After taking my luggage to my sister’s dorm, we snuck onto the Muni (shhh…) and headed to the West Portal area for dinner at an Indian restaurant. Here was my sister, who once lived for hamburgers, pizza, and plain udon, suggesting that we eat Indian food. I was delighted by her suggestions and jumped at the opportunity to see my sister eating “different” food. I was excited about my sister’s newly expanded palate, and the “exotic-ness” of this first meal proved to be a great indication for our meals to come.
Roti, was an Indian Bistro with modern décor and mesmerizing photographs of India and its people. Aside from the photographs, the ambience resembled a modern bistro rather than a typical Indian restaurant. The service was not the greatest, as there were only about four other parties dining, and more than enough staff to serve us. It seemed as though nobody wanted to take full responsibility for our table, as people completed their job only half-way (i.e., the hostess sat us, but did not provide us with menus). When we made a request (i.e. to see a dessert menu), the request was not immediately fulfilled, nor did the person pass the message on to the appropriate person. Despite this minor detail (we weren’t in any hurry), my sister and I had a memorable experience at Roti.
The meal started off with papadum (a lentil wafer) and two sauces, a spicy mint chutney, and a sweet and tangy tamarind chutney. The papadum was a paper-thin crispy cracker with flecks of fennel seeds and hints of curry powder and turmeric. It was a nice way to start off the meal, and unlike bread and butter, it didn’t fill me up so I had plenty of room left for my dinner. My sister ordered a mango lassi smoothie and I had a house-made cup of chai.
The chai was delightfully spicy with a hint of sweetness. It was delicious on its own without the need for additional sugar.
We decided to order one curry dish, one rice dish, and one roti (flat bread).
The Mattar Paneer ($11) consisted of peas, homemade farmers cheese (paneer), tomatoes, spices, and a hint of coconut milk.
For roti, we chose Keema Naan ($6) which was filled with a paste made up of cherries, golden raisins, and nuts. On its own, it was a bit too sweet for dinner; but eaten together with the Mattar Paneer, it added a whole another layer of flavor and the sweetness balanced out the spiciness of the curry.
The rice was called Basmati Pulao ($3), which was Basmati rice cooked with saffron, cumin, cardamom and bay leaves. There were more exciting rice dishes that included things like seafood, fruits, lamb, or chicken, but we decided to stick with the simple one. We enjoyed our dinner choices very much! The Keema Naan also tasted great the next day at breakfast!
The dessert was the most exciting part of the meal. The Kulfi, or homemade ice cream, appeared unlike any ice cream we had ever seen. The shape reminded me of cranberry sauce out of the can on Thanksgiving and the texture reminded me of Maui’s “guri guri.” The flavors were not comparable to anything I had ever eaten. I watched as my sister took her first bite. She put the spoon into her mouth, closed her mouth, and her face displayed an expression of thought followed by delight. “Wow, that was really interesting, I like it!” As I tasted it for myself, I was pleasantly surprised by the different flavors that awakened my mouth. At first, I tasted the sweetness of the cream and pistachio. Then the flavor evolved to highlight the saffron, rose water, and cinnamon. Then finally, the flavor finished off with notes of the cardamom. I had to take another bite to make sure I had gotten all of the flavors, and then I had another one, and another one, and… you get the point.
This unique bistro was a great way to begin our time together in San Francisco. As we made our way back to the dorms on the Muni, we were left with full stomachs and newly enlightened palates!
Roti Indian Bistro
53 West Portal Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94127