Born and raised in Kolkata, one of the gastronomic centers of Asia, chef Sujan Sarkar has spent much of his life learning culinary techniques and recipes from around the world. He has worked in modern fine-dining restaurants in London and toured across India to understand and taste regional specialties. After opening Baar Baar New York, the city’s first modern Indian gastro bar, and leading kitchens in Chicago, San Francisco and New Delhi, Sarkar has celebrated the grand opening of Baar Baar Los Angeles in Downtown’s South Park district.
“I come from a family that is very much food centered,” he said. “What I do in Baar Baar … the food is not from one particular region. It’s from different corners, different parts. Food cultures and food habits, everything changes in every hundred miles because there’re so many languages, cultures and foods. It’s all different in India … so that’s why we bring so many new things into our menu.”
Sarkar blends tradition and modernity on each plate, seeking to create a unique experience that takes each diner on a culinary journey across India, from its city streets to its diverse landscapes.
He’s wanted to open a restaurant in LA for over three years, and finally purchased the current Baar Baar location on the corner of West Ninth and Flower Street during the pandemic. Despite the economic uncertainty and lockdown measures of the time, Sarkar said he never lost hope for Baar Baar Los Angeles. He also explained that the Downtown LA location, while sharing a name, should not be compared to its New York counterpart.
“The offering has changed a little bit. It’s built for Los Angeles, built for California,” Sarkar said. “Here in LA, I want to do more local; I want to do more curated; I want to do one notch up. That’s why we’re calling it ‘new Indian.’
“We cook everything in-house. That’s our strength. … We follow the traditional recipes, how the recipes should be in India. We may work on the intensity of heat, but the basic recipes never changed. And then we upgrade those to suit the palette of the locals here.”
Baar Baar’s offerings, straight from the charcoal grill, include the lamb shank roast with Nihari gravy, fresh ginger, mint, cilantro and rose; monkfish osso bucco with millet khichdi and rhubarb achar; and mushroom pepper fry with sunchoke salan, smoked almond and ramps; as well as classic dishes like Baar Baar butter chicken and chicken malai tikka.
“Each and every dish in the menu is connected to India,” Sarkar said. “Sometimes it’s very straightforward, like butter chicken. … But in India, when you buy the chicken, the food coloring comes into place because it’s always orange. Here we don’t use any artificial food coloring, so instead of that I use a little bit of sweet pepper to get the color and to get the sweetness. … (That’s) a traditional recipe turning into what we’re doing at Baar Baar.”
Sarkar’s imaginative menu also features LA-inspired dishes like the birria-style Kashmiri duck taco served with cilantro, red onion and pickled radish; along with chaats like Dahi Puri, made with avocado, tamarind, mint and cilantro chutney and yogurt mousse; and Cauliflower 65, made with carrot pachadi, peanut thecha, pickled kumquat and curry leaf.
“A lot of our menu is vegan, and 40% of our menu is vegetarian, but really flavorful,” Sarkar said. “Our dessert program is also really unique. I come from Kolkata, where we have a sweet tooth. Indian sweet making, nowhere in any Indian restaurant do they highlight that, but we do everything in-house.”
Baar Baar’s dessert list includes homemade delights like mango ghewar — a Rajasthani dessert with a honeycomb texture made using thandai cassata, mascarpone mousse, mango jelly and pistachio — and carrot halwa cake with malai ice cream, phirni mousse and edible gold.
Sarkar’s creativity also extends to his wine cellar and cocktail list, which was inspired by past and present Bollywood films. They include Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, made with tequila, tamarind, aged balsamic, blackberry syrup and soda; Lagaan, made with gin, honeydew melon, kale, midori and egg white; and a unique take on classic milk punch named after the Oscar-winning film “RRR,” made with Old Monk rum, crème de cacao, chocolate, coffee bitters and milk wash.
“When I came to LA, I wanted to do something with Indian cinema,” Sarkar said. “The cocktail menu is so unique. It’s like a booklet with different movies from different eras from 1950s to now.”
Inspired by the colors of Indian fashion and his personal love for design, Sarkar wanted the interior of Baar Baar Los Angeles to feel comfortable, welcoming and an “everyday place” for Angelenos. The space features multiple dining rooms decorated in shades of teal and yellow with white marble tabletops and murals painted by artist Jessica Kollar. Alongside a large communal table, there’s also a nearly 50-foot bar that seats 15 people.
“It’s a beautiful room, but we don’t want to do that kind of fine dining when you come there,” Sarkar said. “We are going to open the happy hour, so you can come to the bar just for happy hour and small plates, and then you can come back for full dining experience. We have beautiful music that came from India, too, which is, I would say, more electronic music. … Everything is very modern, but it’s very calm and composed.”
Sarkar expressed a sense of both excitement and fulfillment ahead of Baar Baar Los Angeles’ grand opening celebration. By marrying the flavors and textures of authentic Indian cuisine with a personal, contemporary approach, he hopes to elevate Indian cuisine to a level that has yet to be seen in LA.
“It’s all about bringing something new, building something at par with any top restaurant in this country,” he said. “The food has to be affordable, but with top-quality ingredients. Good food, music, drinks, the design of the space, everything. I think people will appreciate what we put into this, and they will love the food. … I think the future is great for Indian food and it’ll grow because it has so much flavor. People are looking for that kind of flavor nowadays.
“Indian food is getting the momentum, but not that kind of old-school dining. There are a lot of new restaurants coming up all over the country, and I want to be the front-runner … taking risks and opening this beautiful and the big place.”
Baar Baar Los Angeles
705 W. Ninth Street, Los Angeles
5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
Reservations can be made through opentable.com