Creative small plates, inspired cocktails and lovely desserts are the highlights at this terrific but pricey new Indian spot

Something extraordinary has apparently happened to the man in a picture hanging on a wall inside Rooh. Perhaps the guy’s mind has been blown, because rather than a head, an enormous flower sprouts from his shoulders. 

Rooh might not always blow minds, but the self-described “progressive Indian” eatery will frequently blow away expectations local diners have about Indian restaurants. Unless, that is, customers expect Indian eateries in Columbus to serve artful appetizers starring pork belly and sashimi-style tuna.

Rooh, which means “soul,” certainly breaks chain-restaurant expectations — the fledgling company has well-received siblings in San Francisco, New York and Chicago — by dabbling in the kind of modernist cuisine often seen in fancy, tasting-menu-oriented establishments. Toss in “ayurvedic” cocktails influenced by an ancient system of holistic healing, plus a stylish interior, and Rooh is providing adventurous diners unafraid to drop some serious cash with several good new reasons to combat Short North parking hassles.

The roomy, chic eatery offers multiple distinct dining areas variously equipped with plush blue or peach-colored booths, tile flooring, pretty wallpaper, decorative plates and a striking counterpoint to that flower-headed fellow: a glamorous woman’s face painted on a wall.

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Rooh’s space is bifurcated by a large, snazzy bar that shakes inspired cocktails ($13). Egg whites, gin, lychee and truffle salt help make the purple-gray Patna Fizz a delightfully creamy-and-foamy beverage whose mushroom aroma leads to bright, citrusy flavors. The refreshingly acidic and spicy Pink City conjures a margarita with an Indian twist.

Multinational flavors harmoniously coexist in Rooh’s creative and delicious small plates, too. The aforementioned Pork Belly ($18) evokes spicy, attractively presented barbecue ribs with shaved radishes, little chicharrones (mine should’ve been crisper) and candied tamarind. The dish with sashimi-style tuna — it was part of a three-course special dinner ($40) but resembles the regular menu’s Tuna Bhel ($15) — was a dynamic cross between an upscale chaat (wildly garnished Indian snack) and a poke bowl sprinkled with Japanese chili powder.

The Cauliflower Koliwada ($14) ups the ante on a trendy appetizer — spicy fried cauliflower — with a crushed peanut crust, sweet notes playing off a raita-like garnish and a molecular-gastronomy flourish: a light-as-air “curd rice mousse.” An airy yogurt mousse joins a potato cake, tamarind gel, “broken raspberry” and crinkly kale tempura in the nifty, chaat-like Potato Tikki ($14).        

Because Rooh’s large plates offer less bells and whistles, aren’t exactly huge and are served a la carte (you’ll pay extra for good Indian breads and OK rice), assembling a tapas-style, group meal out of small plates is a strong strategy. That said, the Butter Chicken ($24) — extremely tender meat swamped in a velvety, rich and addictive sauce sweetened with roasted red peppers — merits its “signature dish” status. The same dairy-heavy sauce enriches the smaller but innovative, flavorful and meat-free Paneer Pinwheels ($24), made with two sheets of supple cheese wrapped in jelly-roll fashion. A robust but equally rich-and-smooth sauce, plus fall-off-the-bone meat elevate the lusty, cardamom-scented Lamb Shank Nihari ($30), which echoes the classic dish called rogan josh.

A few words about service: It’s knowledgeable and accommodating but the progression between courses can be frustratingly slow. And my paneer pinwheels arrived lukewarm.

Don’t let this deter you from ordering dessert, because Rooh’s confections are worth a wait. The kheer-inspired, cardamom-brightened Phirni Mousse — a marshmallow-cream-textured mound garnished with pleasantly chewy cashew-praline cake, terrific saffron-honey ice cream and a crispy black-rice wafer — had me thinking about a reimagined, elegant s’more.

The moist, two-toned Carrot Halwa Cake with pistachios, honey-saffron gelato and a brittle milk crisp is also wonderful. This drums up a question worth exploring: Would choosing between these two lovely desserts (they’re respectively $11 and $10) be more likely to blow my mind or my budget?