Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day Trip to Lavasa

LavasaThe upcoming hill city of Lavasa is known as much for its green verdant surroundings as for the controversies related to commercial exploitation of forested lands close to a vital water reservior. Driving to Lavasa from Pune is a pleasure, especially at this time. The roads are excellent and scenic.

Temple enroute to LavasaWild flowers and small farmlands filled with sugarcane and sunflowers passed by as we ascended the winding roads leading up the hills. Wispy clouds surrounded us as we marvelled at the beautiful hilly vistas as far as the eye could see.

Enroute to Lavasa
Enroute to LavasaWe stopped briefly at the Temghar dam, a desolate large structure on the Mutha river. The river Mutha originates close by near a village of the same name. This is an area with multiple dams and catchment areas - a critical lifeline for Pune since much of its water-supply depends on the rains that fall here and are collected by these dams for use through the year.

Tamshet dam
Enroute to LavasaIt was lightly drizzling as we arrived at the gates of Lavasa, but the sun came out shortly after and the steam rising from the roads made for an interesting picture.

Lavasa from the hilltopWe had made bookings for lunch at Ekaant, a well appointed lodge at the top of the hill, overlooking the lake and cityscape of this hill town. We freshened up and rested for a while before heading to their restaurant, Vyanjan, for lunch.

Ekaant in Lavasa
Ekaant in Lavasa
Ekaant in Lavasa
Ekaant in LavasaVyanjan serves a very good lunch buffet. South Indian, North Indian, Italian and Chinese food was combined together for a scrumptuous spread to please any palate. I especially liked their fiery Baramati mutton curry and Amritsari fish tikkas. The kosambari salad brought back memories of my days at Mysore. Dessert consisted of fruits, gajar ka halwa and a creative twist on mousse made with Rasgulla, Gulkand and called Gul Gul Mousse. It was actually pretty good!

Lunch buffet at Ekaant, Lavasa
Lunch buffet at Ekaant, Lavasa
Lunch buffet at Ekaant, Lavasa
Lunch buffet at Ekaant, Lavasa
Desserts at Ekaant, LavasaWith prior planning you can do rock-climbing, water-sports and other stuff. We down to the city, still under construction. They are designing villas and the waterfront buildings to resemble the Italian Riviera.

Waterfront apartments and villas at LavasaLavasa/Ekaant is a good option for a quick day-trip from Pune. You can make reservations for lunch and/or boarding in Ekaant at: 020-66757000.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

An Evening in Times Square

Times SquareIt is strange that in all my travels to the United States this was my first visit to the iconic Times Square in New York City. Like most structures in Manhattan my hotel towered into the sky: every floor had space only for a few rooms; mine was on the 33rd floor. It was already getting dark when I walked out of the hotel into the pleasantly cool evening.

New York cabs at Times SquareTimes Square was filled with tourists from all over - European and Asian groups and families visiting from other parts of the USA. Times Square got its name in 1904 when The New York Times moved its headquarters here, The massive signboards on the sides of tall buildings, neon lighting and milling pedestrians all brings a touristy, holiday charm to the place which we watch so often on TV and Hollywood movies. A zoning mandate actually requires all buildings here to display lighted signs on the surface of their buildings!

Times Square
Times SquareRoadside displays from the US military were co-located with mannequins displaying designs made of plastic, paper and cloth. Even the Starbucks and McDonald's were decked up in lights with long lines at their counters.

Roadside display at Times Square
Roadside display at Times Square
Fashion displays at Times Square
Roadside display at Times SquareAfter strolling around in the cool summer night, I slipped into Haru Sushi bar and restaurant adjoining the theatres of Broadway. Featuring a sharp interior with eye-catching bamboo walls separating the bar and restaurant areas, this eatery has a nice feel to it. The restaurant was filled with young couples and businessmen in suits.

Haru Sushi Bar and Restaurant at Broadway
Miso soup at HaruI sipped on chilled sake until my dinner of miso soup, a selection of salmon and yellow tail sushi arrived. I followed with en entree of grilled salmon teriyaki before strolling out into the still crowded streets and headed back to my hotel.

Sushi selection at Haru
Grilled Salmon Teriyaki at HaruOn the next day, I had a lunch meeting at Ammos, a Greek seafood restaurant. Sandstone walls, sweeping ceilings and suspended white umbrellas brings the sand-and-airy ambiance of Greece into midtown Manhattan right opposite Grand Central Station.

Ammos in New York CityWe had Octapodi, charcoal grilled Mediterranean octopus in onion, capers and red wine vinaigrette. We also tried a little Olokliro Psio Psairi, whole grilled fish with lemon, olive oil and oregano. Our main course was Paidakia, chargrilled lamb chops with haricort vert, lemon potatoes and Greek mountain grown oregano. The lunch was very satisfying but I didn't have my camera for the food pictures. Next time!

I took the Emirates flight back home. Emirates limo pick-up service combined with their excellent lounge at JFK does make the route via Dubai an attractive option. During this visit to the USA, I also had the opportunity to stay at one of the oldest hotels in Washington DC; small rooms like in Europe with a distinct European feel and the only hotel that still has a manually operated elevator! My stay here was accidental: Doubletree, where I had reservations, had overbooked themselves and therefore moved me into Lombardy. The best thing about this old hotel is their little restaurant where I had some wonderfully made French Toast in an ambiance more commonly experienced in Parisian bistros.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pune Dining: New Updates...Finally!

Paprika Hot Rock in PuneI am finally back with some restaurant updates from Pune. With all my travelling, I have been eating out in every place but Pune lately! And then, there wasn't much happening on the culinary front in this city. But I am glad to announce that things are a-changing: several promising new choices have sprung up recently for the foodie in Pune.

First, Paprika Hot Rocks. Now this new restaurant & lounge bar has a good chance to be both hot and rocking if they stay on course. My first experience was quite delightful!

I am always a little sceptical when it comes to concept cooking. You know, those places that allow you to grill your food at your table, create your own stir-fry or make your own fondue meal? Unless you know what you are doing, you end up having fun but rarely excite your tastebuds. Like its name suggest, Paprika Hot Rocks' raison d'etre is cooking on hot volcanic stone - at the table. In this case, I am happy to say I enjoyed every morsel of the expertly marinated chicken that sizzled in its juices on my table.

Paprika Hot Rocks in PunePaprika Hot Rocks replaces Moti Mahal Tandoori Trail which had a rather short run in Pune. This was also the location where Lush once brought the bold and the beautiful together for late night craziness - a time when Pune could (legally!) dance and drink late into the weekend nights.

Paprika Hot RocksThere are two distinct seating areas: the indoor sports-bar & lounge and the outdoor restaurant-style seating. The outdoor area has been transformed in interesting ways: white curtained areas, woven bamboo furniture and a show-kitchen. The lounge area is low lit, mostly wood, and sofas with a large TV showing sports at the far end.

It was a warm evening and we decided on beer over cocktails. We ordered a non-vegetarian Mezze Platter followed by Stoned Lemon Chicken - don't you like the name? :)

Mezze Platter at Paprika Hot RocksThey put some bread, butter and complimentary antipasti of fresh fruit with whipped cream in front of us as we waited for our food. BTW, the menu is Mediterranean with Italian and Lebanese dishes taking prime spots. You can choose from pizzas, pastas and Lebanese staples. A special section lists out the Hot Rock specials.

The Mezze Platter came with hummus, baba ghanouj, tabouleh, cecik, kibbeh mishwey, meat sambousek and dajaj bit zatar. The mezze was accompanied by fluffy, fresh pita bread. I have to say this was probably the best Mezze I have had in Pune. Everything was absolutely fresh and perfectly turned out.

Stoned Lemon Chicken at Paprika Hot RocksThen came the pièce de résistance: Stoned Lemon Chicken. The Hot Rock dishes are served on a square slab of volcanic stone placed on a special ceramic serving dish. These stones are heated upto 400 degrees celcius on special ovens and can cook food for 30 minutes.

Cooking on Hot Rock at Paprika Hot RocksThe dish consisted of two large pieces of chicken breasts marinated most perfectly with herbs, lemon-butter and served with grilled veggies and mashed potatoes. The server helped cut up the meat so it would cook well. The meat was wonderful on the palate! The sizzle from the plate, the aroma and the taste blended perfectly for a great meal.

We didn't have space for desserts tonight, but they put some home-made chocolates in front of us as we took care of the cheque. The waitstaff was friendly and provided good service throughout. This is a place I will certainly recommend!

Paprika Hot Rocks is located in City Towers, Boat Club Road, Pune. Ph: 6640 0797.

IndiJoe Pune
IndiJoe PuneNext, IndiJoe. This is a new eat-out that has opened on Jewel Square the small shopping mall that has opened near Taj Blue Diamond at the North Main Road crossing. What really interested me was this restaurant's pedigree. This is Bangalore-based BJN Group's first foray into Pune and they are opening two more of their other popular restaurants in the same complex which I will talk about later. My first experience of BJN was at Samarkand, their excellent Frontier cuisine restaurant in Bangalore. I have been waiting to try Sahib Sindh Sultan (also in Bangalore) which is designed to re-create a railway station from the 1850s serving food from the rich past of India.

Lunch buffet at IndiJoe
Lunch buffet at IndiJoe
Lunch buffet at IndiJoeIndiJoe tries to fashion itself as an American-style Diner for a fast meal and succeeds to an extent. The lunch buffets are popular and mostly consist of soup, pizzas and pastas with some other Oriental dishes thrown in. We enjoyed the hot-and-sour soup, thin-crust pizza slices and pasta made a la minute at the live pasta counter.

Lunch buffet at IndiJoe
Lunch buffet at IndiJoeOther highlights were the lamb-based Shepherd's Pie and Lemon Marinated Grilled Fish. My daughter was delighted with chocolate fountain and we had to drag her away from more marshmallows dipped in chocolate sauce. There were other western desserts and ice-cream to round off the buffet.

Lunch buffet at IndiJoeOverall, this is a good place for a quick lunch. The ambiance is not very upscale but the food is good and the prices even better!

IndiJoe is located at Level 3, Jewel Square Mall, Koregaon Park Road. Ph: 4122 4888.

BJN Group has now opened Firangi Paani their popular bar at the same location. Firangi Paani is designed like an English pub and very popular in Mumbai. Let's see if it can weave the same magic in Pune's fickle bar scene. The group also plans to shortly open Khansama, an Indian food restaurant that specializes in kababs and curries from the royal kitchens of India.

On other news, there is another restaurant promising global cuisine in town. Mozarella is mostly Italian but with other items on the menu and located on the 7th floor of Panchshil Tech Park, Near Pune Golf Course, Yerawada.

Lamb Chops at Sen5es Pune
Sen5es PuneAnd finally, here are new pictures from another of my favorites, Sen5es in Koregaon Park. I had reviewed this excellent restaurant earlier. These pictures are from late evening when the flaming firepits in the surrounding waterbodies makes for a very interesting atmosphere.

PS: For my previous posts on Pune's dining options, select Pune Dining under Categories on the left sidebar of this blog. Bon Appétit!


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hot As Hell in Houston

Canyon Cafe HoustonIn four hours I was transported from pleasantly cool San Francisco to the sweltering heat of Houston, Texas. I had my iPad with me and the four hours of travel time went by quickly in watching Mad Men, playing games and reading e-books. It was a weekend and I was looking forward to a much needed breather in the middle of two very hectic weeks. During the three days here, I had a chance to try some new eating places and re-visit an old favorite.

Canyon Cafe Houston
Canyon Cafe advertises Southwestern cuisine. It has an interesting ambiance with flaming torches, bamboo and wood interiors. Southwestern cuisine turns out to be Mexican with a contemporary twist. They put a bowl of chips and salsa that was quite nice. The Grand Canyan Margarita was a mix of juices: cranberries, limes, oranges along with prickly cactus juice, tequila and triple sec.

Chips and Salsa at Canyon CafeI ordered a starter of chicken skewers basted in a smoky BBQ sauce served on a bad of fruit salsa and tossed salad greens. The fajitas that followed were very tender: sizzling meat on rice, black fried beans, tortillas, chunky tomatoes, sour cream and guacamole. My waitress, Anna, was cute and efficient and the the home-made ice-cream she recommended was good too!

Fajitas at Canyon Cafe
Fajitas at Canyon Cafe
Ice creams at Canyon CafeAn old friend took me to a Persian restaurant for lunch. Kasra on Westheimer is named after Taq-e-Kasra, a monument and the only remnant of the glittering Persian palaces of King Khosrow I.

We cooled off with glasses of Doogh, a yogurt drink similar to Indian chaach as we waited for our starters and bread. The taftoon bread is completely awesome; along with it we had ordered Hummus and Mast Khair - made of yogurt, diced cucumber and crushed mint.

Doogh at Kasra
Tooftan bread, hummus and other delights at Kasra
Kubideh at Kasra
Persian tea at KasraMy entree was the Kubideh, Persian classic skewers of charbroiled, premium ground beef blended with grated onion and Persian spices. The Kubideh was served on a bed of dill rice and lots of butter. The dill rice went so very well with the flavors of the spices and meat.

We ended with a glass of Persian tea. That was fun!

One day, I was visited Anvil Bar & Refuge on Westheimer in Montrose. Montrose is quite an arty little place, quite unlike the plain, unremarkable neighbourhoods of Houston! Anvil probably has the best cocktails in this city and a lot of character! I ordered the Spindletop, made of Blackstrap and Jamaican Rum, Falurnum and Islay Scotch, Allspice and Angustura bitters. What more approriate in oil country than a cocktail that boasts of 'looking like oil and tasting as bold'. We also nibbled through some pizzas topped with pepperoni, chorizo, gouda, parmigiano and mozarella.

Anvil Bar in Houston
Anvil Bar in HoustonFinally, I was back with a colleague to a steakhouse I love: Sullivans. This place never disappoints. An excellent starter of pepper-crusted tuna tartare was followed by a wedge of Romaine with blue cheese and the most delectible 8oz ribeye with peppercorn sauce done absolutely right. Our pretty waitress was as efficient and friendly as the best of them!

Sullivans in Houston
Tuna Tartare in Sullivans
Lettuce Wedge in Sullivans
Ribeye in peppercorn sauce at Sullivans
PS: You can read some of my earlier posts from Houston here, here, and here.

Anvil pictures courtesy: Katherine Shilkutt