While atmosphere for many Indian restaurants consists of a boom box blasting ragas throughout a tired dining room, Lotus on Fourth offers outrageously delicious Indian food, lovingly served in a spacious atmosphere awash with sunset pinks, sacred art, cozy seating and captivating Indian music. On warm nights, the ceiling opens to import twinkling stars and soft breezes to the feast occurring below. Located north of San Francisco in San Rafael, Lotus is a sublime paradise for the senses. The only Indian restaurant in the North Bay to be rated “excellent” by Zagat’s, Lotus has also brought home the “Best Indian Restaurant” award for five consecutive years from local newspaper, The Pacific Sun.
Sitting down at a cozy table covered in a starched white tablecloth, we were greeted with smiles and sturdy menus. My request for chai resulted in a steaming cup of delicious milky tea. I like to control the sweetness factor, so I was pleased to discover it was unsweetened, yet with just the right balance of spiciness. After adding sugar, I was ready to explore the extensive menu.
I immediately regretted that I hadn’t organized a large group outing for this meal. After all, how many dishes can three people order without getting gluttonous? I wanted to taste nearly everything. Lotus offers an outstanding selection of food: soups, salads, appetizers, curries, biryani, thalis, Tandoor, seafood and meat. We barely grazed the surface. It’s an easy place for anyone to get excited, whatever your dietary requirements. Vegans and vegetarians will be easily pleased. Purshotam, the chef (and veteran of many Bay-area Indian restaurants), happily honors requests for more or less spice, and low oil.
Crispy and ever-so-slightly-spicy vegetable pakoras disappeared quickly after being dunked in a pairing of sauces: tangy-sweet tamarind and spicy cilantro. They were perfectly fried, not too greasy or heavy. Fragrant Holy Basil Naan (irresistible homemade bread baked in a clay pot oven) soon arrived alongside our dishes of Channa Masala, Saag Paneer, and Aloo Gobi. Fluffy hot basmati rice accompanied the meal, alongside cooling cucumber raita and spicy-sweet mango chutney.
The flavors of the foods were perfectly articulated and balanced, with the individual personalities coming through in a balance of spicy and savory, tender and sturdy. For example, the Saag Paneer was a triumph of cubed paneer (homemade curd cheese) resting in a sauce of simmered spinach and spices. In many Indian restaurants, the paneer can be rubbery or tasteless. At Lotus, it was delicate and tender with a subtle flavor. The perfectly married flavors of the food caused several satisfied sighs and spontaneous moans, especially during our delectable dessert of rose petal ice cream and Gulab Jamun – chickpea flour balls with warm honey sauce. It is easy to see why this last dessert is sacred to the elephant god Ganesh!
Throughout the restaurant, a gentle hum of satisfaction echoed across soft, smiling faces. It’s easy to relax here and be pampered. The staff is plentiful and kind, frequently stopping by to refill your chai, guide you through the menu or check on any needs. This can be intrusive in other restaurants, but at Lotus, each approach is sweet and genuine, making you feel like part of the family. It’s no surprise, considering that Lotus is family-owned and operated.
Surinder (Paul) and Linda Sroa, along with their son Jyoti and nephews Amba and Happy opened Lotus in 1998. Grateful for their success, they generously give back to their communities both in the States and internationally. Their gifts include donations to local schools, and to the Canal Community Alliance, several Tsunami relief efforts, the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music, several village schools in Jaipur (India) and the Red Cross.
Prepare your palate for a sensuous journey through the flavors of India at Lotus Restaurant. It’s a great place for a date and for families, as well as business. Lotus is a soothing sanctuary for sustenance of body and soul, where you can exhale deeply, leave the West behind and savor exceptional Indian cuisine.
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