music in the park san jose

.Modern Indian Restaurant Pippal Spices Up Emeryville

Good Times restaurant group brings heat and savoir-faire to Bay Street

music in the park san jose

When Izler Thomas, the energetic head bartender at Pippal, claimed he would make a couple of unforgettable mocktails for our table, I was dubious. A few minutes later I thought he was a mind reader. He’d made a silken-smooth lassi, adding dried carnelian-colored rose petals to decorate the white foamy surface. His lassi tasted light and airy, a breezy reinvention of an often heavy, overly sweetened drink.

The lassi was accompanied by a pineapple-and-cilantro cooler, equal to and bettering many freshly mixed aguas frescas. An unexpected pairing, the cilantro cut the pineapple’s sweetness without dominating the drink. When he served it, Thomas explained that he blanches the cilantro before blending it so that it retains a vivid green color. That kind of attention to detail accounts for his finish as first runner-up for India at the 2019 Campari Bartender Competition, Asia.

As part of the ongoing post-pandemic effort to reinvigorate the Bay Street Emeryville mall, Pippal opened there in November on the promenade deck, which is host to a series of new restaurants such as Flores and Saucy Asian. Pippal is part of Vikram and Anu Bhambri’s international restaurant group, Good Times. In addition to two iterations of ROOH, in San Francisco and in Palo Alto, Good Times, Thomas told us, is opening two more Bay Area restaurants in 2024. Thomas, with his brother’s help, will be starting the beverage programs at all of them. Ah, youth.

At almost every Indian restaurant I’ve ever eaten at, I usually default to my favorite roasted eggplant dish, baingan bharta ($22). Munish Rana, Pippal’s unassuming head chef, recommended several more adventurous dishes and then expertly executed them. Each prawn in a black pepper fry ($26) is coated with onions that have caramelized down to a sticky jam. It’s spicy, but the heat hits the tongue without blurring out the rest of the flavors in the sauce.

Rana’s lamb chops, burrah kebabs ($28), are also coated, but in a slightly milder tomato-based masala sauce. The lamb was cooked to a tenderness that can only be achieved by the alchemy of an hours-long, carefully attended-to stew—or by some other secret kitchen technique that Rana didn’t share with us. A handful of flamingo-pink pickled onions were served on the side of the plate. Their acidic brightness and crunch were a spare but ingenious pairing with each morsel of lamb chop.

Masala mini idli ($16) is served in a black metal basket attached to the end of a tiny bicycle to suggest the way a street vendor would carry these steamed rice and lentil “cakes.” The idli are as small and round as orecchiette, but the insides are soft like gnocchi or polenta, and just as filling. They’re finished with a dusting of gunpowder, which is a spice mix made from dried lentils, sesame seeds, chili, cumin and coriander.

When the chef brought out a bamboo basket with momo, or dumplings, he mentioned the porous culinary border between India and other Asian nations. His veg dumplings ($16) contained a crisp cabbage slaw in a creamy yogurt sauce. The chicken dumplings ($18) were pan-seared and as scrumptious as any bao filling I’ve ever had. Both were adorned with lovely little pea shoots which added a touch of visual whimsy and pleasing herbal notes.

Throughout the meal, chef Rana continued to add those meaningful details to each dish. He fried and added mustard curry leaves to the fish-and-prawn coconut milk curry ($34). The leaves turned a warm, silvery green against the sunset-colored sauce.

But the most fragrant dish he served was chicken biryani ($32). A succulent whole roast Cornish game hen, slathered in a korma sauce, rested upon layers and layers of sauteed onions and rice. With one passthrough of the knife, the bird easily split in half. Rana intuitively knows exactly when to retrieve a chicken from the oven or a lamb chop from the top of the stove before it strays beyond the well-done territory.

The Good Times tagline for the restaurant group’s general approach to their brand of hospitality reads, “A re-imagination of contemporary Indian food and artisanal cocktails.” That’s the delicious point of departure for Pippal, whose sub-branded website highlights the idea of “a culinary odyssey.”

Pippal, open Mon-Thu 11:30am to 9pm and Fri-Sun 11:30am to 10pm; 5614 Bay St., Ste. 235, Emeryville. 510.607.8178. eatatpippal.com.

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