Thursday, May 24, 2007

We Travel...

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves;
and we travel, next, to find ourselves...
And we travel, in essence, to become
young fools again -- to slow time down
and get taken in, and
fall in love once more.
- Pico Iyer

Here's are pictures of where we expect to vacation next! Any guesses? On our way back, we expect to spend two days at London. We are also looking forward to experiencing Virgin Altantic's much talked about upper-class during our travel between Mumbai-London-Mumbai. Best of all, I am not paying for the travel (thanks Eric, if you are reading this!).

The trip is a few months away, but like always the anticipation and planning is (as much?) fun too.

Note: Pictures on this post are linked to their sources.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Kababs In and Around Delhi

This is the second of my Kabab posts. You can read the first one here: Of Nawabs and Kababs

During the years I lived in Delhi, I discovered many new places to indulge in my appetite for kababs. Having been the capital of India during the reign of multiple emperors during it's rich past, Delhi has inherited a treasure trove of culinary secrets from the royal chefs who practised their art here.

Red Fort DelhiWhile in Delhi, I also began visiting some of the best-known upscale dining destinations. I was finally making enough money to pamper myself with such luxuries! The rest of this post describes the five best in and around Delhi. While some like Karim's have been around for generations and is moderately priced, others like the Dum Pukht are upscale and expensive.


This eatery is run by the direct descendents of chefs employed by the Mughal emperors. Their royal employment came to an end during the year of mutiny 1857, when the last Mughal King Bhadur Shah Zafer was dethroned by the British. Apparently, Karim's ancestors fled from the Lal Qila and took shelter in Uttar Pradesh. In 1911, when the Delhi Durbar was held for the coronation of King George V, they moved back to open a Dhaba for the people coming from all over India to watch the coronation. Subsequently, the Karim Hotel was established in the Jama Masjid area of Delhi. Today, the fourth generation runs this popular eatery which has branches in other Delhi and Noida locations.

Sheek Kabab in DelhiFor kabab lovers, I'd recommend the Mutton Burra (succulent pieces of mutton cooked in an oven); trust me, this is the softest mutton kabab you will have ever eaten! You can also try the Mutton Raan (thigh of a goat) that is good for a group of four. Alternately, try the Seekh Kababs, Shammi Kababs or the Mutton Tikka Kababs. If you prefer chicken, sample the Chicken Seekh Kabab, Tandoori Chicken or Chicken Tikka. The kababs are larger than those you get in the usual Delhi dhabas, and I particularly love the Shami Kababs (even though they are different from the tangy Lucknowi variety).

Since I love biryani, I always follow up the kababs with some Gosht Biryani. But if you prefer breads, I would recommend the Khamiri Roti which is prepared with wheat flour and yeast. Alternately, you could order Keema Parantha (parantha stuffed with minced mutton) or even the usual roomali rotis, butter nans and paranthas.

Karim's serves two main desserts that are exceptional. Kheer Benazir (prepared with milk, broken rice, sugar) and Shahi Tukda (fried bread soaked in condensed milk) which are both delicious and complement the rest of the meal.

I have heard that the most exclusive dish at Karim's is the Tandoori Bakra, a full goat stuffed with dry fruits, basmati rice, minced meat and spices.


Served amid stone walls, rough-hewn dark-wood beams, copper urns, and blood-red rugs, the food is so mind-blowingly delicious that it hasn't changed in the last 25 years. The cuisine of the Northwest Frontier - now the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan - is heavy on meats, marinated and grilled in a tandoor (clay oven).

Staff here are immensely proud of the fact that Bill Clinton apparently chose to stay at the Maurya Sheraton "because of our restaurant". Hardly surprising then, that Restaurant Magazine rated Bukhara as one of the 50 best restaurants (and best Asian restaurant) in the world in 2004.

Mar 2008 Update: Updated review and pictures from the Bukhara here.

Kababs in DelhiThe murgh malai kabab (boneless chicken marinated with cream cheese, malt vinegar and green coriander) is unforgettable; red-meat lovers find the tender sikandari raan (leg of lamb marinated in herbs) equally heavenly. Bukhara's dal (black lentils simmered overnight with tomatoes, ginger, and garlic) is so famous it's now sold in cans. You can also order the super-sized Naan Bukhara, a single one of which is good for a party of five!

You are encouraged to eat with your hands after wearing red-checkered aprons.

There are other delicacies on the menu with their own character and history, offering a specific pleasure. Delicate chicken kebabs, one variety stuffed with fiery green chili, another a milder version filled with soothing cheese. Lamb served in diffent ways: A tender, tiny mutton chop marinated with black pepper and figs, then pan grilled and finished in a covered pot sealed with dough. A slow charcoal fire applied from the top, and a slow live fire from the bottom, makes a dish that was juicy, full-flavored and aromatic. Then there are the gorgeous, bright green discs of shami kebab, dainty patties of spiced, finely minced mutton wrapped with betel leaves and pan-grilled. The result is amazing!

And finally, river fish that arrives minced, with cheese and onions, flavored with garam masala and grilled in the pan. You can wash all these delectible kababs with jal jeera, a digestive drink made of tamarind water, roasted black pepper, cumin seed, fresh mint and lemon juice. The "neat" version is delicious, as is one enlivened with a touch of vodka!

Before you go, stand at the kitchen window to examine the kebabs and naans as they are taken from the ovens. You can also talk to the chef, Sultan Mohideen, who oversees the kitchen.

The Great Kabab Factory

This 'factory' at the Radisson Hotel, New Delhi serves 150 types of kebabs and they keep on coming. Made and served in imaginative ways, you can eat as many as you want for a set price. The kebabs are accompanied in a traditional thali (platter) with three kinds of vegetables, a non-Kababs in Delhivegetarian curry dish, chutney, dal (pulses), salad, Indian sweets and Indian breads.

The selection of kababs varies on any particular day, but they are all very succulent and grilled just right on the tandoor. The breads are particularly delectable; many of them - such as the taftan, sheemal, etc. -- aren't easily available elsewhere.

The dining area is surrounded with curios from factories and the kitchen area is separated only by a glass wall. The 'factory' theme is underlined by the uniforms of the waiters and the heavy, mettalic flatware and china.

The Kabab Factory concept of limitless kababs from a pre-fixed menu became so popular that they have since opened another restaurant in NOIDA. And this concept has also been copied by other restaurants; I know of two in Pune itself.

Dum Pukht

Like the nawabi (princely) culture from which it's drawn, the food and style at this restaurant are subtle and refined. The menu is embroidered on a silk scroll, and the restaurant is decorated with silk drapes and cushions.

Chef Imtiaz Qureshi, descended from court cooks in Avadh (Lucknow), created the delicately spiced meals packed with flavor: dum ki khumb (button mushrooms in gravy, fennel, and dried ginger), kakori kabab (finely minced mutton, cloves, and cinnamon, drizzled with saffron), and the special raan-e-dumpukht, a leg of mutton marinated in dark rum and stuffed with onions, cheese, and mint. The kakori kababs here melt in your mouth and the Dum gosht biryani is a gourmet's delight.

The formal room is white, blue, and hushed, and for those who can afford it, a great choice for a cosy, romantic dinner. Among some exotic kababs here are the Sangam galauti, a fusion of chicken and mutton, fired on simmering coal, and the very Lucknowi Noormahal biryani with mutton koftas.

BTW, the Dum Pukht restaurant is now available in other ITC Hotels; I recently visited the one in The Grand Maratha at Mumbai. While the menu and decor are quite different from my memories of the one in Delhi, the kababs and biryani continue to be top-class!

Chor Bizarre

Kababs in DelhiChor Bizarre, the perfect spot for dining after a whirlwind rickshaw ride through the market streets of Old Delhi, lives up to its name. A 1927 Fiat Roadster serves as a salad bar. All the china is intentionally mismatched, none of the chairs are the same, a four-poster bed is your dining table, and the walls are loaded with photos of Elvis and Marilyn. Then there is the carved, spiral staircase that goes nowhere. However, the kitsch stops there. The food is fiery, varied and sure to please any lover of Indian food, but especially so for those who enjoy Kashmiri cuisine.

The mirchi korma - lamb cooked in hot gravy with kashmiri chilies, cardamom and cloves - is a bit on the heavy side. And of course Gustaba, those velvety spheres of finely minced young lamb flavored with cardomom in an yogurt sauce and cooked on slow fire. The Gustaba is the crowning glory of the Kashmiri Waswan and a recipe known to few.

Kababs in DelhiKabab enthusiasts will love the Sufiani Macchi (velvety morsels of salmon in royal cumin and dill), Gazab Ka Tikka (bite-sized chicken tikka in a unique marinade), Tandoori Bater (quail marinated in hung curd, fenugreek, spices and dry-roasted on live charcoal in a tandoor), and the Tandoori Chaampen (tender lamb chops with fresh ginger and tandoori spices). But the one that I remember enjoying the most is the Tabak Maas, spare lamb ribs cooked in Kashmiri spices and shallow fried (see picture).

Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last of the Mughal emperors who ruled from Delhi. A recent book, by William Dalrymple vividly details the 1857 revolt against the British Empire and end of the Mughals in India. The politicians have since taken over Delhi, but the royal legacy of mouth-watering kababs and biriyanis remain!

Note: Pictures sourced externally are linked to their owners.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Which Wine?

Intimidated by sommeliers? Baffled by the difference between Beaujolais and Burgundy? Choosing a good wine is a minefield for many of us, but following the old mantra of 'red for meat' and 'white for fish and seafood' and hoping for the best won't do your meal justice.

Check out the new website by wine guru Fiona Beckett for all those who would like to find the perfect pairing of wine but don't know what to choose. Here's a good place to begin.

BTW, of Indian food she says: "Depends on the overall level of heat. Mild dishes can take a dry white or rosé. Medium-hot dishes are better with a modern, fruity white or red such as an Australian Semillon-Chardonnay or Colombard or a Cabernet-Shiraz blend. Very hot curries are impossible to pair with wine. Stick to lager!"


Friday, May 11, 2007

Slow is Beautiful

Newsweek's cover story begins with: "The hectic 10-city, 10-day package tour is a thing of the past. We say good riddance." I whole-heartedly agree. During the last few vacations, we have done away with the rushed sight-seeing tours, and have let time move slowly. We have chosen to stay at a single place for longer times, instead of trying see and do everything the tour books recommend.

Read the Newsweek cover story: Taking the Time Off.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

El Torito by the Bay

San Franscisco MarriottSan Francisco was at it's hottest ever! I had a day to spend here before taking a flight back home. I was at the Airport Marriott and you can't hope for a better location for a business hotel.

The Marriott is about twenty feet from the sea-side, with the airport runway directly ahead separated from the hotel by a stretch of water. You can see hotel guests lounging in the gardens watching flights land and take off. The view is amazing! In the picture of the hotel here, you can see the windows reflecting the sea and the airport beyond.

I could vaguely remember having strolled down to a very good Mexican restaurant many years earlier when I was last in this hotel. I decided to trace my steps again for an early dinner and there it was. The restaurant is called El Torito. I ordered their signature Cadillac Margarita with the Flaming Fajitas Supreme.

El Torito, San FransciscoThe Margarita is made of Premium 1800 Reposado, BOLS Triple Sec, and Sunkist Sweet and Sour, hand-shaken and served on the rocks with a side shot of Grand Marnier.

The Fajitas, a sizzling combo plate of chicken breasts, chipotle marinated grilled steak, and succulent sauted shrimps, was flambeed at the table with Jose Cuervo Gold. Take a look!


Monday, May 07, 2007

A Weekend with Friends

Cypress Hotel CupertinoI am at the Cypress Hotel in Cupertino this time. This boutique hotel sports warm colors, leopard prints and feline stripes.

The chilly weather when I arrived here on Friday was very different from the rainy but warm weather I left behind at Houston, and the bright sunshine of Utah earlier in the week.

Cypress Hotel CupertinoI had lunch at Park Place, the restaurant downstairs. I intially ordered crab & clam chowder soup and herb-crusted salmon. After a few minutes the waiter came up to tell me that chowder was no longer available. So I chose minestrone soup instead. A few minutes later he again returned to tell that salmon wasn't available either, and so I had to make do with the Halibut. But all's well that ends well: the Halibut turned out quite good, and they surprised me by serving me free desserts and not charging me for the meal!

Hobees CupertinoSince I had a weekend here (which is unusual), I had the time to catch up with a bunch of old friends.

On Saturday, I went out to breakfast with a friend, who used to be my boss in an earlier job, and now runs a Silicon Valley startup. Over eggs scrambled with smoked salmon and bell peppers, Sanjeev and I chatted about his new venture and his previous one.

Incidentally, the place we visited called Hobees, is known as one of the best breakfast places in the Valley. Make sure you try their blueberry coffee cake, if you visit. Hobees looks very ordinary at the first glance, but they have some interesting breakfast options and is frequented by everybody who is somebody in the Silicon Valley, or so they tell me!

In the evening, I went out with another friend and ex-colleague who I was meeting after seven years. We spent some time catching up on our jobs, family and everything else over tea and snacks at his home.

Thea restaurant San JoseAnd today, I had a great lunch with two other friends and their spouses. They picked me up from my hotel and we drove down to Santana Row in San Jose. It was a bright, sunny afternoon and the promenade was filled with people liesurely eating and drinking in the many sidewalk cafes.

We first got into a Mexican restaurant but then changed our mind and moved to a nearby Mediterranean restaurant called Thea named after a Greek goddess. This Zagat rated restaurant served food with Greek and Turkish influence; you can read a good review here. I had ordered the Moussaka, a cassarole of eggplant, lamb, beef and bechamel sauce. It was excellent but heavy; I couldn't finish it. My friends loved the Felafel.

The outdoor seating, great food and at least three very talkative people! As you can imagine time flew very quickly. Anuya, Akhikesh, Devesh, Shraddha, thanks for coming!


Friday, May 04, 2007

Seafood at the Oceanaire

Here I was, spending my birthday in Houston with friends! We had earlier planned to drive down to Galveston for dinner, but then it started raining so we decided try the newly opened Oceanaire Seafood Room instead. This restaurant has recently come up in the Houston Galleria where Lords & Taylor used to be located earlier.

Oceanaire HoustonUpscale, with soaring ceilings, ample portions and a menu that is updated daily, the restaurant combines white-tablecloth service with sea-side ambiance.

The selection of oysters and the fried-seafood platter I tried were very good, as was the delightful flambeed dessert they specially got us when they realized it was my birthday. Under the blue flames was a concoction made of freshly whipped cream, two different kinds of ice-cream, chocolate cake, and rum.

The service is top-notch and the waiters knowlegeable. Fish is flown in daily from across the U.S. and around the world, including swordfish, red snapper, tuna, marlin and wahoo, and can be enjoyed as a chef's daily specialty or simply grilled or broiled. Oeanaire also has one of the best oyster tasting bars. However, note that this is one of the more expensive restaurants in town.

Before we came here for dinner, the three of us had spent a couple of hours in a lounge-bar over drinks, getting into really animated discussions on various things that continued on through dinner and during the drive to my friends' new house after dinner. I had a wonderful time. Thank you Arti and Murali, for a great evening!


Thursday, May 03, 2007

The New Indian Traveller

The ordinary Indian has rarely been adventurous in his eating habits, especially when travelling to far-off places. I have seen friends packing their rice, lentils, spices, and Mom's home-made pickles while travelling to the USA for higher studies or for a new-found job during the 80s. Travel agents even now advertise Gujarati and Jain food options for customers as a part of package tours to the US and Europe.

Therefore, it was a interesting to see a recent article in the Economic Times about the new Indian travellers:

"It could be a platter of smoked Scottish salmon, a sampling of foie gras or a dinner of fugu fish that the Indian traveller now looks out for, a far cry from the times he would scout around for dal and chawal in every part of the world.

Exotic fares, luxury foods, even those that are highly priced, are in huge demand among... (those) who jet set across the world. Food is an important part of the itinerary for many and it's the local fare they relish. And when they are back home in India, their food preferences are never the same again. "

So I have company now. High time too!


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Dinner at The Chef's Table

Chef's Table UtahThe team dinner in the evening was at The Chef's Table restaurant in Provo. Zagat Survey says: Enthusiastic surveyors sing praises of this Orem old-world charmer that has a panoramic mountain view and attentive servers; the artistic food arrangements have so much eye appeal they look almost too good to eat, but they are indeed delicious and superb.

Chef's Table UtahThe food turned out every bit as good! Appetizers consisted of Coconut Crusted Shrimp, New England Crabcakes, and Roasted Tomato & Artichoke Bruscetta. The House Balsamic Salad was made of vine-ripened tomatoes, cucumbers, handcrafted croutons, baby lettuces and balsamic vinaigrette. My entree was an 8 oz center cut Beef Tenderloin Filet served with a generous portion of Garlic Sauteed Shrimp. Delicious!

Chef's Table UtahBy now I was quite full and didn't think I could eat any more, but then came the interesting Warm Apple Beggar's Purse I had selected for dessert. Simply wonderful. For dessert, you can also choose a Chocolate Opera Torte that looks very tempting.


Sundance and More

UtahI flew into Salt Lake City at about 9PM. My Delta connection from Los Angeles had been delayed by three hours due to a mechanical problem in the aircraft. Earlier, I had flown into the US from Mumbai via Hong Kong on Cathay-Pacific.

My hotel in the city of Orem, was about forty minutes drive from the airport. Too tired after the long journey, I went to bed directly after a hot shower and without dinner.

Sundance Resort UtahThe Hampton Inn & Suites at Orem is a bed-and-breakfast lodging surrounded by a few diners and restaurants. The snow-clad peaks all around makes for a pretty sight during the early morning hours. I went for a stroll in the crisp morning air and then walked into the nearby iHop for breakfast. The old-fashioned pot roast with vegetables and hash-browns washed down by lots of iced-tea was just the thing I needed to face the day!

Sundance Resort UtahSince we still had a couple of hours, I decided to drive down to the well-known Sundance Ski Resort which is a 20 minute drive from my hotel. The Sundance Resort became popular after Robert Redford bought the property in 1968. He also started the Sundance Film Festival in Utah which is now one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

Sundance Resort UtahThe Sundance's Owl Bar was moved from Wyoming. The restored 1890's bar is the original Rosewood Bar once frequented by Butch Cassidy's Hole-in-the-Wall Gang and now features live music on weekends.The cottages in the resort build with rough hewn wood, warm tones, and Native American accents blends nicely with the surroundings.

Sundance Resort UtahThe scenic views are a sight to behold, both enroute and in the resort itself. I will let my pictures do the talking! The ski-lifts were closed but there were a few visitors taking a liesurely stroll through winding paths between the tall fir trees. The sky was a bright blue, a mountain stream gurgled its way beside us, and snow-clad peak of Mt. Timpanogos rose above us. I would have loved to spend more time here, but we had a day full of meetings ahead.