Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Eating out

Haven't food-blogged for a while, what with the camera being on the fritz, and then me being sick with a terrible viral, which left me UNABLE to TASTE!. Can you imagine anything worse for a food-crazy person like me? I was craving for some fresh, home made soup too, and didn't even have the strength to crawl out of bed. Have started hating the readymade soups ever since I discovered the home made stuff, so couldn't take substitutes, especially when my tongue was already making everything taste like cardboard. However, almost back to my old self, and in the interim have been eating out lots, to compensate myself.

Last Tuesday I was in Ahmedabad on work - which is where I fell sick - and wanted to make sure, apart from shopping for Ahmedabad sarees, that I ate authentic food. My cabbie took me to a place called Pakwan for lunch. I haven't a clue where it is located in the city. it's a relatively small restaurant, and very unpretentious. As soon as you sit down, they bring you a thali, and then start heaping things on to it like food was going out of fashion. A round pakora and plain, white dhokla for starters. followed by a papad and a variety of chutneys - red and sweet, green and tangy - and pickles. Salad. Then the sabzis - undhiyo, which is veggies and beans cooked together in a specially Gujarati sweet-sour-salty way that is sublime. Thin daal. Aloo in gravy. "Punjabi" as the waiter called it - paneer, but with a local twist that made it taste nothing like restaurant paneer dishes in Delhi, and most delicious. Moong Dal halwa. Gujarati Kadhi. Srikhand. All this deftly served by a stream of specialist bearers, each one responsible for one category of dishes. Followed by an array of tiny rotis, the size of a palm, piping hot, smeared with ghee. And teeny, tiny puris, golden and puffy, giving off steam. They served the food faster than I could eat it, hospitably urging me to have more. No sooner did a dish finish on my plate than the bearer responsible for it would materialise at my elbow to refill it. It took a positive effort on my part to convince them eventually that I did not want more. I needed two glasses of the salty chaach (buttermilk) to wash it down. The bill - Rs. 85. Need I say more - or will this picture help? ( Gah, bluetooth as usual not working so will have to upload later.)

Pakwan, somewhere in Ahmedabad.

This weekend, like most people, I made a pig of myself. The first event was our 7th anniversary - no, not itching, as yet. thanks to my being ill, we had been unsure of whether we'd be able to go out at all, and eventually left it too late for a Delhi which has suddenly woken up to Christmas as a celebration. Olive, our first choice, was all booked up. Another place, Magique, quoted the obscene amount of Rs. 5000 per head. Diva was too far on a possibly foggy night, plus it might have been equally as expensive. Finally we decided to head for old faithful Trident Hilton, which also has the advantage of being merely minutes away from home.

This hotel was apparently rated the best business hotel in the world in 2005. I don't know about business, but I will say, as someone who's visited a lot of famous hotels around the world, that this particular hotel is magical. It has the rare ability to take one right out of the world around the hotel and transport you to an enchanted place of the imagination. The architectural firm which worked on it was apparently a Thai one. Rather than simply recreate Indian architecture, they decided to take the essence of Indian architecture. So the hotel has a series of sandstone arches starting right from the entrance, beautifully lit up by dramatically tall sconces. The scale of the building is magnificent, adding an air of lavishness and drama. As soon as you enter, you see a corridor of arches stretching away towards the right and left, sporadically lit by spotlights that throw intriguing pools of shadow and light. in front is an infinity pool, reflecting the night sky, and in the center of that pool are a row of flames, reflected in the water below. The door handles are serpentine bronze curves, again larger than life. The ceiling inside the double-or-treble-height lobby is a cupola, painted in gold leaf, while the interiors are largely whites, beiges and creams. The hotel ensures that the flower arrangements placed in the lobby are equally dramatic. The night we were there, they had 2-coloured roses, deep pink and ash-grey on the same bloom.

The buffet spread at the coffee shop of this hotel is always wonderful, and has become our favourite place to take guests out. They have a sumptuous salad buffet on one side, serving a spread ranging from sushi and salmon to asparagus, hearts of palm and, I believe, truffles in season. They also have a gigantic parmesan wheel, so one of my favourite salads is the lightly steamed asparagus with a french dressing with the hint of sugar, topped by shavings of parmesan. Yummmm! They also have a pretty good cheese board, from Brie to camembert, roquefort, gouda, emmenthaler and mozzarella.

The center is given over to a live pasta and pizza station. A stack of desserts awaits us on the right side, and in the far corner are the main courses, lined up by veg versus non-veg. The main courses keep changing and have a mix of continental, oriental and Indian dishes. A variety of rotis is served up at the table.

I usually gorge on the salads, which I can never have enough of. This time, a decided to dig into sushi and decide whether he could decipher the mystery of its appeal. He came back to the table armed with wasabi paste and pickled ginger. He carefully selected his sushi roll, delicately spiked it with the wasabi and took a bite. the next minute, he jumped up as if something had stung him. "It's gone up my nose, it's gone up my nose...!"

I had to try this too, so tentatively picked a veg sushi roll. I had tried these before and been underwhelmed. I dabbed on the pale green wasabi paste a little more aggressively than A - after all, as a South Indian born, I had better tolerance for spice - and popped it in. I jumped up like something had stung me too. "It's gone up my nose, it's gone up my nose...!" Now I know! But luckily, unlike our mirchis, the stinging wears of pretty quickly. I thought wasabi curiously reminiscent of mustard in its pungent action, and my sinuses felt better for that little dose.

I had mainly Indian food, for once, for the main course, and dessert was a wonderful Ghana chocolate mousse - all cold, meltingly mushy chocolate cream dusted with cocoa powder on top and soft yet sandy chocolate cake on bottom - like a kind of symphony.

We had ordered a French sparkling wine - something asti - with our meal but found it way too sweet for our palates. the guy had told us it's a sweet wine but I didn't realise quite how sweet. It reminded me of those Californian fruit wines with which dad had begun our initiation into wine way back when I was 16. There are some things that are good only in memory. We sadly hadn't thought to taste before the wine steward poured out the glasses of wine, but later decided to order something we liked better. I chose the Sula Sauvignon Blanc - somewhat fruity and delicious with Indian food - and A picked the Chenin Blanc.

The service was wonderful, as always, while being unobtrusive. They even served us a hot pizza at our table ( which they usually don't do) which had come out of the wood oven seconds before - unbeatable. And they didn't charge us for the wine we had disliked. As usual an amazing couple of hours, and all the more reason we keep going back there.

Trident Hilton, Gurgaon

Yesterday was our day to hang out and do fun stuff. We took in an art exhibit at the Habitat centre - Indian contemporary artists - with the theme of Sacred. Jayasri Burman, Shuvaprasanna, Sujata Achrekar, Shipra Bhattacharya, a couple of wonderful pieces by an artist called Sonia Sabharwal, some beautiful Bharti Prajapatis, two very intricate and appealing pieces by Ramesh G (something, can't remember) and an absolutely haunting Radha by Suhas Roy.

After that, it was off to Khan Market - one of my favourite markets, and becoming more appealing to me by the day. We decided to eat at the Big Chill - a cafe frequently recommended to us by friends. We had a sparklingly fresh rocket salad with parmesan, cherry and sundried tomatoes. Eschewing soup for once, Chubbocks and I shared a baked potato with sour cream and chives, something only otherwise available at TGIFs. I don't know how they had done it, but the potato was delicately salted, so it went all the better with the cream and chives. I was busy mulling over a low-cal version for home, with hung curd instead of the sour cream. We had pasta for lunch - I and Chubbocks sharing a spaghetti puttanesca, while A opted for a fusilli with chicken. The Puttanesca sauce was spicier than I remembered, with broken dried red chillies and spring onions in it. Delicious, and Chubbocks enjoyed the process of learning to twirl his spaghetti round his fork and reeling it in, while liberally smearing the sauce all over his little face.

Chubbocks had a Banoffee pie for dessert - something which I had only read about in my Nigella cookbook, and which remained an indelible memory from Love Actually - Keira Knightly bakes it for her husband's best friend as a peace offering. Interesting mix of toffee with biscuits, cream and bananas, but I much prefer the bananas and chocolate combination from the crepes I invented when I worked at a French creperie one summer.

A and I shared a trifle for dessert - with rum custard and cream - a far cry from the trifles I remembered. I haven't had this since the birthday parties I used to attend as a kid, and since I was expecting that, was a bit disappointed with this. I still remember what a big thing it was when my mom learnt how to make this and served it at her party. A layer of sponge cake, soaked in juice, topped with custard ( Brown and Polson powder type, not the kind with eggs), topped with fruit and then jelly, which molded the whole structure together. How careful we were, the first time we saw this tri-coloured confection on our plates, to slice all the way down through all the layers so you got the tastes of everything together in your mouth. Little bits of jelly would always get left over in the bowl, along with small smears of the wet cake, and my sister and I would prise it out with greedy fingers, gloating over the ruby slivers of raspberry jelly.

The sour taste and smooth, cool texture of the jelly would contrast with the warm, vanilla scented gooeyness of the custard, followed by the bland sweetness of the sandy cake crumbs. The fruit would be carefully chosen for contrast - bananas for their sweet, mushy ripeness balanced by sharp, sweet-sour oranges and garnet-like pomegranate orbs. The colours too would mingle wonderfully well, and the dish was always made in a wide but deep glass bowl ( sometimes borrowed from a neighbour), so one could feast on it with the eyes first. The cream and brown of the cake at the foot, followed by the Amul-butter coloured custard, the cream, orange and ruby-red of the fruit and then the dark, glassy redness of the Weikfield jelly - always raspberry or strawberry, never something like orange or lemon which would fail to impart the necessary touch of glamour to a humdrum Delhi afternoon party.

Big Chill, Khan Market, New Delhi

No comments: