Real Chefs

Zaika

Almost every Berkeley resident I’ve talked to in the past month has asked me, “What’s up with Breads of India’s new restaurant?” I got tired of shrugging my shoulders, so last week I called R. Rohit Singh, the chef and owner, and caught him all but out of breath. “We’re opening in three days,” he said over the din of voices and large objects being moved.

Zaika, which means both “richness of taste” and “relish,” finally opened for business July 5. Located at Shattuck and Virginia, just north of downtown Berkeley, the new restaurant furthers Singh’s mission to bring India’s myriad, bountiful regional cuisines to American diners. “I have a master list of 450 recipes I have developed, and a master list of 160 bread recipes. At Breads of India, we make five a day. We just wanted to do more.”

“More” will be possible in a kitchen twice the size of that inside the tiny Breads of India. Equally important, Zaika’s dining room seats 55 people, who won’t have to jostle their neighbors every time they pick up a fork. South Berkeley residents have nothing to fear, though: The original restaurant isn’t going anywhere.

Unlike the daily-special format at Breads of India, Zaika’s menu will change monthly, depending on the availability of seasonal vegetables and fruits. “We considered featuring one region a month,” said Singh. “But many people know certain regions more than others. We want customers to be exposed to something totally different, so we’ll fit [unfamiliar things] in slowly, to give people more of a chance to try new dishes.”

The opening menu includes ten appetizers and soups, fifteen to twenty entrées, and eight breads. Entrées, priced from $9.75 to $14.95, range from familiar North Indian standards such as tandoori-cooked Shahi Chicken Tikka and Palak Paneer to the rare. In Kashmiri Guchhi Mattar, fresh morels are cooked with green peas in a rich Kashmiri sauce. Sturgeon is sautéed South Indian-style in a sauce with grated coconut, fennel, cardamom, ground lentils, tamarind, and fresh curry leaves in Malabari Meenpari. Singh describes each item in detail: its origin, its preparation, its place in the meal. New additions include “a few exotic drinks never introduced in restaurants in this country,” several desserts, and a small beer and wine list.real chefs

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