Friday, November 30, 2007

The World's (New) Culinary Capital

I had blogged about Michelin's first venture Eastwards. But who could have guessed the result? Tokyo has unseated Paris as the world's culinary capital. Michelin's Tokyo guide awarded 191 stars to 150 restaurants in the Japanese capital, the most number of stars awarded in any city. Previously, Paris had the most stars, at 65.

Eight restaurants in received Michelin's highest three-star rating, and this included two sushi eateries. But Paris can still claim to have the most 3-star rated restaurants, with 10 (France overall has 26).

Michelin Comes to TokyoAt the press conference, Michelin also crowned 82-year-old Jiro Ono of Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant in central Tokyo the world's oldest three-star chef.

A team of three undercover European and two Japanese inspectors spent a year and a half visiting 1,500 of Tokyo's estimated 160,000 restaurants to decide on the ratings, according to Michelin. The famed guidebook series rates establishments on excellence in cooking, service, decor and upkeep.

Read more details here. This has certainly silenced all those who thought the French cannot be impartial when it comes to food!

Other Michelin posts in my blog:


Monday, November 26, 2007

Not Just Parathas

NaanDuring childhood days in Mysore, I rarely ate out. Food was always freshly cooked at home and served hot. While lunch consisted of rice with meat or fish curry, dinner almost always consisted of chapatis that were served with dal and subzi (vegetable dishes). On special occasions, we would have pooris or parathas.

On those very rare occasions when we did eat out, it would be dosas at the popular Dasaprakash hotel.

ChapatiChapatis are the most popular Indian bread made at home, followed by parathas and pooris. Chapatis (also called roti or phulka) make no use of oil, unlike prarathas and pooris. Note: Picture of Naan by mind2mind2mind, and Chapati by Aaplemint.

Rice has been the staple for those who lived in the Coastal regions of India, while North Indians traditionally ate wheat-based breads. Now-a-days people tend to eat a little of both at home.

Chole BhatureIt was only when I began travelling and eating out that I realized there were an infinite variety of breads waiting to be discovered in India. Saturdays in Allahabad were special: almost always a movie with friends followed by dinner at the Civil Lines area. That's where I first tasted Chole Bhature. Made from refined flour like pooris, but more chewy and with a slight sour taste, they were awesome with the delicious chickpeas-based chole served with onion rings and fesh mint chutney. And very popular as one could see by the crowds waiting to be seated.

Mooli ParathasIn Dehradun, I would walk down to the Paltan Bazaar shopping area in cold winter evenings for some culinary indulgence. I discovered another new Indian bread here, the Missi Roti, made with besan. Oh what a delight it was polishing off curried eggs and paneer-matar on those foggy evenings.

Naans, Tandoori Rotis, Missi Rotis, Roomali Rotis, Laccha Parathas...I loved them all and knew where to find the best in the winding gullis of Lucknow. Usually always with a bowl of dal and kababs! And of course, Makke Ki Roti and Sarson Ka Saag (bread made of corn-flour with mustard greens usually served with a dollop of home-made butter) which is a speciality of Punjab during the winter months.

AppamI was now pretty certain I had gone through the gamut of Indian breads. Until I discovered the Taftan and the Sheermal. Unless you visit Kashmir, these breads are difficult to find in most parts of India. However, if you are in Delhi, I recommend The Great Kabab Factory at the Radission for a taste of these exotic Indian breads along with some mouth-watering kababs.

And finally in Pune I had my first Appam and Neer Dosas which are quite the staple in Konkan restaurants. An appam is just perfect to polish off spicy gassi, a hot-and-spicy gravy made with different meats (chicken, fish or prawns). Neer Dosas are very different from the regular dosas; there are very thin, very moist, and they melt in your mouth.

More AppamsNote: Pictures of Chole Bhature by Mayank Agrawal, Poori by Mad Tea Party, Mooli Parathas by Holy Jalapeno, Appam by Claire Forster and smruthy, Kachori by Sunday Night Dinner, Bhakri by evolvingcolor, Sheermal by richdrogpa, and Taftan by Zak.

But there is so much more to Indian breads. Here are excerpts form the Hindu BusinessLine last year:

You've heard of plebeian Indian breads like the roti, naan and kulcha, of course. But ever sunk your teeth into the spectacular Agra Ka Paratha? This leviathan of a bread is left to sizzle on a 40-kg griddle till it turns a flaky gossamer gold, making the air redolent with its delicious aroma.

Pooris. Click for recipe.Then there's Nawab Wajid Ali's spectacular multi-tiered Jalebi Paratha with its secret 200-year-old recipe! The Lifafa Paratha — shaped like an envelope with a pocket — is famous in Amritsar, while the pistachio-flecked Gauzban from Awadh — resembling a cow's tongue — is another epicurean delight.

Not to mention the 10-kg Halwa Paratha, which travels with the Nauchandi Mela across Uttar Pradesh and is served with halwa as an accompaniment.

"Indian cuisine is as diverse as its people and geography," says Radisson's Chef Arun Tyagi, who travelled and researched for the festival for three months. "We have been tracing the culinary journey of the humble bread from Hyderabad (with its linkage to West Asia) to the Vijayanagar Empire and its roots in the Telangana, the mighty Mughals and the aristocratic Nawabs of Avadh to the legendary kitchen of Punjab."

Kachoris"When I was travelling across Banaras, for instance, I came across a street called `Kachori ki Gali'! Now how many Indians know that such a street exists in our country?"

Being a multi-faceted country — textured with a variety of colours, cultures, festivals and languages — Tyagi feels Indian breads too possess an astounding multi-dimensionality. But interestingly, while the recipes of Indian curries — Mughlai, Awadhi, and even Rajasthani — have been documented, the breads' recipes have been passed down purely by word of mouth. And hence, the shroud of mystery that envelopes their provenance. In an evening drenched with culinary history, and plenty of food for thought, we partook of some amazing Indian breads with accompaniments like the flavour-charged murgh kalimirch tikka, the melt-in-the-mouth dorra kebabs, machli ajwaini and kofta naram dil.
Other exotic Indian breads worth a mention:

TaftanLal Roti: A Delhi speciality, this bread gets its name from its reddish-brown hue. A sweet, leavened bread, lal roti is also referred to as the sheermal, as it is akin to the bread of the same moniker available in Lucknow and Mehmoodabad.

Agra ka Paratha: The Agra ka Paratha is rarely known outside of Agra. Made in dome-shaped, gargantuan griddles, the bread was presumably discovered by Rambabu of Agra. It uses a gram-wheat-flour combo with a variety of fillings to give it a unique taste. Rambabu Paratha Bhandar in Agra, set up almost a century ago, continues to delight customers with this wonderful bread and even exports it.

Kachori: Banares is renowned for its jalebis and kachoris. The Kachori ki Gali here produces some of the most scrumptious kachoris in the world. Fennel and dhal-flavoured, potato-stuffed or paneer-filled, the result is pure manna.

Double Puri: A unique bread made in Amritsar, this is a double-tiered puri, a wonderful innovation by the city's Kanha restaurant. It is said that such huge crowds throng this eatery for breakfast every morning that in two hours flat the kitchen empties out its produce and shuts shop!

BhakriBhakri: Maharashtrian cuisine has some wonderful influences from south and central India. One of the most wonderful dishes of Maharashtra is the Bakri-keema from Kolhapur. A bread made from millet, the bakri teams wonderfully well with the fiery Kolhapuri keema. Update: Check this post for the recipe of the bhakri-pthale sandwich shown alongside.

Pathri: This exquisite bread from the Mopla community of Kerala is made of rice flour, rolled out like a phulka and smeared with coconut milk and saunf before serving. The sweetness of the coconut milk and fennel give it a wonderful taste.

Mawa Kachori: It is a tradition in Jodhpur that you begin each meal with a sweetmeat. You can't escape from the city's sweet hospitality or Mithi Manuhar as it's called. Mave ki Kachori, Besan ki Chaaki and Maakhan Vade are some of Jodhpur's renowned sweet bread offerings.

SheermalChowringhee Mughalai Paratha: The Mughalai Paratha, sold on Kolkata's Chowringhee Road, has imbibed influences from North India. A bread made of refined flour that is dipped in egg and fried, this paratha is a meal in itself and is sold at special roadside eateries.

Mandwa Ki Roti: Mandwa is a grain grown in the Himalayan regions of Garhwal, Himachal Pradesh, and Nepal. This plant requires no water to grow and does not get infected for years. A heat-generating grain, its rotis are ideal for the hilly regions and is eaten after being smeared with ghee and sugar.

Gauhat ka Paratha: Gauhat, a lentil grown in the mountains of Garhwal, is boiled and mixed with chopped onions, coriander and green chillies. This concoction is then stuffed in a Mandwa-flour dough, rolled out and cooked slowly on a tawa.

Kashmiri BreadsAnd finally Kashmir where you can try breads such as Sheermal and Baqerkhani, without which no Kashmiri breakfast is complete. Kashmiris use a variety of breads seldom seen elsewhere. Tsot and tsochvoru are small round breads, topped with poppy and sesame seeds and traditionally washed down with salt tea. Lavas is a cream coloured unleavened bread; baqerkhani is the Kashmiri equivalent of rough puff pastry and kulcha is a melt-in-the mouth variety of short-bread, sweet or savoury, topped with poppy seeds.

And so, dear readers, if you thought only the French have variety in their bread, think again! :-)

If you liked this, you may also enjoy the following posts:


Saturday, November 24, 2007

O Jerusalem!

I like planning my vacations way in advance. I love the process of getting to the actual trip, especially if it involves a country or a city I have never visited before. As I begin planning my next trip abroad, I have been asking myself, "After Europe, what?"

Old Jewish Quarter in JerusalemThe obvious choices are Africa and Australia. I haven't set foot on these continents thus far. While my initial impulse was to do a real African Safari, I have been recently contemplating visiting Morocco and/or Egypt instead. But there is one place that fascinates me no end but I am wary of planning a family vacation in: Israel. Note: Jerusalem picture by Sam Rohn.

I read an interesting article on Israel in the Hindustan Times recently. Completely different from the usual stuff you read about continuing hostilities, the killings and the tragedy.

The author, Samar Halarnkar, begins with this funny observation: First, let's get this out of the way. Israeli women are not just stunning and fit but very stylish. Come to think of it, they are a lot like Iranian women. A friend who has lived in Tehran told me this, tongue firmly in cheek: "If they procreated (ie., the Iranians with the Isrealis), you would have some of the world's most beautiful people."

He goes on talk about how women are ubiquitous in Israel. He says, "Women are everywhere: soldiers with rifles, security personnel manning the country’s ubiquitous x-ray machines, running passport controls — and most look like models. Many tour guides are women, weaving their country’s biblical past into a great national narrative with great passion. I met two energetic grandmothers, both in their 50s (one had a grand-daughter aged 22, another a grandson aged 17), sprinting up stairs and barely breaking into a sweat as they rushed our group of huffing Indian journos from historical site to museum. When we met with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, three stooping, old women brought coffee and snacks."

Israeli Tourists in GoaIndians will feel welcome here. Many Isrealis visit India for their vacations; Goa is a popular tourist destination for the young. Here are some interesting notes from the HT article:

There is no country I have visited where being Indian evokes instant acknowledgement — and a smile. Young people behind shop counters, artists, bureaucrats, politicians, middle-aged university professors who may not have gone to India but know enough about it from their children. Even a grim-faced security officer at the heavily guarded presidential home in Jerusalem let down his guard for just an instant to reveal he was heading to India next month."

The biggest surprise came from a young Israeli at an airport bookstore. “Tu marathi bolto (Do you speak Marathi)?” he asked delightedly. His Marathi wasn’t particularly strong, but then he had been to India only once. Uziel Moshe was the son of Maharashtrian Jews, one of 70,000 Jews of Indian origin who streamed into the promised land over the last 30 years. His colleague, an Asheknazi or European Jew, grinned and said: “Woh Marathi bolta hain, main toda Hindi boltan houn (He speaks Marathi, I speak some Hindi).”

All this recognition is aided by the fact that 40,000 Israelis head to India every year to let off steam after their two years of compulsory military service. When you consider that Israel's population would comfortably fit into Mumbai's suburbs, the universal recognition is clear. And links appear when you least expect them.

“Ichaka dana, bechaka dana …” We were driving in the Judean desert heading for the Dead Sea when Tikhva Levin, our guide, who was really a professional archaeologist, suddenly broke into this ancient Raj Kapoor hit. She had been with us for two days and was one of those rare people who showed little interest in India. “You know this song?” Levin asked cheerfully. “It’s from a movie I saw when I was younger. I cried so much. It’s still popular in Israel this movie, The Wanderer. The Wanderer? Ah, she was talking of Awara, the universal Indian hit from Russia to Morocco.

I really hope I will be able to travel to this tiny but historical place during this lifetime...


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Full Circle

There have been a spate of articles - and even books - in recent times on the resurgence of India and China. Yet, not everyone realizes that we are only coming a full circle. Both China and India led the world in scientific endeavor before the 15th century.

Here are some excerpts from a recent article in The Economist (read the original article in full here).

TOWARDS the end of the 11th century, while tardy Europeans kept time with sundials, Su Sung of China completed his masterpiece: a water clock of great intricacy and accuracy.

Clock-making was only one scientific endeavour in which China and India comfortably led the world before the 15th century. China outstripped Europe in its understanding of hydraulics, iron smelting and shipbuilding. Clean your teeth with a toothbrush, rebuff the rain with a collapsible umbrella, turn a playing card, light a match, write, pay—or even wipe your behind—with paper, and you register a debt to China's powers of invention.

India's genius, then as now, was in software not hardware. Its ancient civilisations ushered in a “mathematical revolution” from the fifth century, when Aryabhata devised something like the decimal system. In the seventh century Brahmagupta explained that a number multiplied by zero was zero. By the 15th century, Madhava had calculated pi to more than ten decimal places.

After the 15th century, however, the technological clock stopped in both countries, even as it accelerated in Europe. This peculiar loss of momentum, noted Joseph Needham, a great historian of Chinese science, takes some explaining. Why, he asked, did the science of Galileo emerge “in Pisa but not in Patna or Peking”? Roddam Narasimha of India's National Institute of Advanced Studies reaches a conclusion: “Up to the 18th century, the East in general was strong and prosperous, the status quo was comfortable, and there was no great internal pressure to change the global order,” he writes.

Simon Cox, the author of this article, goes on to make a very insightful observation:

“But even as India's technological powers make a splash in the world, they stir only the surface of its own vast society. India produces more engineering graduates than America. But it has only 24 personal computers for every 1,000 people, and fewer than three broadband connections. India's billion-strong population cuts both ways. Whenever an Indian demographic appears as a numerator, the resulting number looks big. But whenever its population is in the denominator, the number looks small. It is like looking at the same phenomenon from opposite ends of a telescope. As of now, India matters more to technology than technology does to India.”


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Michelin Arrives Early in LA And Vegas

Michelin Three Star Joel Robuchon Las VegasMichelin's first ever restaurant guides for Los Angeles and Las Vegas were accidentally leaked on their website a week early. Apparently, this is the first time such a leak has happened in Michelin's 100 year history; they have also confirmed the authenticity of the leaked list. LA gourmets may feel a little miffed with no restaurant getting three stars; however, Las Vegas now has one certified three-star restaurant, Joël Robuchon. Surprisingly, Thomas Keller's Las Vegas restaurant didn't get a star.

While the guides become officially available on Nov 20th, here's an early look at those which earned the coveted Michelin stars :

LA Michelin Three Stars (signifying exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey) :


LA Michelin Two Stars (means an excellent cuisine, worth a detour) :

Mélisse, Santa Monica
Spago, Beverly Hills
Urasawa, Beverly Hills

LA Michelin One Star (meaning a very good restaurant in its category) :

Asanebo, Studio City
Cut, Beverly Hills
Joe's, Venice
La Botte, Santa Monica
Matsuhisa, Beverly Hills
Mori Sushi, West Los Angeles
Ortolan, Los Angeles
Patina, Los Angeles
Providence, Los Angeles
Ritz-Carlton Huntington Dining Room, Pasadena
Saddle Peak Lodge, Calabasas
Sona, West Hollywood
Trattoria Tre Venezie, Pasadena
Valentino, Santa Monica
Water Grill, Los Angeles

Las Vegas Michelin Three Stars

Joël Robuchon, MGM-Grand

Las Vegas Michelin Two Stars

Alex, Wynn Resort
Guy Savoy, Caeser's Palace
Picasso, Bellagio

Las Vegas Michelin One Star

Alizé, Palms Casino Resort
Andre's, Downtown
Aureole, Mandalay Bay
Bradley Ogden, Caeser's Palace
DB Brasserie, Wynn
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, MGM-Grand
Le Cirque, Bellagio
Mesa Grill, Caeser's Palace
Michael Mina, Bellagio
Mix, Mandalay Bay
Nobu, Hard Rock Resort
Wing Lei, Wynn Resort

For the latest Michelin ratings of San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country restaurants, see my earlier post.

Trivia buffs, here are some other Michelin facts: Taillevent, the Paris restaurant that has held three Michelin stars for 34 years, lost one of the stars this year. France has 26 three-star restaurants, by far the highest of any country. The guides and maps division represents about 1 percent of revenue for France-based Michelin, the world's biggest tiremaker.

After Europe and recently the USA, Michelin Guides is headed eastwards; watch this space!


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Best American Food

Many American friends are stumped when I ask them about traditional American fare. Americans have had exposure to global cuisine for a long time thanks to immigrating people from every corner of the world; in fact, many would consider Italian staples such as pasta American. I recently discovered an article on the Best American Food at Conde Nast Traveller by Alan Richman that made me smile. This is how he begins:

American BarbequeBefore we were able to pay attention to food, Americans had to perfect democracy, settle the West, free the slaves, crush the Nazis, and fight the commies. Meanwhile, we ate whatever was at hand. We stewed squirrels. We turned turtles into soup. Food was secondary. Oh, we had raw materials aplenty: fields of waving grain, herds of juicy protein, oceans of non-farmed fish. We just didn't know what to do with it all. Note: Barbeque picture by LennieZ.

Our first uniquely American restaurants appeared in the fifties and sixties. We called them Polynesian, even though none of us knew where Polynesia was or what Polynesians ate. We concocted Sesame Chicken Aku-Aku and Shrimp Bongo Bongo. It was our first date food. In the seventies, food started to change, courtesy of a place we had never taken seriously before: California - home to Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck, fresh vegetables and wood-grilled meats.

Once we discovered how much fun it was to eat, there was no stopping us. We freed chickens from their pens - and ate them! We let pasta get cold - on purpose! We shunned preservatives that prevented spoilage - and called it health food!

Read the entire article and his recommendations on the best of American cooking here.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Worth Flying First Class?

With flat-beds becoming ubiquitous in business class, I have wondered if flying first class is any longer significantly better. When I checked in at the Lufthansa counter in San Francisco recently to catch a flight to Frankfurt, I got a chance to evaluate for myself. Lufthansa had decided to bump me up to first class. So here are my observations:

On Lufthansa's 747 lang-haul aircraft, the first class cabin is in the upper deck. Pros: the first-class cabin is segregated from the rest of the cabins; people from elsewhere will not keep the toilets occupied! Cons: you have to climb the staircase to and from the upper deck with your luggage.

The seat seems luxurious and wide; however the new business class seats on Singapore Airlines and even Virgin are almost as good; I wouldn't pay extra for the seating comfort.

The entertainment system sucks. The TV screen is very small compared to the newer cabins in Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, etc. Actually, even Lufthansa's business class cabins seem to be equipped with better screens. On the positive side, the seats have ordinary 100V power outlets to connect a laptop without requiring special adapters. Also, plugging in your own Bose headphones is much easier done in these seats as compared to their Business Class.

What else? Let's see... you get a different (better quality?) amenity kit, pajamas to change into, and incrementally better selection of food and wine - I clearly remember the Beluga caviar on toast which never makes an appearance in Business class. :-)

Net-net: I wouldn't pay extra to upgrade from Business to First on Lufthansa. Also, Business class on Singapore's new aircraft offer as much as Lufthansa's First does today.

Singapore Airlines First Class Suite on the A380

BTW, many of you may have already heard about Singapore Airlines' new First Class Suites on their new A380. If you haven't, take a look here. I have also put a few pictures here. As you can see, everything is very tastefully done, and I particularly like their choice of colors.

Singapore Airlines First Class Suite on the A380

Other features: hand-stitched leather armchair, standalone bed (not converted from a seat), turn-down service, more privacy with sliding doors and window blinds, full-length wardrobe, Givenchy designed pajamas & tableware, and an entertainment system consisting of a 23 inch LCD screen, 100 movies, 700 music CDs, and 20 radio channels. Now that a reason to want to make some more money, right? :-)

Singapore Airlines First Class Suite on the A380


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Happy Diwali!

Tomorrow the country will light up in celebration of Diwali. A corruption of the Sanskrit word Deepavali, meaning ‘row of lights’, this is probably South Asia’s biggest festival and certainly one of the biggest in India. Note: Diwali pictures in this post by greeshma, yashrg, one hot stove.

Diwali in IndiaDuring Diwali, homes are decorated with rows and rows of oil-lamps in the evening and the night skies explode with fireworks. Unfortunately, more people now-a-days are choosing convenience over tradition: you see more fancy electric lights and candles instead of the prettier, and traditional, oil-lamps.

In Diwali, it is common for people to buy new clothes and visit friends and family to exchange greetings and gifts. Diwali is also an auspicious time to move into a new house or buy a new car. In fact, like Christmas season in the USA, Diwali shopping accounts for a big chunk of the annual sales of many consumer goods in India.

Two Goddesses in particular are celebrated at Diwali: Lakshmi and Kali. In the North, this is also a time for some harmless gambling over card games!

Diwali in IndiaThe date of Diwali is set by the Hindu calendar and so it varies in the Western calendar, but usually falls in October or November. This year Diwali will be celebrated on Nov 8-9, and so everyone gets a long weekend. For the kids, Diwali means firecrackers, new clothes, lots of good food, and loads of sweets. No surprise then that my daughter eagerly awaits Diwali every year even though she is easily scared by some of the firecrackers (she is all of four).

For first-time visitors to India, I must warn you that Diwali can be pretty noisy with firecrackers exploding every few minutes on the roads, over rooftops, and in community parks. The fervour of the festival can be best experienced by celebrating amid a Hindu family, even though five-star hotels will usually arrange fireworks during the evenings and a gourmet spread at dinner too.

Like most Hindu festivals, the origins of Diwali are a matter of mythology. Here are the two popular versions of how Diwali originated:

1. The killing of the demon Narakaasura

The demon was the evil king of Pragjyotishpur, near Nepal. He ruled with a reign of terror, abducted 16,000 daughters of the gods, and stole the earrings of Aditi, mother of the gods.

The gods asked Lord Krishna for help, and after a mighty battle he killed the demon, freed the girls, and recovered the earrings.

Diwali in IndiaAfter his victory Krishna returned very early in the morning and was bathed and massaged with scented oils. Taking an early morning bath with oil is still a Diwali tradition (especially in South India).

2. The killing of the demon Ravana

Ravana, who had ten arms and ten heads, was the wicked king of the island of Lanka, who kidnapped the wife of Rama. Rama had been in exile for 14 years because of a disagreement as to whether he or his brother should be the next king in Ayodhya.

After a great battle Rama killed the demon and recovered his wife. Rama's return with his wife Sita to Ayodhya and his subsequent coronation as king is celebrated at Diwali.

When Rama and Sita first returned to Ayodhya it was a dark moonless night and they couldn't see where they were going. Their people put little lamps outside their houses so that the new king and queen could find their way, thus beginning the tradition of the festival of lights.

Read “The Story of Diwali” if you are interested in more of the Hindu mythology surrounding this festival.


The Best Restaurant in the USA?

Gourmet magazine's Top 50 Restuarants in the USA puts Alinea at #1. This Chicago-based restaurant is owned and run by chef Grant Achatz who once worked as Thomas Keller's sous-chef at the French Laundry and even spent a week cooking at El Bulli (check my post on The World's Best Restaurant).

Exqusite creations at AlineaSays Gayot, "Alinea should charge you just to tour the place, to soak up the atmosphere and pick up some very smart decorating tips. But it’s not the décor that causes foodies to fly in to dine here. This is kaiseki dining Western-style from chef Grant Achatz. In other words, multi-courses of magnificent morsels that are cunningly (and sometimes whimsically) crafted, elegantly presented, and joyfully consumed in a setting that is so comfortable that it squeaks."

Exqusite creations at AlineaHere are some pictures of the work of art you are expected to eat in this restaurant. Alinea seats 70 people at 20 tables; meals consist of either a 12-course tasting menu or a 24-course "tour," and can last up to four hours. The 12-course dinner is priced at $135 and the 24-course dinner will put you back by $195. The wine pairings are separately priced.

Exqusite creations at AlineaThe cuisine at Alinea bears the torch in America for what is known as molecular gastronomy. Consensus seems to be that Ferran Adria, the godfather of this movement is a genius.

Exqusite creations at AlineaAdria's restaurant El Bulli is radical in it's experiment with flavors, taste and is not for the faint-hearted. Alinea, on the other hand, uses the same philosophy of applying modern science to culinary problems, yet follows conventional wisdom on flavor and taste.

Exqusite creations at AlineaThis restaurant is currently among the top two American restaurants on my wish-list, the other one being The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California.

Alinea is located at 1723 N Halsted St. Chicago, IL 60614. Phone: 312.867.0110

Exqusite creations at Alinea


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Durga Puja

Goddess DurgaWhen I was in the USA a few weeks back, my family was celebrating Durga Puja (or Durga Pujo like we Bengalis pronounce it). While most of India celebrates Dussehra, Bengal celebrates its biggest annual festival with great pomp and ceremony. In Eastern India and particularly West Bengal, Durga Puja is more important than any other festival.

Durga Puja Pandal in KolkataThis festival is dedicated to the worship of Goddess Durga and a celebration of victory of good over evil. In Kolkata alone, almost two thousand pandals are setup where people can participate in community celebration and worship the Goddess. Over a period, this festival has also turned into an event to showcase the talent and creativity of local artisans, who create awe-inspiring pandals and idols of the Goddess. Here are some pictures from this year's Durga Pujas in Kolkata.

Durga PujaThe idols of the Goddess (usually made of clay) are immersed in the Ganges after a week-long celebration. The pandals are also temporary and are taken down after the festival. But during the week of Durga Pujas, Kolkata is a city transformed. Vehicular traffic comes to a stand-still on most roads, as revellers take over. Dressed in their best, you can see groups of people going from pandal to pandal and admiring the work and creativity on display. Morning and late evenings are usually reserved for worshipping the Goddess. And, of course, like all things Bengali, food and sweets play a major role during this time too!

Durga Puja


Monday, November 05, 2007

And Now Tokyo

After America, the folks at Michelin have turned eastwards. Tokyo chefs are eagerly watching the countdown to the November 22 launch of Michelin's Tokyo guide. Note: Pics of kaiseki in this post by squaylor and gnuf

Kaisaki feast in TokyoThe Financial Times recent ran a great article on gastronomic Tokyo, but the online version requires subscription. Some excerpts:

...A new attitude and a convergence of trends are propelling the city to the fore of the global gourmet circuit. While ¥150,000 meals and ¥900,000 wines are still readily available in today's sophisticated Tokyo, what inevitably surprises - and delights - visitors is the growing diversity, and quality, of culinary experience available on any budget.

Whether it is a Michelin three-star chef's exquisite creation in an imposing chateau, or a humble but perfectly chargrilled chicken skewers for ¥600; or a delicate kaiseki feast - traditional haute cuisine - served by kimonoed waitresses in an ancient wooden house, the offering can beguile even seasoned gourmets.

Kaisaki feast in TokyoOn a per capita basis, Tokyo (population 9 million) boasts one of the highest concentrations of eateries of any major city - just under 200,000, or one restaurant for every 45 people. "The Japanese are insatiably curious, and love food...tracking the fads and restaurant rankings is a national pastime", says Mary Corbett, a cross-cultural consultant in Tokyo.

"Gagnaire, Ramsey, Ducasse...nearly all the big names seem to have come to Tokyo", says Jean-Luc Naret, director of Michelin Guides. Joel Robuchon and Dominique Corby were among the handful of prominent foriegn chefs in Tokyo in the early 1990s. Now there are nearly 50 internationally recognized foreign chefs operating in Japan - about 15 of whom have held Michelin's top three-star rating. These include Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Marc Haeberlin, Robuchon, Gordon Ramsey, Michel Troisgros and Voisin.

Michelin says about 60% of it's guide will be Japanese and other cuisines will make up the remainder, a third of which will be French.

Curiously, in Zagat's Tokyo guide, only a third of the listed restaurants serve Japanese food. Top of this year's rankings was l'Osier, a French restaurant.

Update: The Tokyo Michelin Guides have been announced. Read this post.


Friday, November 02, 2007

The Immigration Question

During a recent conversation with another world traveller, we were debating the pros and cons of people migrating across cultures and countries. Travellers to distant places have always done the most in bringing peoples together. Since ancient times, immigrants have helped bridge cultural gaps, foster better understanding and tried bringing their home country and their country of origin closer.

Polish Immigrants in BritainOn the downside, immigration has diluted tradition and homogenized the population. When travelling to distant lands today, you find more things that are common than those that are different. Food, clothing, and even the TV programs we watch seem to be be progressively converging. There are times when I wish I were a traveller in the 18th century rather than now... :-)

Speaking about immigration, the New York Times recently ran an article on Polish immigrants in Britain. Since Poland joined the EU in 2004, an estimated 1.1 million Poles have come to Britain. They are today, after India and Ireland, the third-largest immigrant population in this country.

Polish Sausages in EnglandBritain estimates that immigration has added about $12.3 billion to the nation's economy last year. Additionally, East European immigration has reduced inflation pressure by increasing the supply of goods and services. In fact, Poland's improving economy this year is causing a new problem: slowing immigration that could lead to labor shortages in British industry.

Today, the reputation of Polish construction workers, nannies and (of course!) plumbers are so high that other East European immigrants say they are Polish to land jobs. Surprisingly and unlike Asian immigrants, the Poles did not restict themselves to the cities, but even moved into remote towns. Read the full NYT article here.

The Polish PlumberWhen Britain was opening its doors to Polish immigrants, France used the Polish plumber as a symbol of cheap labor to close its doors during the European Constitution referendum of 2005.

Poland recently responded with a tongue-in-cheek tourism ad which shows a Polish plumber saying "I am staying in Poland, do come and visit us"!


Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Sofitel and Amber

Before flying back to India, I had to be in Redwood City for a few days, where I again stayed at the Sofitel. The Sofitel's Bay 223, a French restaurant overlooking the lagoon, is a great place for a business lunch.

Sofitel Hotel Redwood CityThe salmon I ordered for lunch was tasty as were the crepes with fresh strawberries I ordered for breakfast on the day I was flying out. In addition to it's many charms, The Sofitel is probably among the few hotels in the US which provide a free bottle of water every day!

Bay 223 Sofitel Hotel Redwood CityThis was also one of those rare times when I actually went out to eat Indian food while in the US. I did this primarily because a friend strongly recommended I try Amber in Santana Row. This Zagat rated restaurant has a very interesting ambience with simulated stars on an indigo background and sanskrit shlokas printed all around. Smartly dressed waitresses in indigo uniforms and tea candles on the tables all match the upscale feel to this restaurant.

Amber Santana Row San JoseI ordered the Basil and Three Cheese Tikkis for starters. These are crumb-fried paneer, goat cheese & mozzarella patties flavored with basil and fennel seeds. They were good, but not great. However the Lamb Pepper Fry, stir-fried lamb with pepper corn & spices was pretty good. The kulchas, a variety of Indian bread was good too. I particularly liked my dessert, the Strawberry-Mango Kulfi, an interesting variation of the popular frozen Indian dessert.

Amber Santana Row San Jose
Amber is located at 377 Santana Row Suite 1140, San Jose, CA 95128 Phone: 408.248.5400