Friday, April 24, 2009

Expensive tastes

Indigo is the champion stand alone phenomenon in Mumbai, with its quaint eateries (Indigo Cafe, Indigo Deli) and the ultimate fine dining experience (THE Indigo) topping the charts of most good food book guides.
The Restaurant is limited in scope: it's great for a fine dining experience but most of us don't have the inclination (read as money) for regular extravagance. When my boyfriend took me out to Indigo for my birthday, though I consider myself to be above gimmicks and the 'personal touch', I gurgled happily to find a menu headlined with "Dinner with ###" followed by the day's specials. Melt in your mouth gnocchi, perky scallops (though in my opinion, slightly overdone), the risotto, the fettucini... divine. It was fine dining at its best. But the finest hour was the dessert, a Chocolate Fondant with Jalepeno Ice Cream. The name speaks for itself. The bill was also mindblowing, just so you know.
The true charm of Indigo cuisine and what sets it apart is the array of flavours they pack into every bite. Sharply contradictory flavours literally blow your mind. Watch out for the spicy aftertaste of the ice cream.
The "pret" Indigo options are just as great, if not more. Having visited all of them, honestly, if you had to make me choose between the three (in the sense that I shall never eat at the other two ever again) I'd take Indigo Cafe without blinking, even if it means dealing with the Lokhandwala Link Road traffic. The must have is the pesto pizza. You're advised by smiling waiters to crunch it down as soon as it gets in, it's wafer thin (this is not a exaggeration) and topped with dollops of pesto, sundried tomatoes and mozarella. Also not to forget the souffle of the day. If there's ever the blue cheese and broccoli one available, don't think twice. It's sin in a ceramic cup.
Indigo Deli, opposite Tendulkar's, is a little too noisy for my liking. The set up is like a Deli in that you can buy cold cuts and cheese and other foodstuff, even, which is an overdone concept (Good Earth, Salt Water Cafe, Basillico) - what, have we run out of stores? The menus of the Deli and the Cafe are substantially similar, which include their desserts. The Chocolate Mud Cake is served after a pop in the MV with a generous swirl of blueberry sauce. Molten chocolate sneaks out upon contact with your trembling spoon. The creamy dark chocolate with the burst of sour berry is exactly what you think it is. Last night, we decided to move from the standard Mud Cake Order to the baked blueberry cheesecake. We mulled over the wiseness of our decision and wondered if anything could match up to the mudcake. Moral of the story: Don't doubt when Indigoing.
I stick to the daily specials as a confirmed fish lover and the catch is always fresh and indulgently cooked. The Ravas marinated in Cilantro, served with Ratatouille did not disappoint. The staff is well aware of the menu (which is rarer than you think) and are happy to customize your order.
The Cafe (and the Deli) are good with the drinks. The Cafe's outside seating is particularly pleasant to sip on some CnC (Curry and Cucumber, a Vodka cocktail with a marathi koshimbir aftertaste) or a Sangria or even a Indigo Mary (an Indian spin on the Bloody Mary). It also has a massive colelction of wines and spirits.
Indigo can't do much wrong, in my eyes, and it has a pretty awesome strike rate in that sense. Yes, the prices are high (375 onwards for mains) as are the expectations but they don't take their reputation lightly. A friend informs me that post 26/11 and recession the Indigo Restaurant is taking a serious beating, with expats and tourists shying away. Sigh.
I shall shut up for now, or at least until I make it to the Indigo Sunday Brunch...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Minor Diners

San Francisco is a curious American city- that sports a long-standing queer comfort zone (now sitting up at the recent referendum banning gay marriage), old left-bastion-cafes, uphill-n-downhill-ever-twirling roads. Comfortably temperate, this city has a culture of diners to articulate the San Francisco mood. These are little spaces (some big ones) around the bustling part of town, that serve chitter-chattering old maids and their boyfriends. Hash browns and pancakes and maple syrup. And french toast, mushroom-n-cheese omelette, cranberry juice. The food settles in slowly. Making way for more coffee chatter. They are abuzz with pancake-hungry children and Uncle Bobs in the morning. At twelve in the night, they are still talking Obama to Mrs. Mayfair. The odd gold-chained hispanic couple drop by for butter on their pancakes. The lone bespectacled out-of-town woman in a corner digs into an omelette and mulls over hermeneutics of subjectivity. Hip balding journalists discuss credit crises.

The diner looks like an informal club. Of hats and scarves and chitter and chatter. Bacon eggs and pancake batter.One of them had a rather stern lady chef feverishly tossing out quiche and omelette, to pen down her impatience with our giggly indecision.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Politics, and Piyush

I was in Shivaji Park for a meeting when my friend Jal, a pucca Parsi, surprised me by asking me if I would have lunch at Prakash,which he explained was a spartan vegetarian eatery in the heart of Shivaji Park. He wasn't sure if I'd like the food or not, but I was always eager to experiement.
His partner, Kishore, who grew up in Shivaji Park, rattled off a history of Prakash while we looked for parking in the bye lanes of the vicinity. Prakash actually has quite a controversial history, it was rumoured that the proprietors, hardcore Maharashtrian Chitpavan Brahmins, distributed pedas upon the assasination of Mahatma Gandhi at the hands of one of their caste brethren. The restaurant was torched in the ensuing riots. Quite like the pheonix, it rose from the ashes, the food compensating for the radical ideology of the patrons. As we entered the joint, I noticed that it was much like the typical Marathi "Khanaval" or eatery - sunmica benches and tables where you sat where you could and relaxing after lunch wasn't an option.
We started off with what he recommended - the sabudana wada. Sabudana is a typical "fast food" item in Maharashtra - not competing with burgers and fries, but one of the few permissible food items during a fast. Sabudana is the vernacular for the starch extracted from the Sago Palm which and made into the commercial product of sago pearls. There are two popular ways of making Sabudana during fasts - one is the khichadi, which is steaming the pearls after tempering them with mustard, curry leaves, groundnut powder and chillies. The other, is the wada, which like all wadas are deep fried. Mashed potato acts as the binding agent. Unlike the usual sabudana wada, which is flat and brown and crisp, this wada was round, almost white, not very oily and soft on the inside. Served with a lightly spiced coconut based chutney, it was good enough to make me want to fast more often.

It didn't take us long to debate over the main course - the menu is short and we were squished between enough patrons to peek at what they were eating and decide what looked good. One of our companions, Kishore, immediately said that he was having the "usal" which is any preparation made out of sprouts. He was referring to the "dalimbichi usal" which was a gravy, again coconut milk based, made out of sprouted field beans. They are also called "vaal". They have a slightly bitter taste, which is what makes them stand apart rather than jar on the senses. The gravy was creamy and the beans were just cooked right, just like home. I half expected them to be soggy from having been made many many hours ago. Though the beans were bitter, the gravy was sweet and eating it was pure fantasy for those with the acquired taste. We also ordered a batata bhaji which is a potato preparation without a gravy - tempering chopped potatoes with mustard, cumin, green chillies, curry leaves and garnishing it with freshly grated coconut and corriander, with a lemon wedge to suit your tastebuds. Enjoyable, but standard.
(Below: clockwise from top: dalimbi usal, batatachi bhaji and pooris made of 100% whole wheat flour)

To wash it down, we didn't have the option of cold drinks, but Kishore insisted that I try the Piyush, which he told me was a kind of Maharashtrian Lassi. Piyush is yoghurt based, like a lot of Indian drinks. The yellow tinge comes from the use of saffron, and the drink was cold and its sweetness and the flavours of jaiphal (nutmeg) and elaichi (cardamom) were a brilliant end to this meal. For dessert I had actually opted for Dudhi Halva which was slightly disappointing.

In conclusion - if you are in Mumbai and if you want to do the whole foodie binge, write Prakash in bold and make sure you get to Gokhale Road and have a meal there.

Don't let ideology stand in the way of fine cuisine!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

She's a Mall Wonder

I'm not the biggest fan of the new food phenomenon of "food courts" in Malls, particularly because you get sub standard food at high altitude prices which you are forced to eat in the most cramped up and loud circumstances. Hunger and boredom, however, led me and few friends to the food court at the Orchid City Centre Mall, Bombay Central. Besides the usual food court suspects, Madras Cafe, some Shady Chinese etc. I had a pleasant surprise in store for me - Hakim's, which sells unabashedly non vegetarian mughlai food had a delectable menu as well as reasonable prices. As I was scanning the menu, I was shocked to find Chicken Sanju Baba as a starring member on the cast of the gravy items.

The Noor Mohammadi Hotel has been known for decades for its quality of food, though many a prospective patron would find the ambiance slightly lacking, especially when compared to its extravagant neighbour, Shalimar. Nevertheless, the Noor Mohammadi Hotel has its loyalists who make sure the highly divine Nalli Nihari (a rich gravy dish featuring tender mutton and loads of bone marrow) disappears by 9am every day. Celebrities including most of the Khan boys order from here with a vengeance and Sanjay Dutt struck up such a rapport with the owners that one of their signature dishes, Chicken Sanju Baba, is a result of some recipe sharing from the superstar's home cauldron.

(Courtesy the Noor Mohammadi Website)

What does this have to do with a mall food court? Well, if you want the good stuff but don't want to deal with the Bhendi Bazaar/LJ Road traffic, have no fear. Hakim's is "Haute Moghlai Cuisine" (oh yeah, baby) from the house of Noor Mohammedi, as I found out when I confronted the cashier.

"We get the food from there only, madam. We don't cook anything here except the kababs."

He obviously knew what I needed to hear.

So I packed up a Chicken Sanju Baba and a Roomali Roti for dinner. Bombay Foodies are obliged to have Chicken Sanju Baba on their "to do" list, and I needed to score a tick off.

Chicken Sanju Baba has earned its share of hype and prominence, particularly when the owners of Noor Mohammedi cooked and distributed vats of the dish to the poor every day during the pendency of Sanju Baba's bail application before the Supreme Court. However, it doesn't make for a mindblowing food experience, something which even the owners silently acknowledge by not mentioning the dish on their website. I excitedly unpacked the plastic container to find a gravy of a slightly waxy consistency. Puzzled, I popped it in the microwave, and one minute later I discovered why - there was a layer of pure desi ghee, now liquefied, on top of the gravy. Tough pieces of chicken swim in a thin gravy populated by sliced onion and a large number of red chillies, which is highly misleading, as the product is pretty bland. It does have an interesting tartness, but in the end it's a rather amateur piece of cookery which does no justice to the legend that is Hotel Noor Mohammadi.

One day, however, I am going to wake up early and take the Harbour Line to Dockyard Road and trudge over to Noor Mohammadi, and get me the grub that has tantalized patrons for 110 years. The description is on their website which I have no reason to disbelieve (except for the part about the Pepsi):

You can eat anywhere but for authentic "nalli-nahari"you have to visit Noor Mohammedi.It is very tender and just melts in your mouth.You'll have to go early, the nalli nihari finishes by 9 a.m., even earlier. Cooked on slow coal fire for 12 hours, till it becomes so tender that a toothless customer can eat it. That is the boast of Mr. Khalid Hakim, proprietor of the restaurant, and it is not an empty boast. It is just meat, boneless, one nice chunk of it. And it comes with a spicy gravy, quite sharp with garam masala and pepper. In the gravy, somewhat thick, you will spot bits of nalli, eat it fast, before it melts. Order a fresh roti, a tandoori, or a softer chapatti, 100 gms., weigh it in your hand, feel the weight. Dip the roti in the gravy, break the meat with a spoon, and eat. Yes, it is spicy, for your Bombay palate, that is. But if you are from Northern part of India, you will eat it with a sort of a pickle. A combination of thin strips of ginger and chopped green chillis. They call it nihari ka masala, and it is put on the table in front of you. Help yourself to it. One warning, if you find it too spicy, don't drink the water. Order a Pepsi instead. Who drinks Pepsi at breakfast? Those who eat nalli nihari and kheema roti at breakfast.Most of the food is available throughout the day, but for nalli nihari and paya it is early morning and late evening.

Ambiance may be one thing, but wolfing down a dish which celebrates the delicious bone marrow of mutton, is quite another. My sister and I still fight over who gets the 'soo soo bone', as it is refered to in my family, coined on account of the sound one is forced to make while extracting the tantalizing mass from the back of a highly unco-operative marrow bone.

While Noor Mohammadi is at Mahim and Bhendi Bazaar, Hakim's Haute Moghlai Cuisine can be found at the City Centre Mall, Bombay Central, and the Inorbit Mall, Malad.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Of Meats and Mugs

The nice things about non-vegetarian menus in Bangalore is the variety of dead animal on offer. Unlike Delhi where the odd prawn dish acquires the status of a delicacy. I was satudying the Mojo menu while waiting for a friend the other day and the thought struck me. For the uninitiated, Mojo is the slightly more snazzy cousin-beerbar of Pecos (which is a historic ruin off Brigade Road today) near the Brigade Road and Residency Road crossing. It attracts mostly yuppy rock type youngsters in Guevara T-shirts, peeping Boxers and goaties and appropriately hot arm-princesses. There is a grey-haired, poytailed gentleman planted there all the time, I think by the owner, so as to be able to lay claim on some anti-establishment type authenticity. On my recent nightout there, a group of old-left or staunch-right looking men in white dhoti kurtas appeared suddenly. Coming back to the menu though, it boasts the Mallu-Mangalorean-influenced beef curry, prawn curry which are accompanied by crisp dosas. The chilly beef and chilly prawn are commendable too. The menu displays various other concoctions based on squid and crab, once you get bored of beef and prawn. I would think no meat-eater will order chicken here, once they have they have gone through this resplendent list of dead animal. The Sunday English breakfast (of Pecos fame)comprising bacon eggs and mashed potatoes is highly overrated, I have concluded after digging it for years. But appams and stew are definitely worth a try for Sunday brunch.

The other dead animal menu that corroborated my thoughts on Bangalore meat-eating cultures is at the Windsor Pub. An excellent brain and onion fry. And a beef fry (which is sort of lie alu bhruji in beef, super) and the fish fry and the keema something.The liver preparation with too much curry patta was a disappointment but can be washed down with beer. Like Mojo, Windsor (potted in a deceptively un-pub building next to some Bank, near Cantonment Station, off Miller's Road)is home to the boxer-peeping, headswingingtotheDoors, ponytailed boys as well as some Kannadiga moustached macho men.

Meat-eating in Bangalore is definitely recommended to indiscriminate meat-eaters.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Koshy's fits all

Koshy's in Bangalore (the non-AC section) is a quaint picture containing groups of check-shirted-moustached men drinking rum, balding man-in-the-corner reading Mallu newspaper over coffee and yuppy-alternative-twenty-somethings engineering sexual chemistry over beer.

What is interesting other than the fact that it serves chai-coffee and alcohol under the same roof is its food menu. You get a a most gratifying prawn-curry-rice and beef-curry-rice here. And an interesting mushroom toast (saute'd mushroom and onion on bread). And the typical alcohol accompaniments like french fries and gobi machurian. With a distinctly Mallu fragrance, it also carries the stamp of the old lackadaisical Bangalore of endless ups of coffee.

It is a rare one-size-fits-all place. You could have breakfast here, and lunch, and tea and finish with rounds of beer. You could go for a date, a work-meeting, an old-friends-catchup, a quiet solitary read. Bang opposite the new Hard Rock Cafe, Koshy's stands at one end of St. Mark's Road in solemn fortitude.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Eating down the menu

Zalgirious is not only the name of a popular basketball club or the street where I lived, but was also the name given to the restaurant where I earned a few frequent eater kilos - simply called the Zalgirious Kavine. With indoor and outdoor seating options, pretty waitresses, nice drinks and great food, I have no shame in admitting that close to the end of my Baltic sojourn, I had consumed - patiently and with stealth, every single item on that five page menu. Most often I did not know what I was getting into, with English translations and bilingual waitresses hard to come by. Most often, the results were simple, surprising and pleasant.

One of the simplest, the "Mother-in-law dinner", a meat and potato preparation, was simply excellent.

Quite naturally, I was very excited to know there was a carp grill (L) on the menu, but the experience of eating it did not match up to the anticipation. Not that it was bad - it was more than decent, but served with rice and fancy salad, it seemed tame in comparison to everything else they had to offer. The chicken kiew (R), for instance. Avery juicy cutletish thing, served with fries and salad, it is a a very popular meal throughout Vilnius, and Zalgiriuos Kavine clearly makes one of the best.

But it wasn't all good all the time. I was looking for a pleasant breakfast when I ordered the harmless sounding ham pancake. Little did I know that these pancakes would come swimming in, and be filled with butter. I felt giddy in a not so good way after I ate this.

I could go on about Zalgirious, but I'll restrict myself to the pictures I have. And I will leave you with some nice dessert. This wheat thingie with a creamy filling is called the Napolean snack.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Paella at Barcelona (not the city)

Paella, a Valenican rice dish, seems a distant cousin of the biriyani, and I enjoyed a fantastic meal of it at Barcelona, a restaurant tucked away among the maze of unmetalled roads between Zalgirous Avenue and the Europa mall.

Flavoured with saffron and what else, and embellished with all manner of seafood including prawn and mussel, I was told that that the bit of ever-so-slightly burnt rice sticking to the metallic pan in which it is cooked (and served) is considered a delicacy.

The meal started with some nice ham served on melon, but it paled into insignificance as soon as the paella appeared and invaded the senses with its colour and aroma.