Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Tropical Xmas

Lan Tania Four Seasons Koh SamuiChristmas at the Four Seasons Koh Samui was a lot of fun! The gala dinner at Lan Tania on Christmas Eve turned out to be a gourmet's delight, and for my daughter the highlight was clearly Santa who arrived with an elephant in tow. In addition to the Castaway Dinner which I wrote about in my previous post, they had a Bounty of Thailand evening showcasing the culinary delicacies of the country featuring live cooking stations and Thai dances. For those who did not wish to leave their villas, they had in-villa dining options that included Xmas turkey specials and bar-be-que dinners.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Vacation in Koh Samui

Four Seasons Koh SamuiSince our last vacation at the beautiful resort island of Landaa Giraavaru in the Maldives, I was looking for something different but equally breathtaking. Koh Samui turned out to be just that. The lush green jungles and coconut groves on the hilly terrain of this island dramatically gave way to the most amazing view as the ground fell away steeply. The 360 degree panorama painted by the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Thailand, the large expanse of clear skies, and the white sands of the beach snaking far below is awe-inspiring even for the most demanding hedonist!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Eclectic Bay Area Dining

Dessert sampler at Parcel 104Christmas was very much in the air! Finely decorated trees and festive lighting were everywhere: hotel lobbies, shops and malls. And the people didn't seem to have heard of the global recession and pessimism that fills every newspaper and business magazine. Downtown San Francisco was packed with people busy with their shopping. The Westfield Mall on Market and 4th was teeming with families as was the Apple Store nearby. I had arrived on a weekend for a short business trip and found the weather pleasant and warm - unexpectedly so for this time of the year!


Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Stopover in Lion City

Marche Orchard Road SingaporeAfter Hong Kong returned to China in the late 90s, Singapore pretty much became the top choice for the white man's outpost in Asia. Modern and efficiently run, this city of steel and glass considerably eases the transition from the West to the East. At some level, expat businessmen and their lives here are probably not very different from British governors from another age - but that's another story. To me, this tiny city is like a sampler platter of delicious morsels that you can savor over a single meal. You can take that literally too! Singapore's culinary scene is quite mind-blowing: from swanky restaurants run by global celebrity chefs, humble hawker centers, and everything in-between.


Saturday, December 03, 2011


Dario's Koregaon Park PuneThere are few restaurants in Pune that can boast of surroundings such as this. Lush green vegetation, an occasional peacock from the neighboring Osho ashram, and a large outdoor dining space under a canopy of tropical trees. But oodles of atmosphere is not the only charm here. Dario Dezio's eponymous restaurant in tony Koregaon Park is also known for its extraordinary and authentic Italian salads, pastas and wood-fired pizzas. The care they take to make their food safe is lore: for example, they wash their greens in mediclorex and then in silver colloid to to kill bacteria and neutralize the taste of chlorine.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Showering at 40,000 Feet on Emirates' A380

Emirates First Class SuitesI recently travelled First Class on Emirates from Mumbai to New York City on their latest aircraft. While I have briefly reviewed the Emirates experience in the past (here and here), the First Class cabin on the A380 - especially the Shower Spa on-board this aircraft - deserves a new post!


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pan Asian Delights at Red Zen

Pan Asian cuisine seems to be the latest rage in Pune's dining scene. Red Zen, which opened at the new Courtyard, is probably the third restaurant in town that is helmed by an expat Thai chef. The Courtyard Pune City Center, the latest Marriott hotel to open, is located on Bund Garden Road right next to Jehangir Hospital. The restaurant has been tastefully designed with beautiful red lamps and a large granite counter in the center. An open kitchen in the back show-cases the cooking techniques from the Far East.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Southern Style Cooking at Jackson 20

Jackson 20 in AlexandriaJackson 20 is named after the American president whose face adorns every $20 bill. Elegantly designed in the style of an old American tavern, the place exuded warmth on a cold evening. The gaint bronze pig in the center of the room and the whimsical pig-shaped napkin holders provide a clue to what is really special here: pork based items. In fact, they have a weekly pig-a-palooza event where a beautifully prepared whole roast pig takes center-stage as a band plays and bottles of wine are opened.


Saturday, November 05, 2011

Toni Da Dhaba

Toni Da DhabaToni Da Dhaba has been a unchanged fixture on the old Mumbai-Pune highway for a very long time. Old-timers will claim the quality has gone down while prices has gone up, but isn't this what old-timers say about every thing? So, one Saturday morning, when all we wanted to was get away and drive somewhere, I decided to take the older highway and head towards Lonawala for dhaba food.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Barcelona: Gothic Quarters

One of the charms of Europe is its well-preserved history. Being a history buff, I love ambling through those narrow, cobble-stoned alleys, trying to visualize how these old towns and city-square must have looked during their prime. I had spent the better part of a day traipsing through Gaudi’s unconventional buildings and monuments; and then on the last day here, I discovered the more familiar Gothic architecture in Barri Gotic. Barri Gotic is the center of what used to be the old city of Barcelona, with several buildings and churches dating back to the Roman empire. The most famous landmark here is the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lip-smacking Tapas and Paella

Arola BarcelonaTapas and paella formed the mainstay of my lunch and dinner experiences during this trip. Dining can be fun and memorable for reasons other than the quality of food. This was particularly true during this trip: friends and colleagues from distant places, jugs of chilled sangria and the briny breeze from the Mediterranean Sea - they conspired to make the most insipid dishes seem interesting! That said, there were a couple of stand-out dining experiences I must describe to you.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tasting Ferran Adria

Ferran Adria creation at 41 degreesIn the world of cutting edge, avante grade cuisine, there is no name held in higher esteem than Ferran Adria. The man credited for elevating Spain to its pinnacle in the world of fine dining, turning molecular gastronomy into a buzzword, creating culinary foam, and for making El Bulli the #1 restaurant in the planet for foodies. Recently, Ferran announced his intention to close El Bulli so he can spend his time on other things; however, he will continue to cater to his fans through two small, casual but upscale places in Barcelona. Tickets is Ferran Adria's take on a tapas bar which is located beside 41 Degrees, his spin on a chic cocktail bar that serves several of his El Bulli classics. As you can imagine these are currently the most happening dining spots in town!


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Gaudi City

Casa BatllaYou cannot ignore Gaudi when in Barcelona. His highly imaginative buildings spread all over this city are a magnet for students of architecture and tourists alike. Antoni Gaudi was a Spanish Catalan architect whose highly distinct form of design drove the trend towards Moderisme during the late 19th century. While it was common for architects during that time to combine their passions for architecture and religion into their creations, Gaudi also added his love for nature into the mix.


Sunday, October 02, 2011

In Catalan Country

I almost did not make it to Barcelona. The Spanish consulate insisted they needed more time to process my visa - something I did not have since I was flying out that weekend to the USA. Just when I had given up, they handed me my passport with the visa - one day before my flight. And what a trip it has been!

I flew into Barcelona on a Lufthansa flight late in the night. By the time I had checked in and taken a shower, it was close to midnight and I was thinking of ordering room service. But then I looked out of the window. Down below I could see cafes open and packed with people. It seemed too good to pass up. During the week I spent here, I would discover several uniquely delightful things about Barcelona, including the fact that dinners begin late and continue well past midnight!


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dakshin Darshan

On my way to the USA, I had a quick dinner at Dakshin, the speciality South Indian restaurant of the ITC Maratha at Mumbai. Here are a couple of pictures from this delightful South Indian restaurant. The mini-dosas they serve as starters are a fun sampling before the actual meal: one was a pesaruttu, made of different varieties of lentils, another made from bananas and dates, and the third of the regular variety.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Castro Street: New Dining Options

Castro Street is the best known dining location if you are in the Mountain View area in the heart of Silicon Valley. On a recent visit, I realized there have been several new restaurant openings, and some are really worth a visit.

Zucca Ristorante opened a few months back bringing new life to Mediterranean cuisine in this bustling tech town. Gary Danko protege Paul Cohen brings some real winners from Greece, Italy and Turkey on to your plate right here in California, at affordable prices to boot!


Saturday, September 03, 2011

In N Out in LA

I finally completed another foodie milestone - by eating at In N Out. What looks like another burger chain is actually a California institution with legions of fans who swear by their burgers. The company's dedication to fresh ingredients is reflected in the fact that they do not freeze their meat patties or produce that goes into their burgers.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Eating Ralph Lauren in Chicago

You may have worn Ralph Lauren, but have you eaten at his restaurant? That's correct. Fashion designers apparently are no longer content to sell you expensive clothes; they now intend to wine and dine you too. Right below the imposing structure of The Peninsula in Chicago, Ralph Lauren has what is supposed to be the largest store for their Polo branded clothing and accessories. RL is located right next to the store. A fashionable but casual place that is said to be one of Oprah Winfrey's favorite spots, this restaurant serves what they call city-club cuisine.


Friday, August 19, 2011

The Foodie in Chicago

This was my first visit to Chicago. The windy city is known for several things - including the fact that President Obama calls this city his home. But for the foodie, this city stands out for its celebrity chefs such as Grant Achatz - whose restaurant Alinea has been consistently voted as the best in the USA, as well as for its deep-dish pizzas and unique take on hot dogs.


Sunday, August 07, 2011

Manhattan Mania

I stopped for a night in New York City after flying in from India. I had bought my first SLR in Singapore during the transit stop - a Canon Rebel T3i/EOS 600D. Eager to try my skills with the new camera, I walked out towards Byrant Park in the evening. Among the most pleasant areas today to spend a lazy evening, this park has quite a history.


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

La Piazza at The Delhi Hyatt

Bread at La Piazza Hyatt DelhiThe Hyatt Regency hotel in New Delhi has been around for a long time. I have passed by this hotel so many times when I lived in New Delhi - but eating at five-star restaurants was a luxury I afforded myself only infrequently during those days. Having now stayed at this hotel, I can say that the restaurants are far better here than the rooms. And La Piazza is definitely one of the better Italian restaurants I have eaten in.

La Piazza in DelhiFrom the people eating here during peak dining hours, I could see this restaurant was popular with the locals. The trattoria style restaurant caters to a variety of people - from the serious foodie to the conservative Indian diner who restricts himself to pizzas and pastas.

La Piazza in DelhiDesigned to look like a village square with a large open kitchen on one side, the interiors exuded a warm casual feeling. The tiles on the floor and the pots and pans hanging around all added to the ambiance.

Potato Gnocchi at La Piazza DelhiI ordered an Italian red wine to go with my Potato Gnocchi. The gnocchi was lovingly prepared - oh so soft and melt-in-your-mouth. I followed with a grilled chicken wrapped in ham. This too was amazing with its cheesy interiors and robust, salty ham wrapping coming together splendidly.

Incidentally, gnocchi has existed as a traditional Italian pasta from a very long time. Said to have its roots in the Middle East, the Romans introduced this dish during the expansion of their empire into North Africa. In those days, gnocchi was made from semolina and eggs. Potato gnocchi is a far more recent culinary innovation. Apparently red potatoes make the best gnocchi.

Grilled Chicken wrapped in bacon in La PiazzaAll-in-all, La Piazza is a great place for a business dinner, a good time with family or even for a quick bite of pizza and beer. Service is fast and efficient and the place stays busy but not crowded through the evenings. Try this place if you are in the mood for Italian food in New Delhi.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Exceptional Chinese Fare

The China Kitchen DelhiChina House and The China Kitchen: two outstanding Chinese restaurants, the former in Mumbai and the later in New Delhi. Both restaurants considered among the top Chinese restaurants in these two metros. While I have visited China House before, it was only recently that I tasted the goodness of The China Kitchen. Like always, I tried a few different things and came away happier for the experience.

The menu of China House is dominated by Sichuan dishes. The southwestern province of Sichuan is known for its bold and pungent flavors. These dishes with their liberal use of garlic and chili peppers are particularly loved by the Indian palate. The restaurant also specializes in popular China delicacies such as Peking Duck, Beggar's Chicken and Dan-dan noodles. But what impresses most is the elaborately designed interiors. Multiple cooking stations, semi-private booths and corridors lined with spices and cookware make for a very interesting dining experience here.

Xin Jiang pancakes with minced lamb at China House MumbaiOn this day, I decided to start with the Xin Jiang pancake stuffed with sauteed lamb, dried chilli and cumin. The dish turned out to be a fairly authentic rendition of the Indian kheema paratha! Having read Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke recently with its detailed description of trade and intermingling of Indian and Chinese people and traditions during the early 19th century in the lead up to the Opium Wars, I am inclined to think there is a story in this somewhere.

Prawns with red peppers and wood fungus at China House MumbaiFor my entree, I picked a prawn dish that was rendered with red, fat and squat red peppers and wood fungus. I also ordered an interesting variation of fried rice with slivers of roast duck, shrimp and spring onion. Loved it!

Fried Rice with duck and shrimp at China House MumbaiFinally, some Jasmine 'tea'ramisu with orange vanilla ice-cream to round out another winning meal at this wonderful place.

Jasmine tea-ramisu at China House MumbaiI walked out through the throngs of Mumbai's beautiful people crowding the lobby area - there was a jewellery show at the hotel tonight that had brought Bollywood stars and celebrities here.

The China Kitchen Delhi
Mint soda at The China KitchenThe China Kitchen at the Hyatt Regency in New Delhi is located at the lower level opposite the swimming pool. It was lunch time but I was early and the restaurant was not very full yet. I took in the show kitchen and the large Chinese artifacts all around me, but I was in a hurry since I had a flight to catch.

I started with Cantonese style prawns siew mai and followed with a bowl of wok-fried shaved noodles, mushrooms, vegetables, and Sichuan spices. The shaved noodles was a first for me and I loved the taste.

The China Kitchen New DelhiA noodle chef making shaved noodles is apparently quite a sight to behold. I read a description of this style of noodle-making: "One noodle in the boiling water, one flying in the air, and one just being cut." The chef stands in front of a big pot of boiling water, with a piece of noodle dough about the size of a thick bamboo trunk in one hand and a special shaving knife in the other. He shaves off slips of the dough, which drop into the boiling water. An experienced chef can work very quickly, shaving off noodles 6 inches long, 200 a minute. People often say shaved noodles are as much a feast for your eyes as for your mouth. Check out this video.

Shaved Noodles at The China Kitchen New DelhiMade into a dish, shaved noodles are usually served Shanxi style: noodles mixed with fresh vegetables such as cucumber and soybean sprouts in a mild meat-based broth with a touch of Shanxi vinegar, all in a big bowl.

The China Kitchen New DelhiThe noodles taste different from the usual and I absolutely relished this dish! With this lunch, I would now rate The China House higher than My Humble House at The Maurya, but on par with the excellent Taipan at The Oberoi. Check it out when you are in Delhi.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Humble House

Appetizer trio at My Humble House DelhiITC Hotels have differentiated themselves from other luxury hotel chains in India by putting dining experiences front and center in their properties. Few other hotel chains put so much thought into food - you can see this in their branded restaurants and their thoughtfully presented room service menu. They even have an eye-catching and informative magazine for their guests called WelcomZest that provides a deeper insight into the food served in their restaurants.

My Humble House at ITC's prestigious Maurya Hotel in New Delhi
offers modern Chinese cuisine in contemporary settings. While overshadowed by the famous Bukhara and the popular Dum Pukht restaurants, My Humble House has its legions of fans too. Located at the terrace level, this restaurant is designed in neat straight lines from a Zen approach with a few tables set up al fresco that afford breathtaking views of night-time Delhi.

My Humble House New DelhiThe hostess in her elaborately embroidered Chinese jacket seated me quickly. Without much ado, I made my choice and picked a Chardonnay from Argentina with my food. Along with the bowls of glass noodles and pickled vegetables, they offered me an amuse bouche of spiced beans.

Amuse at My Humble HouseThe appetizer trio included a crispy king prawn in Wasabi mayonnaise, filo wrapped chicken and cheese dumpling and seared scallop with spicy orange sauce. Enjoyed the scallop, but the chicken dumpling and prawn were clearly the stand-outs. The chicken was succulent with a trace of peanuts while the prawn was deliciously large with a light tingle of wasabi that made it perfect.

Seafood broth at My Humble HouseNext came the clear broth of seafood with Chinese wolfberry. As you can see, this restaurant doesn't scrimp when it comes to sourcing exotic ingredients! I loved the soup which had in it fresh prawns, fish, scallops, snow peas, carrots and enokitake mushrooms.

The Steamed Cod with Chinese preserved vegetables was now set in front of me. Another winner for me, with the flaky and flavorful fish perfectly complimented by the robust taste of the preserves.

Steamed cod with Chinese preserves at My Humble HouseI had chosen the Lamb Chops on wok seared Daikon with mint sauce for my entree. The dish was served with a portion of stir-fried Udon noodles with shredded snow peas wrapped in some light pastry covering. For some reason, this dish didn't do it for me. The flavors and textures didn't come together in a satisfying manner.

Lamb Chops at My Humble HouseThankfully, the dessert trio was pretty good. Especially the warm caramel ice-cream and the mango pudding.

Tableware at My Humble House
Dessert Trio at My Humble HouseOverall, My Humble House is a good choice for innovative Chinese cooking in five-star settings. In my opinion, Taipan at The Oberoi has an edge with its delectible offerings of Schezwan and Cantonese staples.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Le Cirque

Le Cirque VegasBrilliant colors and a playful circus atmosphere complement the bold and exquisite French cuisine at Le Cirque. Dining under the 'big top' in a sophisticated setting at this lakeside Michelin starer makes for a memorable experience indeed. This restaurant is charismatic restaurateur Sirio Maccioni's flagship creation; incidentally, Maccioni is now setting up another Le Cirque in the new Leela Palace in New Delhi. I had heard so much about this place from friends that I was afraid I was setting myself up for disappointment. Happily, that did not happen!

Le Cirque in Las VegasThe hostess quickly seated me and changed my napkin to a black one to match my trousers. As I perused the wine list, the waitstaff brought out some interesting breads. I decided to try the bacon bread which was a great choice. They also started me off on an amuse bouche of tomato gazpacho. I finally decided to try the degustation menu with wine pairing.

Bacon bread at Le Cirque
Amuse Bouche at Le CirqueMy first wine, a Burgundy that had been aged in steel (not oak) was very clean with fresh tones. The wine went very well with my excellent lobster salad wrapped in thin slices of cucumber and layered with finely chopped avocado, beans, lobster and greens. This dish is their signature appetizer and I wholeheartedly recommend it!

Signature lobster salad at Le CirqueNext came the Sauteed Foie Gras with white chocolate and raisin brioche, a nectarine compote with savoury apricot and elderberry flavors. A Gewurztraminer, another white wine from the Alsace region perfectly complemented the buttery richness of the foie gras.

Foie gras at Le CirqueThe next course, a fish dish was interesting. The sea bass was fried after being rolled up and wrapped in a very thin layer of beaten veal - what they call a paupiette in France. The fish came with braised leeks and a Pinot Noir sauce. Very nice with the Pinot Noir from Oregon. Throughout the meal, the plates on which my food were served caught my eyes because of their playful monkey motifs.

Sea Bass at Le Cirque
Tableware at Le CirqueIn preparation for my main course of lamb chops, they brought me a deep red Il Borro from Tuscany. The espelette crusted Colorado Lamb Chops was accompanied with an Italian olive panisse and spring vegetables stuffed in tomato. The espelette, a variety of French chilly peppers from the northern Basque territory added punch to the meat. The panisse, a fried cake of shredded olives was an interesting accompaniment. The lamb itself was excellent - pink in the middle like I wanted it, flavorful and full of taste in the mouth.

Lamb Chops at Le Cirque
Dessert wine at Le CirqueAs I sat back after all that food, they brought me an Austrian Kracher dessert wine. A sorbet with watermelon with a hint of basil cleansed my palate before they served me the Chocolate 'Bomb' and poured warm chocolate sauce on it with a flourish. The little 22-carat gold leaf on top made me feel like royalty before the warmth of the sauce began to melt the thin chocolate shell exposing the gooey white ice-cream inside.

Sorbet at Le Cirque
Molten Chocobomb at Le Cirque
Molten Chocobomb at Le Cirque
Petit Fours at Le CirqueAfter that fabulous dinner, I headed out to take another stroll through the casino. While Vegas has been suffering from the recent recession, you wouldn't notice - the casino and The Strip seem as crowded as ever. A new City Center with four new hotels and ample upscale shopping has come up right behind The Bellagio. But behind all the glitter and neon lights there is a lingering concern. As I headed to the airport for my flight back, my cab driver said, "they are still coming here, but spending less than they did".