Not your neighborhood Indian restaurant


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With the sleek new aRoqa in Chelsea, chef Gaurav Anand offers a fusion of international flavors


Photos



  • Chef and owner Gaurav Anand. Photo: Evan Sung




  • Corn paddu is served on a miniature bicycle. Photo: Evan Sung




  • Flaming chicken chops served on a cart. Photo: Evan Sung




  • Interior of aRoqa. Photo: Evan Sung




  • Butternut squash kofte. Photo: Evan Sung



By Estelle Pyper

A new contemporary Indian restaurant has opened in Chelsea, but if you’re looking for traditional chicken tikka masala, this is not the place for you. The interior design, menu and food presentation are far from your neighborhood Indian spot. You won’t find the word “appetizer” or “entrée” on the menu, and no, they will not deliver. A visit to aRoqa is a spectacle in itself — every element is meticulously crafted to give patrons a memorable experience, from the menu format to check presentation.

Nestled between 22nd and 23rd street at 206 Ninth avenue, aRoqa is a sleek, modern space hidden behind a large wooden door. The interior, designed by Architecture Work Office, is all black and gold. Hexagonal lights hang low over the sleek bar, emitting just enough light to feel like you’ve entered a high-end hotel lounge at midnight.

“This design is specifically for Chelsea,” said chef and owner Gaurav Anand. “It’s very sexy, very cool, very Chelsea.”

Anand always wanted Chelsea to be the home of his new restaurant. A veteran of the food industry and a native of India, Anand also operates successful, traditional Indian restaurants throughout Manhattan (including Bhatti Indian Grill and Moti Mahal Deluxe). But this is his first in Chelsea, and so far, the south-western Manhattanites are his favorite.

“We wanted to raise the bar in Chelsea. Chelsea has a very young, cool crowd,” he said. “I have a restaurant on the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Downtown — all over the city — I can tell you this is the best crowd I’ve ever seen.”

And it seems the love is being returned. Since their opening on June 5, the reservation list remains full and solid reviews from media outlets continue to pour in, but what matters most to Anand is the staff-customer interaction.

“Our whole concept is: we’re treating you as if you are coming into our house,” he explained. “We’re treating you as our guests. That’s our whole vision.”

Even the name, aRoqa, reflects this vision. “Roqa” is an Indian term for a ceremony in which friends and family gather to celebrate a couple’s engagement over food and dancing. To Anand, the word represents his concept perfectly: a fusion of food styles, both Western and Indian, and the gathering of diverse people.

The term also reflects the serendipitous conception of the restaurant. In 2015, Anand was asked to cater the wedding of a longtime fan and patron of his Indian restaurants, Monica Saxena. They got to talking about Anand’s future endeavors, and when he mentioned his dream of opening a restaurant combining Indian flavors with international foods, Saxena wanted in and they became partners.

The creation of the unique menu took well over a year, Anand recalls. He and a team of people from both India and the U.S. invented the recipes, researching each ingredient’s cultural history.

“We kept the food very authentic,” said Anand. “The only thing is we used very international elements.” He integrated things that wouldn’t be found in traditional Indian cuisine, such as asparagus and seafood. “I combine all these with Indian food and people are responding to it very well,” he said.

The menu consists of “taste plates” and “shared plates,” emphasizing a communal experience. There are Indian tacos, wrapped in Indian flatbread and served in a little truck à la neighborhood Mexican taco trucks. Their corn paddu consists of corn cakes served on a miniature bicycle, and the chicken chops are presented in a cart — each an homage to how the food is sold in India.

There’s even a duck confit, but served with coconut curry, Indian-inspired dumplings and a tres leches cake. The in-house mixologist creates outlandish craft cocktails, some served in flame or with dry ice. The check comes served in a wooden box with a lid — something palpable you can engage with, Anand points out.

“This is our concept. This food is not meant for delivery,” Anand said vehemently. “I can’t deliver this food. People don’t get it, but once they eat it they say, ‘Ah, now we know.’”

Anand is proud of aRoqa, calling it, “the biggest risk I have taken in my life.” He eventually hopes to expand internationally, given the globally diverse menu. He’s now working on a brunch menu, which no doubt will also draw diners in Chelsea.






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