Pink, orange, and amber cocktails named after Bollywood films land on quartzite tables, closely followed by ample servings of chaat, a genre of mouth-puckering, salty, savory, and sweet street food dishes. Empty plates are swept away and replaced by large baskets of naan and heaps of hot rice that accompany platters of whole seabass cooked in banana leaves, tender and creamy butter chicken, and tandoor-cooked butternut squash. The large, glittering jewel box of a room fills with families, couples on dates, and groups gathered for happy hour. At Baar Baar, every night is a carefully crafted performance.
The star of the show is Sujan Sarkar, the chef at Downtown LA’s newest Indian restaurant. He flits about the room, greeting diners. He explains the regional inspiration behind the Hyderabadi lamb keema, which takes a Central Indian dish and marries it with a shepherd’s pie. He serves dinner at one table, then another, all while running lines about technique, explaining the delights of a Mangalorean ghee roast from Southern India, a dish not easily found in Southern California. He takes great pride in unveiling the ghewar, a dessert from the Northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan that his team has added a spin on. Mascarpone mousse and mango jelly add creamy and soft textures to the standard honeycomb-like disk.
Baar Baar serves out-of-the-box versions of Indian dishes Angelenos won’t find anywhere else in the Southland. There’s an avocado bhel with edamame green chickpea hummus, and a sweet potato chaat made with whipped feta, a creamy rendition that riffs on the Bombay street food classic. Like with the mushroom pepper fry served with sunchoke salan, Sarkar showcases unexpected ingredients in more common South Asian dishes. Even the butter chicken, a dish found at most restaurants that serve North Indian food, manages to stand out. Roasted red pepper blends with the house garam masala to add a distinct color, sweetness, and richness to the gravy.
Sarkar has spent over 20 years working in restaurants, including 11 years in London across restaurants including Automat, Almada, and the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows. He also helped open several Indian restaurants throughout the U.S. and is the co-founder of the Rooh brand, which has locations in San Francisco and Palo Alto (which Sarkar’s brother Pujan now runs as head chef). A Chicago location of Rooh, which he departed from, is operated independently. Sarkar also opened Feringhee in Arizona and Indienne in Chicago in September 2022, plus recently opened Sifr. He currently spends his time between Chicago and LA.
In April, Sarkar brought Baar Baar — which translates to “again and again” in Hindi — to Los Angeles from Manhattan, where a restaurant of the same name and similar aesthetic first opened in 2017. Both locations of Baar Baar follow Sarkar’s bar in Delhi, the aptly named Ek Bar, which can mean either “one bar” or “one time” and opened in 2016, serving craft cocktails and small plates. Baar Baar LA has a slightly different menu from the one in New York. Sarkar says he doesn’t take a copy-and-paste approach with his restaurants; instead, he caters the food and drink offerings to what he believes will resonate most in a particular city.
The innovative deviations on Baar Baar’s menu are all part of Sarkar’s plan to serve modern takes on regional Indian dishes all over the world, one city at a time. “We want to create this new Indian cuisine, and I want to be the front-runner of this. But it’s not only about food, it’s about everything else, from design, music, cocktails, wine, and people,” Sarkar says, explaining the importance of building the right team of folks who are equally excited about contemporary Indian dining.
The Indian subcontinent is home to 28 states with 1.4 billion people. There are thousands of languages; innumerable iterations of dietary customs, palates, and preferences; and infinite ways to play with spices, meat, and produce. It’s impossible to represent all of India in one menu, but Sarkar’s vision is to expand the number of regional Indian dishes folks have access to in LA. He looks to restaurants like Bavel, Bestia, and Camphor as examples of places whose dining experiences offer destination dishes without the fuss of a tasting menu, serving food that delights and surprises diners but meets them where they are with ingredients that may feel more familiar. In a city where folks can get some of the best Persian, Korean, Thai, Guatemalan, and Mexican food the country has to offer, Sarkar pushes Indian food to the forefront, adding more specificity and splendor to the South Asian dining scene.
Sarkar is one of several chefs in the U.S. working to disambiguate and define modern, regional Indian cuisine. This group also includes James Beard-winning chef and Unapologetic Foods partner Chintan Pandya of New York City’s Dhamaka, Semma (from chef Vijay Kumar), and Rowdy Rooster, all of which showcase an even more vast range of regional Indian dishes. In LA, Sarkar joins an Indian dining scene where Pijja Palace, now over a year old, is serving a contemporary take on Indian (or Indian American) cuisine five nights a week, and where Tulsi is serving regional Indian dishes at four locations, pulling from North, South, and Western India.
Both Pijja Palace and Tulsi entered the scene in 2022, each adding something distinct and big to expand the Indian dining scene in LA. Like Pijja Palace, Baar Baar serves creative spins on familiar dishes; there’s a Kashmiri duck birria taco that feels very Indian and very LA. Like Tulsi, Baar Baar focuses on showing food from many parts of India; a single meal can pull from North, South, Western, and East India. But in a city where more innovative dishes like tuna bhel and more regional dishes like ghee roast are still harder (if not completely impossible) to find, Baar Baar strikes a special chord. It may not be the city’s only option for finer or more creative South Asian dining, but it plays with the cuisine’s past and present in a way that moves the conversation forward.
Sarkar shares his version of Indian food with reimagined flavors and presentations. Dishes like crispy dahi puri are made fruity and vibrant with raspberry chaat masala. Avocado pachadi imbues a California sensibility on Southern Indian fresh pickles. Oysters are served with a bright guava and chile granita, pickled cucumber, and shallots. Overall, his menu is not so much a love letter to the cuisine and culture as it is a mission statement, an insistence that Indian food can and should go beyond what most folks have had a chance to try. The result is something worthy of the limelight: The restaurant is quickly drawing attention from large crowds, including South Asian American celebrities like Mindy Kaling and Kumail Nanjiani.
Each of the nine cocktails on Baar Baar’s drinks menu is based on some of India’s favorite stories, riffing on a classic cocktail and naming it after an iconic Bollywood movie. The menu moves chronologically, starting with the 1953 film-inspired Anarkali cocktail. Baar Baar’s stunning interpretation is a spin on a Negroni and features a potent dose of Darjeeling tea that gives the drink an almost tannic feel. The 1995 film-inspired Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge drink is a rendition on the tequila sunrise and is made tart with tamarind, aged balsamic, and blackberry syrup. It all comes together from mixologist Chetan Gangan, who has also crafted drink menus at a few of Sarkar’s other restaurants.
It’s no surprise Baar Baar’s drinks pull from Bollywood throughout the ages, just as his dishes pull from different cultures and geographical ranges throughout India. Storytelling is at the core of Sarkar’s efforts. “I want to bring the culture, the art, and the storytelling of India. India is all about stories. It’s more than recipes,” he says. “Each one of my dishes connects with India, and then we try to reimagine how we narrate it or how we change it.” And what better city to tell a story in than Los Angeles?
Baar Baar is located at 705 W. Ninth Street, Los Angeles, CA 90017, with valet available in front of the restaurant. The restaurant’s hours are 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays). Brunch hours are from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m on Sundays.