When it comes to Indian food in the Bay Area and beyond in the United States, according to Ajay Walia, guests and diners are only exposed to the tip of the iceberg. “To start scratching the surface when it comes to Indian cuisine, we’re not going to run out of ideas for a very long time” says the proud owner of both Saffron Indian Bistro in San Carlos and one-MICHELIN-starred Rasa in Burlingame, California.
The New-Dehli native immigrated to the USA in the 90s to work in the tech industry. A lay-off (thankfully) forced him to rethink his career trajectory and fulfill a dream—to open a restaurant. And so he did with the opening of Saffron Indian Bistro in San Carlos in 2003, an instant hit. Based on this initial foray into the restaurant industry, he had an idea for another restaurant, one specifically highlighting the cuisine coming from Southern India. (And when he relayed this information to a friend, the retort was a firm, “You are insane.”)
Nonetheless, Rasa flung open its doors in November of 2014. “No-joke dishes that aren't toned down for Western palates cater to both software execs and date-night couples, and though the bi-level space boasts a sleek, minimalist-mod décor with bright splashes of orange, stylish pendant lights and dark wood fittings, the focus here is on food,” state MICHELIN’s anonymous troop of inspectors.
“Every household cooks everything differently,” adds Walia. “As to what’s considered authentic, I think it’s just a different set of memories that people associate with—and [when] all of those elements [are] put together, it changes the dynamics of the cuisine.”
Walia credits the many successes of California’s chef community as the reason behind Rasa’s great success. “We’ve tried to stay very true to the Indian palate,” he says. “I think what we’re serving is our interpretation of Indian cuisine.”