Gopinathan, who goes by "Sri," will not be leaving Campton Place, where he's earned Michelin stars for nine consecutive years, and plans to split his time between the two restaurants, he said in an interview. Ettan is slated for a January 2020 opening at 518 Bryant St.
Srijith Gopinathan, executive chef at Campton Place Restaurant, is the new chef-partner at Ettan in Palo Alto. Photo courtesy Postcard PR.
Gopinathan met the owner of Ettan, Ayesha Thapar, while she was dining at the two-star Campton Place several years ago. She called afterwards, expressing an interest in partnering for her forthcoming Indian restaurant, Gopinathan said. Ettan (which means "breath" in Sanskrit) is the first restaurant for Thapar, an Atherton resident who has worked in a range of industries, from internet marketing and real-estate development to fashion, and spent about half her life in India.
Gopinathan, a native of Southern India, attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York and trained in a Michelin-starred restaurant in England before coming to the U.S. He said he was drawn to the Palo Alto project as a means to educate U.S. diners about the depth and breadth of Indian cooking.
"I am trying to move the so-called boxed Indian food from one corner to the mainstream," he said. "I also feel that after a very long time of doing fine dining, which I still enjoy ... I also want to do fun dining — little more fun, more casual food."
A forthcoming dish at Ettan: sesame leaf chaat with sweet yogurt, Fuyu persimmon, and sev (crunchy chickpea flour noodles). Photo by Isabel Baer.
Gopinathan, who is in the midst of putting the finishing touches on the Ettan menu, described the food as casual "Cal-Indian," the cuisine he's drawn accolades for at Campton Place.
There will be dishes like crudo with fresh coriander seeds, jalapeño oil and a fermented chili sauce; Gulf shrimp topped with coconut sambal and curry butter, wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked over an open fire; a kebab made with tender jack, a vegetable version of jackfruit that tastes like chicken when cooked, he said; and kozhukattai, a South Indian dumpling Gopinathan will fill with marinated ricotta, shallots, pistachio, raisins and garam masala.
He's working on a pork belly dish that uses spices from Coorg, a high-altitude mountain region known for producing spices and coffee. He's envisioning covering the pork belly in a complex spice mixture and slow cooking it, then serving it with a soft bread and homemade pickles for a make-your-own wrap.
Much of the menu is inspired by the food Gopinathan ate growing up in Kerala in Southern India, though he doesn't want to box Ettan in as a Southern Indian restaurant. He also takes inspiration from traveling throughout India and more than a decade of living in California.
A winter "mushroom one-pot" korma with pickles and jalapeño at Ettan in Palo Alto. Photo by Isabel Baer.
While the focus is on Indian ingredients and dishes that are lesser known in the U.S., Ettan will have a secret menu with all the classic dishes expected at a local Indian restaurant like butter chicken and garlic naan, Gopinathan said.