pieces of paneer are sandwiched together with a mixture of aromatics and chili stuffed in between and pan-fried. The texture of the paneer itself is textbook: delicate, soft, yet firm enough to hold its shape. Poached in that velvety smooth makhani sauce, the paneer takes on all the rich, spicy, subtly sweet notes from the tomato-cashew gravy. Topped with a refined, astringent fenugreek butter powder for a dimension of bitterness and pop of green on an otherwise monochrome canvas of orange, Rooh’s Paneer Pasanda is exactly what a Valentine’s dinner is all about: food that captures the warmth of good company.
Another one of their signature main courses is the Tandoori Cauliflower — oven-roasted cauliflower served in a creamy Kadai gravy and topped with cilantro cress. With a slight golden brown char and softened texture that isn’t too tough (except for the stems), the cauliflower is such an unassuming, yet brilliant vehicle for all the depth and richness of the gravy to shine. The gravy is much milder than the previous one, yet complex and bursting with notes of cardamom, ginger, and fenugreek nonetheless. The cilantro cress offers little in terms of flavor but serves as an element of freshness that Rooh capitalized much more on in their appetizers.
For a complete dinner, Rooh has several accompaniments such as buttery Garlic Naan, fragrant Saffron Rice, smoky Rooh Dal, and gingery Chickpea Curry. Though these dishes lack the same innovation we were expecting to continue throughout the entrees, they complete the meal in a satisfying way nonetheless.
And when it comes to desserts — an essential for any successful Valentine’s night out — Rooh doesn’t disappoint. Favorites included the Tutti Frutti Cassata, featuring candied papaya and rose semifreddo, and the Chocolate Rum Ball, with milk ice cream and a chickpea flour crumble.
Rooh offers a progressive look into South-Asian cuisine with subtle and sophisticated dishes that are as artistic as their intimate ambiance. Between the contemporary charm and traditional roots, a Valentine’s dinner at Rooh is for those with an adventurous heart yet a loving soul.
Rooh is located at 736 West Randolph Street in Chicago. Learn more by calling (312)-809-6964 or visiting roohchicago.com.
Aryav Bothra is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl