Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 12
Rooh, Palo Alto
With a 13-foot-long custom grill that dominates the kitchen, downtown Palo Alto’s Rooh serves up contemporary Indian cuisine licked by plenty of flames and smoke.
It also mixes in some very unconventional ingredients in its dishes, such as goat cheese, cheddar cheese, polenta, and Japanese togarashi. But executive chef Sujan Sarkar, who oversees this Palo Alto restaurant along with its sister San Francisco outpost, somehow makes it all work.
To get a feel for what this grill can do, order the roasted eggplant ($14). It’s as smoky tasting as the best baba ganoush, with an equally spoonable texture. The whole slender eggplant is covered in cumin-scented yogurt, pickled onion, cilantro and pomegranate seeds.
Garlic naan ($15) is the perfect vehicle to spread this creamy roasted eggplant on. Or smear it on the pao ($16), pull-apart, fluffy soft rolls that come with a sweet-tangy, chunky heirloom tomato kut.
From the grill, there’s also an exceptional swordfish tikka ($20), with meaty tender chunks of fish in a creamy, perky sauce of miso, Bengal mustard, and black lime aioli.
If you love Chinese sweet and sour pork, the pork belly ($18) is a little reminiscent of that with date molasses and pickled rutabaga providing the yin and the yang sticky glazed topping for succulent slabs of this decadent pork.
Another favorite of mine is the duck seekh kebab ($22). Cylinders of moist ground duck are grilled, then napped in a bright tasting mint-cilantro sauce.
Broccoli edges get nicely crispy and charred with slices of butternut squash ($15) in a dish that turns up the heat with red pepper chutney plus pounded peanuts mixed with chilies.
Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike are sure to enjoy golden fried patties of jackfruit ($14) served with a garlicky, turmeric-tinged mayo. With its stringy and substantial texture that mimics pulled pork, jackfruit has become the darling of vegetarian cooking. But even meat lovers will love these little golden cutlets, whose crispiness holds up very well in transit. So much so, you could eat them as finger-food, if you wanted.
The butter chicken ($26) lives up to its rich sounding name, with plenty of creamy gravy given greater depth by smoked tomatoes.
Roasted bone marrow is the secret ingredient that fortifies the full-bodied, unctuous curry sauce for tender beef short ribs ($34).
The lamb shank nihari ($32) is perfect for a ginger lover like me, with shards of the fresh rhizome adding a lovely hit of warmth to the fork-tender meat. Dried rose petals get strewn over the top for a pretty pop of color, as well as subtle floral note.
Pro Tip: Rooh is known for its dramatic cocktails, accented by fanciful rims of spices and salt or even a bubble of smoke quivering atop a glass. When you get a cocktail to-go, though, you forfeit that kind of presentation for a run-of-the-mill lidded plastic cup instead.
Nevertheless, the Khub Bhalo ($15) is a worthy sip. It presents a powerful smoky and tropical tangy presence with its blend of bourbon, smoked pineapple, mango and ginger. The restaurant incorporates pineapples smoked over that huge grill, so you end up with a nectar-y cocktail with the bonus of real pineapple pulp at the bottom of the glass, too.
Tasty Meals 2 U (Delivery to the Peninsula, South Bay, South San Francisco, and Parts of the East Bay)
When veteran Bay Area chef Kyle Wiens got furloughed during the pandemic, he put his years of working at startup food companies to good use by launching his very own startup food delivery service.
Wiens, who has cooked over the years at California Cafe and Piatti restaurant, has founded Tasty Meals 2 U. His offerings change every week, depending upon what inspires him at the market.
Order by end of Wednesday, and the food is delivered to your door on Monday from his Daly City commercial kitchen. Currently, he delivers on Mondays to the Peninsula, South Bay, South San Francisco, Hayward, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Castro Valley, Union City, and Fremont. If you don’t see your city listed, contact him directly through his website, as he may be able to add you to his rounds.
The food comes chilled. All you have to do is heat in the microwave. Or freeze to enjoy at a later date.
Wiens offers a range of items at very reasonable prices, including soups ($5.50), large salads ($15), entrees ($10 to $13), and desserts ($6). There’s a good range of vegan and vegetarian dishes, too.
A couple weeks ago, he dropped off some samples for me to try. Because he uses sous-vide cooking, the proteins stay very moist. That was especially true with the sweet-spicy gouchujang pork, which came arrayed over kimchi fried rice full of peas, peppers, and carrots. Don’t let the Korean pepper paste scare you off, because this dish has only a moderate kick of heat. The fried rice gets a little soft, but if you like it a little crispier like I do, all it takes is a few minutes in a hot saute pan to do the trick.
The teriyaki grilled salmon held up really well, even after microwaving. The fish still emerged plenty moist with a sweet, sticky glaze. Plenty of sauteed zucchini and portobello mushrooms made this a hearty dish. A little container of crunchy Asian slaw is packaged separately, providing a nice fresh garnish. Miso-honey baked beans, which were indeed sweet like old-school baked beans, seemed an odd accompaniment, though. I think Asian noodles, something like soba, might have paired better.
Because it’s cooked sous-vide, even chicken breast comes out so tender that you hardly need a knife to cut it. Served over polenta with plenty of asparagus spears, the chicken is finished with a vibrant chimichurri.
If you’re craving pure comfort, the vegan sweet potato curry will hit the spot. It’s a homey vegetable stew in a rich coconut milk-laced sauce, served atop rice.
The salmon Cobb salad is sizeable — plenty for dinner or a big lunch — and full of cucumber, radishes, tomatoes, a hard boiled egg, pancetta, blue cheese, and flaked salmon.
One of my favorite items, unfortunately, is probably gone now that we’re into November: the watermelon gazpacho, which was incredibly refreshing. A little container of olive oil and feta cubes comes with to garnish this cold soup that had a perfect balance between tangy and fruity-sweet.
One item sure to make a return appearance this holiday, though, is the pumpkin pudding that tastes like a fluffier pumpkin pie. With cookie crumbles and whipped cream on top, it will have you celebrating the holidays any day of the week.
And if you want a little side of healthfulness with your dessert, there’s the strawberry chia pudding. It’s got plenty of berry flavor plus a chewy-fun texture like tapioca.
Pro Tip: While some food delivery apps charge restaurants or customers an arm and a leg, Wiens has a voluntary deliver fee — all of $5. The money goes to his step-daughter for her schooling. She and Wiens do all the deliveries themselves. When asked why he makes the fee voluntary, he said it’s because a lot of his customers are pregnant women or the elderly, and he didn’t want to make it any harder on them at this challenging time. Even so, most customers end up wanting to pay the fee. So if you can afford it, you should, too.
Backhaus Bakery, San Mateo
Backhaus Bakery in downtown San Mateo wasn’t even a year old when the pandemic upended its world and everyone else’s. But fortunately, the artisan bakery has persevered, so we can still get our fix of Germany-native and self-taught baker Anne Moser’s naturally leavened breads and precise pastries.
And what bread it is. The country loaf ($8) has the tang of sourdough, plus a touch of maltiness. It boasts big air holes inside, lending it a very soft, moist crumb.
While many bakeries offer bostock — thick slices of brioche, brushed with syrup, and topped with fruit or nuts, Backhaus goes that one better by making its version with croissant dough. The toppings for its crisp croissant toast ($5.50) vary with the seasons. The one I tried was strewn with jammy plum slices and toasted, chopped hazelnuts. The croissant dough makes this toast extra crispy, especially on the edges. It’s irresistible.
The kouign-amann ($4.50) boasts crisp, buttery, sugared, light layers throughout with a sticky sugary top that will stick to your teeth — in the best of ways.
Also crackling crisp and flaky is the spiraled morning bun ($4), made of croissant dough and sprinkled all over with sugar.
The chocolate croissant ($4.50) shatters upon the first bite, covering you in flaky shards. It’s very buttery with a center of dark chocolate.
The chocolate chip cookie ($3.75) is as big as my entire hand. Crispy on the edges and chewy within, it’s got a slightly hardier and grainier texture than most with an abundance of chocolate.
The brownie ($4) boasts a fudgy texture. It’s not very sweet, letting the deep, dark, bitter cocoa taste stand out.
Pro Tip: Backhaus Bakery has a display case outside its doors now that shows the baked goods available that day, since customers aren’t allowed inside at the moment. To get exactly what you want, though, it pays to plan ahead. The bakery releases its list of items for sale that week on Sunday at noon. Choose what you want, pay ahead of time, and pick up on your choice of day/time, Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s wise to log on to the site not long after the Sunday noon release date, since some items do sell out quickly, especially the charcoal-hued chocolate boule ($6), which is available only on Saturdays and Sundays.