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This gem in Burlingame offers elevated Indian fare in a modern, minimalist setting

Those who think of Indian food as casual, take-out eats will find a revelation at Rasa. With a name that means “essence” in Sanskrit, the Burlingame restaurant honors South Indian cuisine while taking it to new heights with sustainable ingredients and sophisticated, modern twists.

Owner Ajay Walia and Chef de Cuisine Vijay Kumar sought to change Americans’ perceptions of Indian food when Rasa launched in 2014, and if the restaurant’s critical acclaim is any indication, they’ve succeeded. The year the Rasa first earned a Michelin star, in 2016, San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer dubbed it “The Bay Area’s Best Indian Restaurant.”

“Almost every Indian restaurant has a similar menu, but I wanted to do something different,” says Walia, who traveled up and down India’s coast to find inspiration for Rasa. “We’re not going to run out of ideas for a very long time.”

Chef Kumar emphasizes fresh, sustainable ingredients, often picking up organic produce—and menu ideas—at the Burlingame farmers market. He also seeks out sustainable seafood and free-range meats from local farms. He reveres India’s culinary traditions but loves the freedom of cooking in California. “You can just experiment,” Kumar says. “They’ll definitely support it if you try something unique and creative.”

Along with contemporary interpretations of Indian cuisine, such as line-caught halibut with shallot-ginger spice crust, Rasa’s menu includes classics like butter chicken and dosa. Regardless of the style, each dish is imbued with uncommon depth of flavor, and is elegantly presented with a vibrant pop of color.

Diners can choose from an a la carte array of small plates and entrees, or create their own four-course tasting menu from selections such as spicy grilled chutney prawns; Bombay “sliders” of spiced potato fritters; and crispy-sweet banana peppers topped with Greek yoghurt, lime and black mustard.

“What we’re serving is our interpretation of Indian cuisine,” Walia says. “All we’re trying to do is recreate from our memories, and in the process we’re creating memories for others.”

Rasa is open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations are available—and recommended.