Chef Arindam Bahel gave chaat a California twist by changing out more traditional ingredients for local ones, like avocado.

Avocados aren’t exactly typical in Indian cuisine—who’s ever heard of avocado vindaloo?—but California’s bounty of the rich, creamy fruit did inspire a dish at Rasam’s. The new upscale Indian restaurant in downtown Sunnyvale focuses on traditional Indian cooking techniques but uses many local ingredients.

This concept is exemplified by Rasam’s chaat sampler, a trio of common Indian street foods given a California twist, with avocado standing in for boiled potato, corn replacing puffed rice, and clementine juice boosting the flavor in a preparation that usually uses plain water.

When crafting the menu, chef Arindam Bahel also made sure to add some regionally specific dishes to further distinguish Rasam’s offerings. SanJose.com sat down with Bahel to discuss his unique menu:

SanJose.com: The name of your restaurant is Rasam’s. But that is also the name of an Indian soup. Can you tell me about that?

Bahel: Rasam is a fire broth. We call it the fire broth soup. It has all the flavors. It’s hot. It’s tangy. It warms you up. It heats up your throat! But at the same time it’s very light. It’s quite a common soup in South India. I have not seen it very commonly here. We give everyone a shot of Rasam before their meal. When you drink it, it opens up the senses.

Can you tell me about a menu item that maybe isn’t so common at other Indian restaurants in the area?

There is a dish called the lobster caldeen. Most people have heard of the vindaloo. It’s a very common dish. But not a lot of people have heard of the caldeen. It is another dish from the region of Goa. Caldeen, like vindaloo, is basically a coconut milk-based sauce that is tempered with chilis, ginger, curry leaves and mustard seeds. The difference with caldeen is the addition of tamarind. It gets a sour taste from the tamarind. The coconut milk gives it that creamy flavor and the tamarind gives it the punch. I serve it with quinoa pilaf instead of rice because quinoa is commonly available in California. The lobsters we use are from Monterey Bay.

What’s a common dish that you’ve put your own spin on?

We have the tandoori salmon. Tandoori salmon you find everywhere, all over Indian restaurants, most of them anyway. If you look closely at ours, the marinade is different. It’s marinated in black pepper, green pepper and red pepper. When I came here to the Bay Area, peppercorns were quite abundantly available. In India, we only have black [ones] that are fresh. So I made a marinade of black, green and red with yogurt, ginger and garlic. It gives that slight peppery punch to it. But it’s not very hot at the same time and it marinates the meat very well. I don’t need to cook the salmon for very long, so it’s quite juicy.

Rasam’s 195 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale. 408.245.8500. rasams.com