May 30, 2024
Our First Look at this contemporary Indian grill-lounge from the creators of Rooh

Tech industry veterans-turned-restaurateurs Anu and Vikram Bhambri are broadening their culinary empire one concept at a time.

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Their first, the Michelin-highlighted Rooh in Palo Alto (2020) and San Francisco (2017), takes a progressive approach to Indian cuisine. Pippal, at Bay Street Emeryville, offers takes on regional Indian fare. And the menu at the recently opened Alora, on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, explores coastal cuisines from India to Italy to Spain.

Their latest, at San Jose’s trendy Santana Row, is an upscale grill and lounge that delivers a captivating sensory experience. Fitoor (the name means passion in Hindi) offers innovative dishes and cocktails, captivating and conversation-provoking design touches and a lively, Mumbai-style late-night scene.

The 72-Hour Vodka Panna Cotta is one of the desserts at Fitoor, a new upscale Indian grill-lounge at Santana Row. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Here’s our first look inside:

THE VIBE: Which vibe matches your mood? There’s the buzzy, sultry vibe on Friday and Saturday evenings, when fire dancers illuminate the darkened lounge and a DJ plays thumping music, Hindi remixes early in the evening and louder global club faves late at night. And then there are the quieter times and tables, like the luncheon hours and nights early in the week when the Gold Room and the Green Room offer enticing spaces for adventurous foodies.

Fire dancers illuminate the Fitoor lounge on Friday and Saturday nights. (Linda Zavoral/Bay Area News Group) 

THE INTERIOR: We love restaurants that engage our inner architect. Manu Studios of San Jose turned the Bhambris’ vision for Fitoor into three stunning spaces, each one flowing into the next. First is the front lounge, with its undulating wood-slat ceiling that rolls up from the bar and over the drinking and dining area. Geometric tiles in metallic shades line the walls. The lounge transitions into one of the main dining rooms via a cool, twisty space. Dubbed The Portal, that short hallway was created from a giant block of wood, the designers say. The Gold Room features luxe booths, marble touches and showpiece lighting fixtures. That leads into the clubby and more private Green Room, with its rich green-lacquered walls and dangling blossom lighting fixtures.

The Portal leads guests between the Gold Room and the lounge. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

THE FOOD: The restaurant’s aesthetic calls for similarly innovative dishes, and executive chef Vaibhav Sawant meets the challenge. He comes to Silicon Valley from Mumbai, where he worked with India’s legendary Jiggs Kalra at that chef’s Masala Library and Farzi Cafe.

Fitoor’s “Peshawari Lamb Seekh Kebab” with a spicy condiment and cooling sides of mint chutney foam and creamy onions. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Start with the bite-size snacks on the Chaats of India platter ($25 for two diners, $40 for four), which features a dahi puri topped with a vegetable caviar (“when you take a bite, you’ll be surprised,” Sawant says), mini samosas stuffed with mozzarella and tomato, a deconstructed bhel bar and other nibbles.

From the “rustic grill” side of the menu comes the juicy Peshawari Lamb Seekh Kebab ($27). He elevates that with a spicy thecha, or condiment, of horseradish, Thai chiles and peanuts, then adds two cooling sides to temper the heat: a mint chutney foam and creamy onions. The Charred Jaffna Lobster Tail ($34) is served with a miso mousse. Very popular with diners is the Reinvented Paneer Lababdar ($30), which sets a circle of paneer atop masala, giving the dish an unintentionally topical and delightful look during this eclipse month.

Reinvented Paneer Lababdar at Fitoor, a new upscale Indian restaurant-lounge at Santana Row, on April 11, 2024, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

And then there are the multi-faceted desserts. One of chef Sawant’s trademark offerings is the 72-Hour Vodka Panna Cotta ($15) topped with a mint quenelle, then balanced by a milk crumble, white chocolate soil and strawberry compote. The other, Malai Choux Bun, is an artistic palette of seven tastes ($18). Accompanying the pastry are caramel, macerated mango and strawberry, milk cubes, rabri cremeux and paan (betel leaf) ice cream.

Vaibhav Sawant is the executive chef for Fitoor at Santana Row. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

THE DRINKS: Beverage manager Roger Gomes and his mixology team took inspiration from the elements of water, fire, earth, air — and space — for Fitoor’s signature cocktails ($17-$19). The fiery Pasha combines bourbon, Drambuie, bitters, za’taar and butter; under airy options, the riff on the Cuban cocktail Canchanchara is rum, citrus and gardenia mix with a sous-vide black garlic clove on a swizzle stick. The list of beers ($10) offers the obligatory Kingfisher along with three other brews from India — East Brothers Gold, Bira White and Bira Blonde — and Almanac Brewing’s Kolsch from Alameda. A global array of wines by the glass is also available.

Polynesian Breeze, a cocktail at Fitoor, a new upscale Indian restaurant-lounge at Santana Row, on April 11, 2024, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

DON’T MISS: The Asado Branzino ($25) from the “rustic grill” side of the menu. In this herbaceous version, filets are marinated and layered with a coriander mint pesto and topped with crispy potato salli strips for texture. It’s flaky, aromatic and delicious. And because Fitoor doesn’t make you commit to a whole branzino like so many other restaurants, you’ll have room to try other shareables.

Asado Branzino with coriander mint pesto and potato salli at Fitoor, a new upscale Indian grill-lounge at Santana Row. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

GOOD TO KNOW: Happy hour runs seven days a week from 2:30 to 5 p.m. The signature cocktails are just $11, and small plates (Masala Fries, Burst Chicken Koliwada, Labneh Croquettes and more) range from $9 to $16.

“Chaats of India” at Fitoor, a new upscale Indian restaurant-lounge at Santana Row, on April 11, 2024, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

DETAILS: Open from 11:30 a.m. to 10  p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday at 3060 Olsen Drive, Santana Row, San Jose;

A view of the Fitoor lounge and bar shows the undulating wood-slat ceiling. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 
Decor reflects the light inside the lounge area at Fitoor. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 
An interior view of “The Gold Room” at Fitoor at San Jose’s Santana Row. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)