Phil Vettel reviews Rooh

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CHICAGO, Ill. -- Chef Sujan Sarkar has highly regarded restaurants in India, Great Britain, San Francisco and New York, and now he's landed in Chicago with Rooh, which opened in May in the Randolph Street restaurant corridor.

Don't expect the usual, classic Indian dishes here; Sarkar's food embraces tradition, but with a modernist approach.

Take, for example, the tuna bhel, a sort of mash-up of bhel puri and tuna tartare. The tuna is mixed with black puffed rice and vegetables, which is the bhel puri, along with a tamarind-yogurt dressing and a dusting of seasonings that the chef calls “gunpowder.” Trust me, it's not that spicy.

Other starters include lamb keema, a minced-lamb dish that Sarkar conceives as a sort of shepherd's pie, with some pav soft rolls on the side; and kashmiri lamb ribs, slow-braised and crisp-fried with a spiced-apricot glaze.

The breads are sensational. Naan is available in three varieties, including this chile-and-cheese naan (1:03.05) that might remind you of pizza, albeit with a super-soft crust. Kulcha, a flatbread slightly sturdier than naan, is offered two ways, including this duck-apricot version (0:56.13) that's delicious; there's also a heavenly shaved-truffle kulcha as well.

Among the larger plates, Sarkar has an interesting take on makhani paneer, rolling the cheese into pinwheels and placing them in a butter, cream, tomato and spiced makhani sauce. That same sauce is the base for Sarkar's butter chicken: Here's a dish common to most Indian restaurants, and this version is probably the best I've had.

Another main course to try is the monkfish, topped with a coconut crust and served with alleppey curry sauce; the cabbage roll on the plate is filled with crab meat, a nice little protein bonus.

Rooh occupies two stories of a narrow building, so there are two color-saturated dining rooms to choose between. The lower level is distinguished by its artwork, particularly a very pretty mural by the entrance; upstairs has its own bar, brightly colored booths and banquettes, and tends to be noisy, particularly on weekends when it's VERY noisy.

I give Rooh, 736 West Randolph Street, three stars. There's a contemporary mind behind Sarkar's cooking, along with an artist's eye for plate design and a master's touch in the nuanced sauces. If you have an appreciation for Indian food, you simply must visit.

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