Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dining at Michael Mina

Michael Mina in San FranciscoI chanced upon Micheal Mina, the celebrity chef's signature restaurant when strolling past Union Square in downtown San Francisco. Located in the historic St. Francis Westin hotel, this restaurant is resplendent in hues of brown and rich leather. I noticed with interest what turned to be Murano lighting accents on the high ceilings and soaring columns. I had no reservations, but they were able to find me a seat in the causal lounge co-located with the dining room.

Egyptian-born Michael Mina stated his career in the Seattle area, but it was only in San Francisco that he found fame after setting up Aqua. At this time he has dozens of restaurants, but the one I was in is considered his best.

Having narrowed down what I wanted to eat tonight, I picked a Hirsch Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast - turned out an excellent choice. Also, while the bread was good, the butter was particularly amazing - very yellow and apparently hand-churned. From my seat I could see the large clock in the lobby that is somewhat of an attraction given that it has been hard at work since 1906.

The clock in St. Francis HotelMy starter of the Hudson Valley Foie Gras made its appearance quickly. Layered over a cracker, this dish also had young ginger, peaches and greek yoghurt. The foie gras was fantastic - buttery soft, rich and a tantalizing medley of taste and texture. I savoured every morsel slowly with the toast and wine.

Foie Gras Terrine at Michael MinaI had chosen the Elysian Fields farm lamb chops as my entree. The dish was served with polenta, mustard greens, lamb tongue vinaigrette and was delicious . I enjoyed the taste of mustard greens in this dish - popularly known in north India as sarson ka saag, these greens were a particularly good combination with the chops.

Lamb Chops at Michael MinaDessert was their famous Root Beer Float with warm chocolate chip cookie. Now this was completely awesome and made for a fabulous end to my dinner. Scoops of homemade ice cream and tangy sorbet tantalized the tongue with the fizziness of the root beer. And the gooey, warm chocolate chip cookie was among the best I have ever had. This was truely the highlight - in addition to the foie gras.

Root beer float at Michael MinaNext time, I have to make a reservation so I can try out their main dining section. However, the prices in the lounge for the same dishes are lower and a great way to sample their most popular fare. Also the casual atmosphere here makes it a better choice when I am dining alone.

Michael Mina is one among only four restaurants in the entire Bay Area that have been awarded two Michelin stars. From what I could sample at this restaurant, becoming a celebrity chef with 20+ restaurants hasn't had a negative impact on the food. This is also among the few grand old hotels I have seen in America, and that was an additional bonus. When I return I have to try their Maine Lobster Pot Pie and the Quail presented three ways!


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dom Perignon and Caviar in the Sky

Singapore Air First ClassLuxury at 36000 feet over the Pacific Ocean! It is easy to forget you are in a cramped aluminium tube, full of people packed like sardines just behind the curtains. Easy to forget that is, when you are comfortably tucked into the spacious cocoon of Singapore Air's first class cabin. What made my trip particularly enjoyable was the fact that I hadn't even requested an upgrade.

Singapore Airlines First ClassI was flying my usual route from Mumbai to San Francisco via Singapore on business class. I slept through the flight to Singapore and in the morning I realized the flight was going to be late. By the time the flight landed, my connecting flight was already boarding - at the farthest end of the terminal. However, the efficient Singapore Airlines staff had a buggy waiting to transfer me (and another passenger) quickly to the gate. It was in Seoul, where the flight makes a brief halt, that I was upgraded to first - a very pleasant surprise.

Singapore Airlines First Class
Givenchy designed cutlery on Singapore AirlinesSingapore Air's first class cabin is configured like the business class, only four seats in a row. However these seats are are a full 35 inches wide and upholstered in fine-grain leather and mahagony wood. A high-resolution 23 inch LCD TV made movie viewing experience a delight.

Canapes of Chicken and Lamb SatayThey have a choice of Dom Perignon and Krug Grande Cuvee on their menu and I chose the former. As I sipped on the chilled champagne and nibbled on canapes of chicken and lamb satay, they handed out Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kits, Givenchy sleeper suits and suede slippers.

Dom Perignon in the airI watched three episodes of Mad Men back to back over drinks and dinner. I chose from the menu created by Alfred Portale of New York's Gotham Grill. Cauliflower panna cotta with smoked salmon, lemon oil and salmon caviar. This was followed by a pretty good corn chowder with spiced prawns and basil oil. Then came the main course, grilled sirloin in red wine sauce, braised red cabbage, baby carrots, Kenyan beans, and Yukon Gold-blue cheese potatoes.

Salmon and caviar starter
Corn Chowder
TartDessert consisted of a warm frangipani tart with fresh raspberry. This was surprisingly good and after a cup of Royal Darjeeling I dozed off.

With all that royal treatment in the skies, it was no surprise I was particularly well-rested the flight arrived in San Francisco on a lovely, warm day. There was a long line at the immigration but it took only 30 mintues to get through immigration, baggage claim and customs.

Sirloin Soup at Stax Hyatt Regency Mumbai
Dinner buffet at Stax Hyatt Regency Mumbai
Desserts at Stax Hyatt Regency Mumbai
Stax at the Hyatt Regency MumbaiEarlier in Mumbai, I had dined at Stax, the restaurant within Hyatt Regency. While there were just enough items on display, everything I tasted was excellent. The tenderloin-fried onion soup was hot and tasty; I had been feeling a little under the weather and the soup instantly revived me. The tava arbi starter was very interesting too. The Macchi Masala was superb as was the Murgh Lazeez and the Bhuna Pyaz ka Gosht.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pune Dining: New Updates

Fruit rabdi and other desserts at the Courtyard Marriott PuneThe Courtyard by Marriott in Hingewadi, Pune offers an excellent buffet. Until now, Seasons in Aundh was the only place for a decent business lunch in this part of town. But now at the Courtyard's Momo restaurant, superior quality breads, a variety of delectible dishes and mouth-watering desserts makes it worth the drive from the city. During evenings, they even have an al-fresco open-air barbeque (when it isn't raining). The menu is creative and the food made with attention to details. I am in love with the Fruit Rabdi here!

Buffet counter at in the Courtyard Marriott PuneCasanova in Kalyani Nagar no longer has an upscale feel to it. I returned to this Italian restaurant on a weekend. The pastas and soups were pretty good, but the place was not too filled and the waiters didn't know the menu very well. Also, the Volcano - their name for the chocolate lava cake - didn't taste as good as it did the first time. There was too much flour and too little chocolate, I guess.

Little gourmet at Casanova Pune
The Volcano lava cake at Casanova PuneMainland China continues to delight; I haven't come across many restaurants in this price range which can be so consistent in its quality. The Peppery Lemon Soup is my all-time favorite, the Jumbo Prawns in pepper-salt is yummilicious, and this time I discovered the Lotus-wrapped chicken fried rice, which is very fragrant and a great accompaniment to the Chengdu Claypot Chicken.

We also decided to party one evening with a friend at the Hard Rock Cafe. Only to find it was a dry day in Pune: no alcohol due to a religious festival! The virgin cocktails weren't too exciting but the Nachos with the Spinach and Mushroom Cheesy Dip was very appetizing.

Nacho platter at Hard Rock Cafe Pune
Hard Rock Cafe Pune
Virgin drinks at Hard Rock Cafe Pune
Among interesting new openings, Red Dragon opens its doors in Kalyani Nagar. The chef from the Tangra area of Kolkata which is home to many Chinese immigrants has lined up interesting Chinese fare. What is unique are the 'stir fry bowls': Korean rice bowl, Oyster Chilly bowl, Okayo in seafood, etc.

Lotus wrapped rice at Mainland China Pune
Chengdu Claypot Chicken at Mainland China PuneFoodies, note that Yellow Chilli now has a 'tasting menu' but this being no Michelin starred restaurant, it is very modestly priced.

Other recent posts on Pune's dining scene:


Friday, July 10, 2009

Delectible Chinese Fare

Charsiew Bao at Taipan New DelhiI was on a three-city tour that took me to Mumbai, Bangalore, and New Delhi within the span of four days. This whirlwind tour was particularly draining as I moved from hotel to car to airport every few hours, but at the end of it all there was a sense of achievement. However, since this is not blog where I talk about my Clark Kent persona, let me quickly morph into SuperFoodie and tell you about some fantastic culinary discoveries in these cities.

Taipan, the rooftop restaurant at The Oberoi in New Delhi serves up some of the best dim-sums in this country; they even have dim sum lunches on weekends. I discovered this on the day I was flying back home.

Dim Sum at Taipan Oberoi New Delhi
Dim Sum at Taipan Oberoi New DelhiIt seems dim sums first began appearing in the many tea houses that lined the Silk Route in southern China and Hong Kong. While initially it was taboo to serve food in tea houses, that began to change. Soon, there were places that specialized in dim sums lining the streets of Canton and the small cities frequented by weary travellers. At this time, dim sums places open as early as 5 AM in the morning to dish out the most sumptuous steamed dumplings to locals. Many places continue through the day when tourists pour in to sample these delicacies that touch the heart (dim sum literally means ' little bit of heart').

Starters at Taipan Oberoi New Delhi
Hot and Sour Soup at Taipan Oberoi New DelhiThe dim sum lunch at the Taipan included a choice of soup, a small selection of starters, lots of dim sums, noodles and a choice of dessert. I began with the Szechwan hot and sour soup with chicken. Starters included a shrimp wanton, prawn on roll and chicken spring roll. But what really got the taste buds going were the items to follow.

The Peking Duck pancakes were excellent. I didn't want to stuff myself so I could do justice to the dishes that were to come, but I couldn't resist polishing off both the pancakes they served.

Peking Duck Pancakes at Taipan Oberoi New DelhiThen came a series of bamboo dim sum containers with shrimp har gau, scallop and prawn dumplings, shrimp and asparagus dumplings, chicken and shrimp siewmai, chicken and lotus root dumpling, chicken and bell pepper, chicken and red pumpkin... you get the idea? Mouth-watering dim sums, one after the other, bursting with taste, flavour and occasionally singeing my mouth as I greedily dug into them.

Dim sums in Taipan Oberoi New Delhi
Dim sums in Taipan Oberoi New DelhiI particularly remember the Chicken nor mai gai - lotus wrapped sticky rice and chicken - and the Charsiew bao - barbecue pork filled buns. I wondered who could order noodles after that feast. But I had to try a dessert. My waitress recommended the chilled mango pudding, the lightest among the selection of desserts which turned out just right for me.

Mango Pudding at Taipan New Delhi
Taipan Oberoi New Delhi
Taipan Oberoi New DelhiTaipan is a truely elegant restaurant set against a panoramic view of the city and perfect for the dim sum lover. This is a great place for a business lunch or for an intimate dinner.

A few days earlier, I dined at the opulent China House within the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai. A restaurant like no other, China House exudes a sense of magnificence that is difficult to match. Featuring multiple interactive Chinese kitchens, private spaces and a high-energy lounge, this place creates a new paradigm for Chinese dining, where the cuisine is contemporary and presented with flair and creativity in captivating surroundings.

China House Grand Hyatt MumbaiLocated on the lobby level, China House has four distinct areas: the garden, the restaurant, the I Deck private lounge and the high-energy lounge. The restaurant itself flaunts five eye-catching open kitchens and private dining rooms (called Ginger, Chilli, Cinnamon and Nutmeg).

The most interesting feature here are the interactive open kitchens that consist of five stations – an appetiser section, a noodle and dumpling station, the Peking Duck station, the wok section and the dessert station. The Pick Your Fish corner, where guests can select their favourite seafood and the wood-fired Peking Duck oven are also a foodie's delight.

Seafood Fried Rice with Claypot Chicken in China House MumbaiThe Claypot Chicken with Smoked Bamboo Shoots in Chili sauce was quite delightful, with delicate flavors that brought out the best of the fresh ingredients. We paired this dish with the Seafood Fried Rice which had a liberal amount of seafood.

Green Tea Mousse at China House MumbaiThe dessert of a Green Tea flavored mousse with home-made passion-fruit (?) ice-cream was incredibly good. This is a restaurant now on my must-return list. The only dampener was they do not like cameras within the premises - Bollywood stars frequent this place often and that's probably the reason why.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Airports and Lounges

Flying out of San FranciscoI took the midnight flight out of San Francisco by Singapore Air. With the Air France crash still fresh in my mind, I was painfully aware of every turbulent stretch over the Pacific. It was early in the morning when we finally landed in Hong Kong. The Krisflyer lounge had some interesting items to nibble on: freshly made dim-sums with a chili-oil dip and ice-creams in cookies-and-cream flavor.

This time, I also watched more movies on the flight than usual: Coraline (a very unusual animation movie, the storyline quite dark and quirky but very creatively rendered), Watchmen (I wasn't very impressed), Taken (yawn!) and Valkyrie (not particularly gripping). After a hour's break in Hong Kong, I was re-boarded to continue on to Singapore.

JetQuay lounge in Singapore's Changi airportI had a complimentary invitation to Singapore's CIP JeyQuay lounge. 'All the hotshot millionaires of Singapore use this lounge' or so I was told. Apparently, there aren't many high net-worth individuals left or they aren't travelling - the lounge was completely empty. The girl waiting for me right at the arrival gate gave me a buggy ride to the lounge. They even have a special immigration/customs counter for their guests! The lounge is equipped with meeting rooms, massage chairs, nap rooms, food, drinks, etc. You can even have visitors from the city meet you here.

My friendly escort was from Mongolia. When I told her she was the first I had met from her country, she was pleasantly surprised. She said most in Singapore don't know Mongolia is a country, and assume Mongols are from China. She is currently studying in Singapore and was working here as an intern but wants to return to Ulan Bator. She said she likes the opportunities in Singapore but doesn't like the way people are treated here. I also learnt that many from Mongolia prefer to emigrate to Europe rather than to the US or other countries in Asia. Most learn Russian as their first foreign language, but English is fairly widespread now-a-days. Apparently the job situation is getting better too in Mongolia with more global companies entering the country to exploit its rich deposits of gold, minerals and oil.

JetQuay lounge in Singapore's Changi airportWith a few hours to kill, I spent most of the time writing up these blog posts. Since I began blogging, it has been relatively easy spending these long hours at airports. By the time I get home, I usually have a set of drafts written out that only need to be cleaned up and posted after putting together pictures from my digicam.

There was a huge crowd at the immigration counters and it took over an hour to get out of Mumbai airport. The traffic management continues to be pathetic; my driver took another 30 mintues to get his car, but we were finally outside and reached my hotel without further ado. I hope they use the current downturn to solve the traffic issue before airport traffic goes up again.