Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pune Dining: Baan Tao and More

Baan Tao at the Ista PuneWhen I first saw the cursive Ista signature against the dark Pune skyline I wasn't sure what it was. I discovered it was run by the people behind India's first five-star boutique destination spa, Ananda in the Himalayas. Combining ayurveda and vendantic lectures with the traquil surroundings of the Himalayas, Ananda has long been known as one of the best spa destinations of South Asia. And now they have entered the boutique hotel business with properties spread across Bangalore, Hyderabad, Amritsar and Pune.

Located at the edge of Kalyani Nagar, right on Nagar Road, Ista whisks you away from the busy cityscape outside into an expanse of tastefully done landscapes and elegant decor inspired by contemporary Eastern motifs. The hotel brings its famous spa treatments to Pune and also presents multiple dining options.

Ista Hotel PuneEighty Eight, their 24-hour coffee shop, serves multi-cuisine buffet and is equipped with a wood-burning pizza oven as well as a teppanyaki bar. They have seperate areas for private tables, which is rare in India but common everywhere else.

Eightyeight Ista Pune
Ista PuneFishbowl, their expansive lounge-bar has a good selection of wines, spirits and bar food; they are auditioning bands right now - soon you will have live music during the evenings here. The name itself comes from their signature cocktails served in a large goldfish bowl!

Fish Bowl at the Ista PuneToday I was trying their speciality Baan Tao restaurant, which clearly occupies prime spot in the hotel. You walk though a indoor tea lounge with waterfalls and art-forms that seemed right out of Cameron's Pandora. We took one of their outdoor seatings that were a contemporary version of the more traditional Thai salas that gave the feeling of floating over water. The evening was pleasant and the distant Pune skyline, the flickering lights reflecting off the water and the greenery made us feel like we were back in Bali or Maldives.

Baan Tao at Ista Pune
Baan Tao at Ista PuneWe went with Chef Anthony's recommendations and ordered a raw papaya salad and some chicken and prawn hargau for starters. They served cups of hot jasmine tea along with our drinks. As we sat back and relaxed with our drinks, we marvelled at how Ista had created an oasis in the middle of the chaotic Nagar Road.

Baan Tao at Ista PuneThe Papaya Salad was fantastic as were the dim-sums. They have a Thai chef and this shows in the authenticity of the food served.

Baan Tao at Ista PuneThe green curry was amazing, with chicken, coconut milk and string beans stirred into a very spicy curry that we enjoyed with steamed rice. The Thai Style Fish was my favorite: flaky morsels of fish lightly batter fried and slathered with a fantastic sweet-sour sauce with vegetables. This is quite clearly the best Thai food place in town. Period. Also, one of the most romantic places for dinner in Pune. Ista is located at 88 Nagar Road, near Aga Khan Palace. Ph: 4141888.

Baan Tao at Ista PuneWe visited Mozarella, the new avatar of what used to be Laguna earlier. While the name suggests Italian and so does their regular menu, they had a Chinese food festival on here! Yeah, wierd. However, the food turned out to be alright.

Mozarella PuneWe enjoyed the Tom Yum and the Spicy Crabmeat soup. The mains consisted of Lamb in Hot Garlic Sauce, Holy Basil Fish and the Hakka Noodles with Veggies all turned out good too - the Holy Basil Fish was a standout.

Finally, Trikaya. Having heard folks on the other side of town swear about this place, we decided to drive down all the way to Chandni Chowk on one winter evening. The interiors were nice, but we didn't heart the food as much.

Trikaya PuneThe soft wok fried chicken with green chillies and spring onions were alright, but the prawn sui mui was just average. The Tom Yum Soup had been heavily localized and didn't aspire to be the real thing.

Spicy crabmeat soup at Trikaya PuneThe Stir-fried Chicken with Chinese Greens and Pepper and the Noodles with Veggies were very ordinary too. Nothing really worth writing about.

Trikaya PuneOverall Triyaka seems to be just another Chinese restaurant targeting those who are located in this part of town. However, they are no competition to Mainland China or Malaka Spice - both of which operate at similar price points, but provide far better food.


Anonymous said...
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Deepak Barua said...

Dear Mr. Shantanu,

Thanks a lot for a wonderful feedback on Baan tao. looking forward to serve you again.

Deepak Barua
Exe sous chef, Ista Pune

Shantanu said...

@Deepak: You are welcome.


Last Saturday I went all the way yo Kokam. However Zara and Kokum have pulled their shutter down

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Anonymous said...

How expensive is Baan Tao when you compare it with Mainland china or M'spice?

Shantanu said...

@Anon: Baan Tao will be about 50% higher priced than Mainland China/Malaka Spice.

Anonymous said...

On an outing to get my name wait listed for the Hermes-birkin, We chanced upon 88. They had a Lebanese theme for lunch. Boy surely it was the best lunch buffet I came across in Pune. Hyatt/Marriot pale in comparison. And the service was exceptional by Pune/Indian standards. The waiters would go on the knee to meet us at our eye level before speaking with us. Much pleased to discover this gem located at my backyard.
Thanks for your review. Will try Baan Tao next, except that it is open only for dinner.

Shantanu said...

@Anon: Thanks for the comments and opinion on 88. Haven't tried that one yet.

Goa said...

I got to try these someday...

Lunch in Pune said...

nice review about the place did not know it existed even i was staying near Kalayani nagar, will surely visit it :)

Anonymous said...

@Goa: Let me know what you think.

@Lunch in Pune: Yup, happens to me too. Pune is certainly a-changing.