Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pune Dining: August Updates

Kosha Mangsho at Oh! CalcuttaThis has been a bad month for dining out in Pune. With the swine flu scare in the city, dining out has considerably reduced. But not entirely. :)

Oh! Calcutta moved away from their buffet lunches and instead launched a gourmet platter for the lunch hours. They pamper you with three different starters, a mutton dish with poori, two types of fish entrees with steamed rice, and a couple of desserts at the end. You need a good appetite to finish that.

Oh! Calcutta
Starters at Oh! CalcuttaThe first starter was the Murshidabadi Murghi - a special batter-coated chicken - named after a town popular for its unique silk saries. The second was the Gandhoraj Bhetki - fish coated with a fine paste of mustard and gandhoraj (a variety of lime sourced from Bengal that literally means 'the king of aroma'!) before being delicately cooked. The last starter was the Kachra-Chingri Bhapa, crab-meat and minced prawns mixed with spices and steamed inside a banana-leaf. The accompanying chutneys were excellent - one made of tamarind, another of tomato and mustard paste, etc.

The Kosha Mangsho is a personal favorite. Even though it was very heavy and oily, I ended up scooping up a considerable portions of this mutton dish - made in a very thick gravy- with the accompanying pooris.

Pooris at Oh! CalcuttaThe Macher Jhol, a staple in Bengali fish preparation, was a different version - made in a tomato based gravy. Finally, the Chingri Macher Malai Kari, or prawns cooked in a gravy of coconut milk and delicate spices. Both were reasonably ok, but the highlight were the starters.

Bengali Papaya Chutney
Mach Tomatoer Jhol
Chingri Macher Malai KariDesserts consisted of mini Roshogollas and Malpua - again not particularly remarkable. The restaurant is also running a Ilish Festival - a fish that is particularly sought after in Bengal. The restaurant sources it straight from Bangladesh; the best Ilish are found in the River Padma. As you can imagine, that makes the prices for these prized dishes quite steep. Also, non-Bengalis be warned! The Ilish is filled with thin bones that needs expert handling. If you wish to try this fish, order the few boneless dishes on their special menu. The fish, incidentally, is incredible and very different from any other.

Note: Dec 2009 updates on Pune's newest dining spots is posted here.

Ilish Dhonepata Jhal
Desserts at Oh! CalcuttaHaving moved into Kalyani Nagar recently, I was hunting for new home-delivery options. Turns out there is a new kabab place in town, actually right in the heart of Kalyani Nagar where Casa de Goa existed before. Kabab King has a chef from Lucknow and an imposing menu that covers a lot of ground - from Lucknow to Hyderabad. The two kababs we ordered: Murgh Kali Mirch and Shahi Murgh Tikka were both better than those available from run-of-the-mill kabab places. Promising find; lucky me! Kabab King is located next to the Lifestyle mall in Kalyani Nagar in Floriana Estates. Ph: 3234-1333.

In the middle of all the swine-flu chaos in Pune this month, one new restaurant bravely opened its doors. Sen5es is a all-day dining restaurant in Oakwood Premier, the plush new five-star aparments that have come up in Koregaon Park just after the Kalyani Nagar bridge. No, that wasn't a typo - it is Sen5es indeed (you have five of them, remember?). Karen Anand went ga-ga over the Italian dishes she sampled in today's Times of India, but my interest was piqued by the fusion dishes on the menu: basil and prawns biryani, garam masala seared tuna with coconut lemon butter sauce. Sounds very interesting, doesn't it? Ph: 4142-8888

Finally, someone contacted me from The Courtyard by Marriott because they like this blog! They even invited me to their Momo Cafe once more for a dinner experience. What can I say? Keep watching this space. :)

Previous posts on Pune's dining scene:


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Restaurant on the Fifth

Tuna Zuke at the Fifth FloorHotel Palomar is unusual in more ways than one. A boutique hotel that combines arty decor with a chef-driven restaurant, this place only has its entrance lobby at street level -- everything else is five floors above. Ensconced in a discreet corner of this hotel is The Fifth Floor: an elegant restaurant adorned in rich fabrics and dark wood, that comes alive during the evening hours.

I had visited this place a few months back. This time I decided to try Chef Jennie Lorenzo's tasting menu but without the wine pairings. Unlike Cortez, all items on the tasting menu are available on their regular menu as well.

Fifth Floor Hotel Palomar San FranciscoMy waiter quickly served two different types of bread and a slab of butter. From my last experience and this one, I can say Fifth Floor serves some of the best bread in town. The one made with red wine was particularly interesting.

Delish breads at Fifth FloorThe amuse was a shot glass of chilled beet, milk froth and a few other ingredients, but the end result was unremarkable. I continued to nibble on the excellent bread and my fruity Pinot Noir waiting for something more exciting.

Amuse Bouche at Fifth FloorThe Tuna "Zuke" starter was nice! Sashimi strips with green tea soba noodles, yuzu vinaigrette and greens. The burst of 'fishiness' from the salmon caviar mixed with the tangy soya flavor enhancing the taste of the tuna. The crisp greens added another layer of taste and texture that was both unique and satisfying.

Tuna Zuke starter at Fifth FloorIt took a while for the next course to make it to my table. The English Pea Soup was served in a soup plate and garnished with spiced oil powder and calamari - a la plancha, i.e, grilled on a metal plate. The warm soup had a nice gingery-spicy taste that I liked.

English Pea Soup at Fifth FloorNext came my first entree, the Tea-Smoked Duck Breast with maitake mushrooms, glass noodles and blueberry infused dark sauce. This was the second dish today that was clearly inspired by Japanese elements. Did I mention Chef Jennie once worked for Ame, run by Japanese chef Hiro Sone and his wife? As for the duck: aha, this was excellent stuff! We were hitting the sweet spot now. The duck had been expertly marinated, and the contrast between the crispy skin and the flesh was wonderful. The slight tanginess of the noodles was a nice touch too.

Tea-Smoked Duck at Fifth FloorThe second entree was the Slow Roasted Pork Belly with a potato 'risotto', chorizo and broccoli florets. The dish looked large and I wondered if I could finish the whole thing. But once I got started, there was no looking back. This was a winner too and the taste of the spices came through the potato-based risotto very nicely.

Slow roasted pork belly at Fifth FloorThey offered an intermezzo of yogurt sorbet with peach that felt intensely cold, buttery and fresh -- all at the same time. Then came the dessert of chocolate goodies with a cup of chocolate 'soup'. Nice. Very nice!

As I waited for my cheque, they followed their tradition of bringing a small platter of freshly made sweets: a mini macaroon and a other French goodies.

Intermezzo at Fifth Floor
Chocolate Delights at Fifth Floor
Sweet Endings at Fifth FloorThis trip made a better impression on me that my previous one. Fifth Floor is a hidden gem tucked away from view, and a great choice for inventive, fresh creations in classy settings. Fifth Floor is also among the few to be awarded a Michelin star in this city.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Back to Cortez

I had enjoyed the food at Cortez so much I returned to this lively restaurant again during this trip. Interestingly, while Silicon Valley was warm and sunny, neighbouring San Francisco was cold, windy and rainy. However, I covered the distance to the Hotel Adigo on foot, hoping the restuarant would not be too crowded.

Like the last time, the restaurant excelled in its food and service. The chef's tasting menu (available only Mon-Thu; they have a different menu on weekends) is moderately priced considering it's Michelin star status. I decided to go with this for today - the menu combines some surprise items with popular ones on the regular menu.

The amuse bouches were delivered in quick succession as I watched the place begin to fill up. A spoon of appetizing mixture of almond, sour cream and some other tiny goodies followed by a shot-glass of chilled melon soup, a prawn and a sliver of ginger.

Amuse Bouches at Cortez
Chilled Melon Soup at CortezMy first course was Purple Cherokee tomatoes with burrata, olive oil and sea salt. They served it with very thin slices of sourdough crisps. I loved this one! Gourmet preparations of organic tomatoes are suddenly in vogue in upscale restaurants! Crunchy and delightful in their intermixing of tastes and textures on the palate, the juicy and fleshy goodness of the tomatoes made this a great start. This dish was paired with a very interesting white Italian wine that was similar to Riesling.

Purple Tomatoes at CortezNext came a 'surprise' starter: Alaskan salmon with blossoms/greens that I cannot remember. While the dish was good, it wasn't particularly memorable. This starter was paired with an Austrian sparkling wine.

Alaskan Salmon at CortezThe Sauteed Sea Scallops in lobster consomme and pomme puree was next - the first entree, and very good. This dish was served with spinach and spring vegetables. Squeaky fresh, cooked just right and very tasty with the lobster and potato sauce. The Chardonnay went very well with this preparation.

Sauteed Scallops at CortezThe second entree was the excellent Due of Niman Ranch Beef which I had so much enjoyed during my first visit here. The dish consists of a hanger steak paired with braised cheek, with glazed Thumbelina carrots, cipollini onions, date puree and preserved lemon jus. The contrasting textures and tastes of the two different chunks of meat were amazing. Cipollini onions are smaller, flatter onions that are sweeter than the regular variety but less than shallots. The wine? A Napa Valley Cabernet. I think my tongue just orgasmed at this point!

Duo of Niman Ranch Beef at CortezI went through my dessert slowly - a mango custard over shortbread and strawberry sorbet with sesame. They had served this with an Italian sweet wine that was delectible too. Man, that was good!

Mango Custard and Sorbet at Cortez
Strolling near Union Square San FranciscoI walked back to my hotel, a happy man, enjoying the evening scenes of downtown San Francisco, past the Union Square and its large shopping malls. This was another great dining experience. Cortez does an excellent job of combining great food, excellent service and an interesting but non-intimidating atmosphere for even casual diners.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Oases and Watering Holes

Strawberries at Hotel Palomar San FranciscoAncient travellers found much needed food, rest and supplies in the oases and watering holes of North Africa, in the dim-sum tea houses houses of southern China or the dhabas that still dot the Indian highways. For the modern jet-set traveller, business hotels attempt do the same - some a little better than others. Here's a quick post of my memorable food moments within business hotels during this trip to the Bay Area.

Bay 223 at Sofitel Silicon ValleyHaving spent the previous 24 hours on an airplane, all I wanted was a quick dinner so I could hit the bed, which looked very welcoming indeed. Bay 223, the restaurant of the Sofitel is bright, cheerful. The food here - a mix of American and French influences - can be quite good. Here are pictures of the potato-burnt garlic soup and the grilled salmon on a bed of ratatouille with pesto sauce. The chocolate-mango sorbet combination of my dessert was a nice touch too!

Potato Soup at Bay 223Grilled Salmon at Bay 223
Mango-Chocolate delight at Bay 223I actually two meetings on Sunday. One during lunch, the other over dinner. We grabbed lunch at Wahoo's Fish Tacos at Santana Row. Wahoo's is an interesting spin on Mexican food. A casual, outdoor ambiance - lots of surfing memorabilia - their signature dish are the Fish Tacos which I ordered along with their spicy white beans.

Wahoo's Fish Tacos
Wahoo's Fish TacosFor my dinner meeting, I went over to the nearby Four Seasons hotel in Palo Alto. It's Italian restaurant, Quattro, offers a Sunday supper menu which we decided to go with. Quattro features Northern Italian seasonal and light cuisine with an fresh Cal-Italian twist at breakfast and lunch.

Breads at QuattroWe began with the Jota Soup with Savoy Cabbage, Borlotti Beans, Poached Egg. The soup was good, especially since my jet-lag was now begining to hit me! The house-made Spaghettoni with Mamma Cartumini’s Famous Meatballs was not bad. But what I liked most was the seasonal dessert sampler: check out the pictures below.

Jota Soup at Quattro
Meat-ball Spaghattoni at Quattro
Dessert Sampler at QuattroOn another evening, after a day full of meetings I ordered a Cheeseburger at Bay 223. Look at the interesting way my French Fries were served. And yes, the cheeseburger was pretty good - I had decided to choose blue cheese, which main the burger a little more interesting than usual.

Cheeseburger at Bay 223And finally, the excellent Palomar hotel in downtown San Francisco. They surprised me with a platter of very artfully presented strawberries with chocolate sauce! The hearty breakfast in the morning was good enough to keep me going through the busy day too.

Breakfast at Fifth Floor Palomar hotelThe last week has been particularly maddening here: I was moving house, there was a crisis at work and now we seem to have a near-panic situation in Pune due to swine-flu. The good news is, the coming weeks can only be better!