Rasam's in Sunnyvale
We tried Rasam's in Sunnyvale for the first time tonight. If future meals have this quality, we have a new winner among the higher-end Indian restaurants in Silicon Valley. They're on Murphy Street in downtown Sunnyvale across the street from Dishdash - http://rasams.com.
The menu has lots of dishes that we haven't tried before. We started with crab chatpata, an Indian-style crab cake with coconut cream, mustard, and fennel, topped with sprouts and a single long, tasty chive. This dish sounded a theme that would continue throughout the meal: complex spicing that still lets the high-quality ingredients shine through.
We thought the vegetarian entrees sounded even more interesting than the meat entrees, so we ordered two. The subz masala was perhaps the most familiar dish of the night except, rather significantly, for the choice of vegetables: sunchokes, snap peas, and mushrooms. What a delicious change of pace! The panch phoran baigan was quite new to us - a nice portion of baby eggplants with a fascinating sauce. I guess this is a traditional Bengali spice blend, but we get very few Bengali dishes around here so this was also a great change from the usual menu offerings. The two spices I recognized here were the visible ones: the curry leaves and some dried whole chills.
With all these new dishes we stuck to basic starches of rice (a saffron pulao, fantastically long-grain and delicious basmati) and plain naan - really plain, without the butter / ghee / oil that often garnishes it.
There's a full bar with cocktail choices but we stuck with the wines, and we were pleased with our glasses of Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc and Estancia Cabernet. There were some interesting wine on tap choices too.
All this great food is set in a couple of pretty rooms with some pleasant and helpful service. The candle goes out? No problem, it was quickly replaced without ever having to motion anyone or catch anyone's eye to take care of it.
What a promising new addition to the South Bay Indian restaurant scene! I hope future meals are as consistently excellent as this.
We've had a couple more meals here since the first one and they've both been great. I think most of the dishes we had on our first two visits are now off the menu, save that great crab chatpata. It's great to have a fine Indian restaurant with a seasonal, changing menu!
This time we had tandoor salmon, Bombay biryani, and Saag lasooni edamame and water chestnut. The tandoor salmon is one of the best we've had - besides the great marinade on the perfectly-cooked salmon, it was served with some delicious mustard-sour cream sauce on the side. The saag was the first of the more fusion-y dishes we've had there. This was great; the spicy spinach with the whole edamame and sliced water chestnuts made a great combination. The biryani on the other hand was good but not great, perhaps the least exciting dish of our 3 visits. The spicing (not the heat, the spicing) just didn't sing the way other biryanis in the area do. The boneless vs. bone-in chicken didn't help either. It was served with some great raita though. Again, it was perfectly fine, just not up to the standards of the rest of the menu.
The wine on tap was out of commission this time (last time the choices there sounded better than they tasted). Our glasses of St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc and Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon worked just fine - especially the Sauvignon Blanc with the acidity that went particularly well with these dished.
So far this is winning the prize as the best modern Indian in Silicon Valley. It reminds me of when Sakoon first opened before they went conservative, but even better - more rapidly changing menu with even more interesting menu choices and less reliance on cream to make things taste "high end".
Rasam's occupies the former French Quarter Cabaret space. "It reminds me of when Sakoon first opened before they went conservative."
Reading your description, I also was reminded of Sakoon's early heyday (and slightly of Junoon in Palo Alto, earlier).
Unfortunately I saw no names of key personnel on Rasam's web site, and I checked for the following reason.
What happened specifically at Sakoon was that a few talented people on-site made it happen, the place rapidly became well known and appeared in the Michelin Guide (only months after opening). Sakoon made a name for itself with eclectic, contemporary Indian cooking that was something of a breakthrough at the time, and changed often and seasonally. Also unusually for Indian restaurants hereabouts, it featured a strong and assertive wine and wine-pairing program. (I haunted the place for dinner and "happy hour" then. Didn't notice the leaning on cream that mdg mentioned; I think that depended greatly on what you ordered, the a-la-carte menu was diverse and changing.)
Around 2011 all the key people left, a year or so after opening, in what I gather was a dispute with the owner. Menu dialed back conservatively then.
All of this cited, because Sakoon's original, innovative chef (Sachin Chopra, who came from experience in both India and NYC), front manager Michael Agnel, and the other manager, who fostered the wine program, all moved on to other new restaurants, including Arka (which seems now to've relocated to Fremont) and San Mateo's All Spice, and I continue to read news of them occasionally. So the possibility struck me of some conceivable personnel linkage to Sakoon.
No, no connection to Sakoon personnel that I know of. You can read more about the personnel behind Rasam's in the Mercury News review. The chef worked at Amber Dhara before coming to Rasam's but I like this food way more than Amber Dhara (or All Spice, or Akra when it was in Sunnyvale, or Junoon way back when).
But I think you are misremembering about the Sakoon menu changing often and seasonally, even at the beginning. That was the promise but not the reality; their menu was innovative but pretty static. Better wine by the glass pairings than at Rasam's though.