As technology gets more and more magical every day, here is my wish: scratch and sniff photos. Wouldn’t that be cool, if we could touch-screen our computers, tablets and phones, and savor the aroma of delectable foods?
It would be fun all around, and a virtual blessing for the new Bollywood Bar & Clay Oven in Santa Rosa. Because this food is brilliant, rich with sauces and fragrant with spices. But it doesn’t generally translate well to photos.
Bollywood’s chicken tikka masala, for example, is delicious in its creamy sauce kissed with slightly sweet, nutty-flavored fenugreek, wood-fire roasted peppers and earthy tomato ($15). But that same rust-orange sauce makes the dish look like glop in its metal serving bowl.
Such is the fate of many Indian dishes, from curries to saag paneer to vindaloo. But dig in, because good Indian food is one of the best cuisines on the planet, and under the care of Bollywood chefs de cuisine, Alex Sarria and Will Fernandez, it’s even better.
Bollywood is the work of Indian chef Niven Patel, who also owns the acclaimed Ghee Indian Kitchen in Miami, and he transferred Sarria and Fernandez to Sonoma County to do the daily cooking.
Patel, it must be noted, is a 2018 James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef in the South, and here, like at Ghee, he showcases flavors from his native Indian state of Gujarat.
Recipes are bolstered with Sonoma County ingredients, and accents inspired by the Punjab region of India. Why such a focus? Because Bollywood is owned by The Chandi Hospitality Group, a family that owns several downtown Santa Rosa restaurants and has its own roots in Punjab.
Local diners were eagerly anticipating Bollywood for months before it opened in the former County Bench space on Fourth Street, and every time I visit, the place is packed (and loud). On a recent venture, I waited in line at the door behind a gaggle of sari-dressed women, and was happy I’d remembered to make a reservation.
If you’d been to County Bench, you’ll recall the modern interior, graced by blown glass bubble pendant lights above the polished wood bar that spans nearly the length of the room.
The thoughtful, architecturally gracious main floor nearly glows, with its underlit bar shelves of backlit bottles soaring up to the second story ceiling, elegant curved lime green booths, and wood tables that are often pushed together to host large groups.
But now, the brick walls are adorned with massive murals of high style folks dressed in traditional Indian garb, and there’s a spectacular, colorful wall of jarred Gujarat spices and spools of silk thread.
You’ll also want to admire the gleaming wine dispenser that complements the list of California and European sips.
Take note of the hearth and clay ovens, too, which create must-orders like nightly seafood specials, or sweet corn that’s charred on the cob then mounded in lots of melty smoked paneer and cilantro aioli ($8).
But first, get a cocktail. Created by cocktail royalty Scott Beattie and Andrea Mota, they’re layered, lovely, and potent, in blends like a Punjabi Punch of pisco, pineapple gum, lemon, lime, partner vermouth, bitters, green coriander and rambutan garnish that’s sliced to show off the tropical fruit’s spiky orange mohawk rind ($12).
Bollywood Bar & Clay Oven
Where: 535 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa
When: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 4 to 10:30 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 4 to 11:30 p.m. Fri. & Sat.
Contact: 707-236-8680, bollywoodbar.net
Price: Moderate, entrées $13-$21
Summary: A James Beard Award-nominated chef puts a modern spin on spectacular Indian cuisine.