In India, a “roka” ceremony is where friends and family come together to celebrate the engagement of a couple by sharing a meal. When owner Monica Saxena left the semiconductor industry for the culinary world, Indian restaurants didn’t meet her desire to be a romantic destination for couples to enjoy a night out, whether it was a first date or a wedding anniversary. They were decorated with busy designs, overly lit and served dishes which intimidated the western world. This led to a simple vision for aRoqa: a restaurant where Monica could hang out with her husband on their lifelong date where she could showcase her take on Indian food; one that stayed true to its roots, but was more playful yet chic. Monica believed that small plates, similar to tapas, was key to creating not just another Indian restaurant, but a fun and seductive date spot to start or end your evening.
Monica, originally an investor in aRoqa, embarked on the journey of reinventing the restaurant in 2018 and charted a new direction when she took over as owner. She hired Head Chef Munny Passi, who started working at his family’s restaurant in India at the young age of 13, where he was exposed to many of India’s regional cooking techniques. Pulling from her previous career in operations, Monica understood the importance of a well trained staff. Given the industry’s turnover, which was only exacerbated by the pandemic, she instilled a high level of trust and integrity which enabled cross training from the kitchen to the bar.
As you enter aRoqa, you are welcomed by a stunning black and gold cocktail bar, which leads you into the main dining room, nestled in a dark and cozy cave designed by Texer Nam. After selecting a drink from the carefully curated menu of cocktails and wine, we recommend starting with a few small plates:
- Lasuni Gobi: fried cauliflower bites covered in a tangy tomato sauce
- Corn Paddu – Light and airy corn/rice fritters (think vada/dosa as a fried ball) served with a silky smooth kaffir lime and coconut chutney to dip
- Bhatti Murgh – tandoori chicken grilled to perfection, with a tableside rum flambé, served with a mango pickle yogurt sauce
- Mushroom Kaitafi – a delicate croquette with a creamy mushroom paste inside (this is a must have for mushroom lovers and is a Michelin recognized dish)
- Shredded crab with Lentil Soup Shots – one of the more unique dishes and experiences we’ve had, full of flavor and are great complements to each other
Moving on to the shared plates:
- Garlic Naan (and other stuffed breads)
- Chicken Tikka Masala (served sweeter than usual, so don’t be afraid to ask for spice)
- Coppa Pistachio – a gelato custard, swirled with chocolate and pistachio
- Gulab Jamun
We’re excited for what lies ahead in aRoqa’s future as it navigates the complex and ever evolving landscape of fine dining and tastes of NYC residents, particularly those looking to impress a significant other. Whether it be for dinner and drinks or brunch, aRoqa is sure to have something for everyone. After your visit, take a walk on the High Line with that special someone to people watch and enjoy views of the sunset as you end your date, which hopefully gets you to the next one.
By George Blesson @george_blesson
Photo Credit: aRoqa