Friday, December 31, 2010

Xmas Goodness at La Terrazza

Cold cuts at La Terrazza PuneI had recently written about the terrific home-style Italian food at La Terrazza. Housed within the newly opened Hyatt Regency Pune, this place is a must for lovers of Italian food. Helmed by a good-natured Italian chef, La Terrazza takes pride in its hand-made pastas, wood-fired pizzas and other delights served in the informal settings of an Italian trattoria. I was here again on Christmas eve with my family, and the special menu they had crafted for this night made the experience memorable.

As we entered, my daughter was delighted with her close encounter with Santa! It wasn't too crowded yet, but as the evening progressed the restaurant got much busier. We settled down, selected a bottle of wine and ordered a platter of cold cuts before starting off with the prix fixe menu.

La Terrazza Pune
Santa at La Terrazza PuneThe first course from the Xmas menu was a soup: Cappalletti with chicken consomme. The little packets of meat filled pasta were delightful in the richly flavored clear soup. As we sipped our soups, two young girls in Christmas costumes came in singing Christmas carols. They even came up to our table to sing Jingle Bells with our little one!

Breads at La Terrazza Pune
Cappalletti Soup at La Terrazza Pune
Xmas carols at La Terrazza PuneThen came the Crusted Portobello with fresh herbs and garden salad. The dish looked like an Indian tikki, but there was no mistaking the Italian ancestry of this dish. The earthiness of the mushroom combined well with the herbs on the palate.

Crusted Portobello mushroom at La Terrazza PuneThe pappardelle pasta came next. Liberally covered with lamb Bolognese, the large, broad pasta was a delight to taste. Pasta comes in many forms. However, like good bread, good pasta is not easily available. I am glad to report, the pasta here is top notch. Also, the pappardelle is a variety I have never had until I ate at this restaurant. Loved it!

Pappardelle Pasta at La Terrazza PuneThe pan roasted breast of Duck was served on a bed of braised cabbage and potato with port sauce. I enjoyed the contrasting flavors and textures of this dish, though the wife wasn't as impressed.

Duck at La Terrazza PuneA selection of Italian hard cheeses came next. Served on a wooden platter with home-made marmalade, it gave us time to lazily finish our wine as we relished the special evening.

Italian cheese at La Terrazza PuneFinally, we gave attention to our dessert: a winter berry sabayon with almond sable. The foamy mixture over tangy berries were an interesting end to this sumptuous Xmas dining experience.

Winter berry Sabayon at La Terrazza PunePune foodies have been spoilt for choice with so many new hotels and restaurants. When I compare the Westin, the Marriott and the Hyatt in Pune, I think the Hyatt clearly has an edge with its superior service quality. Westin probably lacks the most in this area.

La Terrazza is located within the Hyatt Regency, Pune in Weikfield IT Park in Viman Nagar (right on Nagar Road).

With that, I guess I have penned my last post of this decade. See you in the next one! May the new one be full of fun and frolic for you. May you also travel to intersting lands and fill your plates with the most exciting of dishes. Happy New Year!

PS: My preview review of La Terrazza is posted here.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Chef At Fifth Floor

Fish entree at Fifth FloorMichelin starred Fifth Floor restaurant has a new chef, again! This delightful restaurant located within the Palomar Hotel in downtown San Francisco has been a stepping stone in the way up for several nationally acclaimed chefs. Early this summer, Chef Jennie Lorenzo decided to move out and David Bazirgan, whose work I have admired in the past, has now taken charge of the kitchen.

With a new chef we also have a new menu. Given my previous experience in Chef Papa Resto, I was eager to try out David's new creations at the Fifth Floor. Bazirgan has done Brazilian, Moroccan and Provencal before, so he brings a lot of different genres to the plate.

Amuse bouche at Fifth FloorThey started me of with some warm bread and sea-salt sprinkled butter; the amuse bouche quickly followed.

Then came the Oyster with sea-urchin and puffed rice. Very interesting on the plate as well as on the palate.

Oyster at Fifth FloorThe next course was Foie Gras with brioche and a sweet fruit jelly - an instant hit with me. Very luxuriously buttery-salty in the way only good foie gras can feel on the tongue.

Foie Gras at Fifth FloorThe Sea Bass followed. Lightly fried and combined with bok choy in a vinagrette sauce, the gingery tangy taste worked for me.

Fish at Fifth FloorThe Risotto with braised oxtail and bone marrow foam was exquisite. Very different and interesting. Funny thing, oxtail! At one time, oxtail only came from castrated oxen; now almost any type of cattle is used even though some think the traditional variety have the most flavor.

The Duck Breast was served in a large portion with swiss chard and a melange of flavors and textures.

Duck at Fifth FloorThey brought me a pomagranate sorbet with pomagranate seeds as a palate cleanser. The dessert platter of cheesecake, green tea ice cream and macaroon quickly followed.

Sorbet at Fifth Floor
Desserts at Fifth FloorOverall, a very promising new beginning at Fifth Floor. Now to see if they can get the star back at this restaurant. Compared to Jennie, I think David cares more about the taste and flavor than the overall presentation of his dishes; tonight was a good night for me.

PS: Previous reviews of Fifth Floor here, here and here.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Two Little Gems

Tealeaf Salad at Burma SuperstarI have devoted several posts to delightful fine-dining restaurants in the city of San Francisco. However, this city also has more than a few charming little places that local foodies swear by - places that lack the upscale ambiance and pretensions of fine dining but are famous only for the food they serve. During my last visit to San Francisco, I was lucky to visit two such hidden gems: Burma Supertar and The House of Nanking.

Burma Superstar dishes up authentic Burmese cuisine in a small intimate setting. They don't take reservations and there is always people waiting for tables. We gave the hostess our names and then went to a nearby bar to wait. Even before we had finished our first glass of wine, she called us - they had a table!

Burma Superstar San FranciscoWe ordered their famous Tea-leaf Salad, which has been featured on Food Network. This is a very interesting salad with imported Burmese tea leaves, tomatoes, lettuce, dried shrimp, fried garlic, sesame seeds and peanuts. I could see why it is so very popular with the regulars; the tangy, crunchy salad with so many textures can be addictive!

Tealeaf Salad at Burma SuperstarWe also ordered the Classic Chicken Cassarole which came with a cardamom-cinnamon flavored rice. Like traditional Indian chicken curry, it was made of braised leg of chicken on the bone, but also contained shrimps and was buried in a claypot with basmati rice, raisins and nuts. In other words, Burmese biryani!

Chicken Casserole at Burma SuperstarThe Pork Curry with Potato was made of braised tender pork and potatoes that had been marinated with pickled mangoes.

Pork Curry at Burma SuperstarAnd finally, their spiciest dish: Chilli Lamb, made with stir-fried lamb with dried and fresh chillies, onion and basil.

Every one of the dishes was fantastic! The Tealeaf Salad was particularly interesting to me, because it was so different from anything I have had before. They also brought the salad plate with all the different ingredients nicely arranged and mixed it table-side after a brief explanation.

Chilli Lamb at Burma SuperstarThe Casserole and Pork Curry were very tasty too, but somewhat similar to dishes cooked in my native state of West Bengal in India (which is located very close to Myanmar/Burma).

Regulars also swear by the Rainbow Salad and Samusa Soup. Unfortunately, we did not space for more food. But, as long-time readers know, I always save some space for desserts. :)

The Platha with Fresh Fruit and the Jackfruit Roll were both interesting. The Plata is another version of the Indian paratha. The leavened bread was lightly fried and covered with sweet, condensed milk and slices of fresh strawberries and bananas. The Jackfruit Roll was a paratha bread filled with jackfruit and dry fruits. Both desserts sufficiently unusual to make eating them interesting for me!

Platha with Fruit
Jackfruit RollBurma Superstar is a star on Yelp! With a cult following, the wait can sometimes be ridiculous. The food, like Burmese culture itself, draws on Indian, Thai and Chinese influences. The vibe is friendly, the crowd mixed and overall a great place to try something quite different.

The House of Nanking is an even smaller restaurant. Located at the edge of San Francisco's Chinatown district, this is another restaurant made famous by its legions of fans. Cramped interiors, an open kitchen area at the back, crates of Tsing Tao beer, and photographs of celebrities - I saw Anthony Bourdain and Rachael Ray - on the walls. A matronly Chinese lady purposefully came over and tossed us some menus, asking, "First time?". On learning we were indeed Nanking virgins, she sniffed and said, "I will tell you what to eat" and promptly snatched away the menus from our hands. Oh yes, the Soup Nazi lives on in the House of Nanking!

House of NankingShe started us off with Chrysanthemum Tea. Since I have had the real thing before, I wasn't too impressed, yet it was good to sip something hot in the wintry evening.

They served us a large bowl of Fish Soup which contained a whole fried fish inside! The soup was quite nice - delicate and flavorful.

Fish Soup at House of Nanking
The Fish in the Soup at House of NankingThen came the Sesame Chicken, one of their specialities. Crispy chunks of deep-fried chicken in a thick sweet-sour sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with slices of fried yam and chopped snow peas. This was a dish every bit as good as its reputation!

Sesame Chicken at House of NankingThe Salt/Pepper Shrimp was delightful too. Stirred with mushrooms and onion, the dish contrasted perfectly with the other dishes they served.

Salt Pepper Shrimp at House of NankingFinally came the Crispy Beef. This was the only dish we had asked them to include, having heard raves from others. The beef was crunchy on the outside and soft inside and expertly tossed with Boy Choy in a soy-based sauce. Excellent stuff!

Crispy Beef at House of NankingHouse of Nanking isn't for those who are looking for a leisurely dinner. With the long queues, cramped seating and brusque waitstaff, the only thing you are expected to do is enjoy your food and get out quick. This is also not authentic Chinese cuisine, but a fusion of Chinese and American influences. However, the end result is quite satisfying. Just leave the menus aside, discover your submissive side, and let them call the shots. You may actually enjoy the experience!

House of NankingBurma Superstar is located at 309 Clement Street between 4th and 5th Avenues. House of Nanking is located at 919 Kearny Street in the Financial District.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Meaty Musings

Ribeye at Chez Papa RestoMan probably began grilling meat from the time he discovered fire. This most basic cooking technique has survived the test of time everywhere. However, the choice of meats and how they are seasoned and served differs widely as you travel around the world. Succulent kababs in India, juicy steaks in America and elegantly prepared steak au poivre in France - a variety of delectable culinary magic created by grilling choice meats over open fires.

A week back, I dined at Kababs & Kurries in Bangalore. Kababs originated in Persia and were brought into India during the Mughal invasion. There are stories of soldiers who grilled meats on their swords over open fires. The primary meat in these regions have always been goat, but has expanded to include other meats, seafood, even vegetables to appease the varied palates of the peoples of the Indian subcontinent. As the Mughals settled down in India, their royal kitchens continuously refined the basic grilled meats into more elaborate forms.

Kababs & Kurries offers a choice of kababs and an elaborate variety of curries with exotic Indian breads. I chose the Burra Kabab and Murgh Angaar Kabab tonight with a portion of Dal Bukhar, accompanied by whole wheat Naan-e-Backumaach and Pudina Paratha breads.

Kababs & Kurries BangaloreThe Burra Kababs were street food during earlier times. You can relive some of those times by visiting our inner cities - the chowks and bazaars of North India. I distinctly remember the narrow lanes in the old city of Lucknow, where the mouth-watering aroma of grilling meat hung heavily in the cold, wintry evenings as men wrapped in shawls and woolen caps crowded around charcoal stoves grilling expertly marinated chunks of lamb and beef. The Burra Kabab at Kababs & Kurries are a distant cousin of that rustic fare. Made from the most tender portions of lamb, the meat is rubbed with ground spices and yogurt, marinated for a few hours and then grilled on skewers over a charcoal fire. The outcome quite excellent, I must add!

Kababs & Kurries BangaloreThe Murgh Angaar, was chicken drumsticks marinated with ginger and garlic paste, onion juice and spiced with fenugreek, mace and turmeric before being grilled on the tandoor to seal in the juices. Another great kabab that went really well with the black daal and mint flavored pudina paratha.

Kababs & Kurries BangaloreA couple of days earlier, I had discovered another restaurant to feast on Mughlai cuisine: Nawab Sahib in the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center, Mumbai. They serve a multi-course dinner that can be quite imposing and leave you feeling very full indeed. On the day I dined, they served us Gilawati Kabab and Murgh Achari. The former made of the finest mince of lamb with a zillion spices, shaped into round patties and fried in an iron griddle. The later made of chicken marinated in pungent spices and mustard oil before being grilled on a traditional tandoor.

Kababs at Nawab Sahib MumbaiA week later, I was halfway around the world in San Francisco. The nip in the air, the Christmas decorations and music everywhere gave the city a very festive atmosphere. I quickly made my way to Lark Creek Steak, one of my favorite places here. Unlike the East, grilled meats in the USA is all about meat, less about spices. There are other basic differences too. In India, meat - predominantly lamb and poultry - is freshly butchered and marinated in spices for hours before being slowly grilled. Here, beef goes through an elaborate process of ageing to make the meat more flavorful before it is brought into the kitchen, seasoned and grilled.

New York Strip at Lark Creek Steak
New York Strip at Lark Creek SteakIn the best American tradition, Lark Creek Steak takes pride on the quality of its meat and presents it in its most basic form. The 10 oz New York Strip was served with whipped potatoes topped with crispy onions and chives. Cooked medium-rare, the meat was flavorful and tasty, just what I needed after that walk in the biting cold windy weather outside. The salad, Little Gem Wedge, was a brilliant combination with bacon, chopped egg and a buttermilk-blue cheese dressing. The dessert of Profiteroles with vanilla ice-cream, chocolate sauce and candied almonds rounded off a fine a traditional steakhouse meal!

Little Gem Wedge at Lark Creek Steak
Profiteroles at Lark Creek SteakThe next day I was at Chez Papa Resto, another place I love. I ordered a Ribeye Steak here which quickly demonstrated the difference between an American Steakhouse and a French restaurant. Traditional American steak is usually always a great-tasting slab of meat plonked on a plate with whipped potato, spinach, or mac n' cheese and nothing else.

Baby Beet Salad at Chez Papa RestoThe French version of Ribeye was artistically presented in slices - the pink middle contrasting with the dark exterior - along with turnips, spinach, comte cheese, potato and house cured bacon terrine. The bacon terrine was a fancy creation on its own, fashioned out of delicately sandwiched strips of bacon.

Warm Praline Cake at Chez Papa RestoThe Baby Beet Salad with citron, watercress, goat milk creme fraiche, pickled beet vinaigrette and the dessert of Moist Praline Cake, coffee ganache and nut brittle chantilli rounded off a perfect dinner. Le dîner était fantastique!

The Japanese have their Yakitori carts, the Malays their satays, and the Americans their bar-be-ques. A variety of meats, carefully chosen spices, wood- and charcoal-fired stoves, tandoors and iron grills. For the meat-loving, travelling foodie, a world of choice!


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Going Shakahari In Style

Shakahari at Marriott ICC PuneEveryone thinks of India as a land of vegetarians. And why not? We probably have the largest number of people who do not eat meat. A survey in 2006 put the number at 31% of our population. As most of my readers will know, I do not belong to that tribe! While I love the many lip-smacking veggie delights my wife is capable of turning out at home, I develop serious withdrawal symptoms if I have to go without meat, fish or poultry for a few days.

Many visitors of this blog and followers of my twitter feeds grumble that I never review vegetarian items on the menu, which accounts for almost half the options in any restaurant in India. To you, dear veggie lovers, I dedicate this entire post!

Shakahari Pune MarriottShakahari, the signature restaurant at the newly opened Marriot Pune Convention Center, is completely vegetarian. This is probably the only 'five-star' purely vegetarian restaurant I have come across in India. Like the rest of the hotel, this restaurant is designed with a lot of dark wood, soaring ceiling and sports a very contemporary look. The buffet counter, with its splash of red, gives it an Asian touch.

Shakahari Pune MarriottThe dinner consists of a buffet-style selection of starters, salads and soups. You then choose from one of two fixed menu: one North Indian and the other Thai. Finally, you walk up to the 'dessert room' to sample their selection of Indian and Western delights.

Starters at ShakahariI was not sure if alcohol would be on the menu of a vegetarian restaurant, and was relieved that it was! The Chilean red was very good. I chose the Indian option for my main course, while my wife decided to try the Thai.

There were a variety of tawa fried tikkis and pancakes with their special dips that were all quite tasty. I tried a couple of salads and they were good too. I must point out that the spice levels were quite high in some of the dips and salads - not a problem for me, but could be for those not familiar with Indian food. The Laksa soup was a hit with my wife and daughter, but I found it a little different from the real thing. What I enjoyed most were the skewers of fresh tofu and veggies with a peanut dipping sauce.

Laksa Soup at Shakahari Pune Marriott
Veggie Starters at Shakahari Pune MarriottThe Indian dishes were all expertly prepared. Home-style cooking at its best in a five-star setting. Reminded me of the fixed lunch menu at The Oberoi in New Delhi, which was the one place I had eaten something like this before. The Sanghar Aur Paneer Ke Kofte was a delicate morsel of cottage cheese cooked in a tomato-cashew gravy. The Hing Dhania Ke Chatpate Aloo was asafoetida tempered baby potato cooked with yogurt and yellow chilli. The Bhuna Saag was spinach flavored with garlic. The accompanying bread basket of Naan and Missi Rotis were very good too.

Indian menu at ShakahariThe Thai options were delicious, going by the reaction of my wife and daughter. Their platter consisted of many interesting dishes: Thai Green Curry made with eggplant, bamboo shoots and sweet basil; Tofu with Black Pepper Sauce that was delightfully made with the addition of brocolli and white onion; Sambal Belchan that had okra, bok choy and beans with sambal paste; Mushroom and Bokchoy; and finally, Wok Fried Peanuts with Water Chestnuts in Kung Po Sauce. They loved the Soba Noodles too which was made with mixed vegetables.

Soba Noodles and Mushroom Bok Choy at Shakahari
Waterchestnut and Tofu dishes at ShakahariOverall, a good dining experience in a nice, upscale setting. The portions were very large and we were quite full even before touching the desserts. I tried the Baked Yogurt and the Kala Jamun from the dessert room. The Baked Dessert was particularly interesting with its honey topping.

The Dessert Room at Shakahari Pune MarriottVegetarian food in India has always been found in affordable settings. There are few upscale restaurants that restrict their menus to vegetarian stuff. Shakahari not only does this but takes the concept further by having Jain items on the menu too. For those who don't know, Jains do not eat most root vegetables, garlic, etc. The food here is good; now let's see if you love your veggies enough to pay for a five-star experience, instead of the usual Madhuban-Vaishali-Coffee House fare. :)

Shakahari at the ICC Marriott is located on Senapati Bapat Road, Pune. Ph: 6683 3333.