Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pune Dining: Zicomo

Prawn starters at ZicomoAs more high technology companies locate themselves in the Aundh-Baner-Hingewadi areas, the culinary scene in that part of Pune is beginning to show some signs of life! After Esca, which I visited recently, another new place opened its doors here: Zicomo on Baner Road. In fact, Esca and Zicomo are pretty similar places: small intimate dining place combined with a cool bar & lounge ambiance to draw in the younger crowd.

Zicomo Baner Road PuneContemporary chic interiors with mood lighting and multiple levels makes this place stand out. There wasn't much of a crowd during lunch time, but then were a little early - by Indian standards.

Zicomo Baner Road PuneWe ordered one of the interesting prawn appetizers - I think it was the Mauritian Creole Prawns followed by a Napolitana pizza. While the dishes were more inspired than original renditions of these recipes, I was happy with their overall execution.

Prawns at ZicomoThe prawns were fresh and the flavor and textures worked for me. The pizza base was thin and crisp and the toppings ample. I am sure this will be a great place for a drink or two in the evening followed by a dinner with friends. Try this place if you are in this part of town.

Pizza at ZicomoZicomo is located in the Focus building right on Baner Road near Balewadi phata. You can visit their web site here.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back at Fleur De Lys

Fleur de LysFleur de Lys has always been considered one of the most romantic restaurants of San Francisco. Old style French with its heavy drapes of richly patterned fabric, decorative wrought iron candle holders and an overall sophisticated ambiance, this restaurant presents the cuisine of chef and owner Hubert Keller.

Hubert Keller - a different Keller than the famous Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame - is known for his attention to detail and expertise in French haute cuisine. In addition to his signature restaurant in San Francisco, Keller now helms Fleur within Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and a gourmet Burger Bar in three cities. Incidentally, Burger Bar has on its menu a $60 Rossini burger made of kobe beef, sauteed foie gras and shaved truffles!

Amuse at Fleur de LysThe last time I was here, I remember being delighted by both the food and the overall ambiance and also had a picture taken with the chef himself. This one was an equally satisfying experience too. We had walked about ten blocks to this restaurant from the W Hotel in downtown San Francisco - past Union Square and in the middle of the theater district. After checking in our jackets, we got down to business.

I began with the Artisan Foie Gras and Smoked Duck Breast 'Torchon' garnished with Spanish almonds, bacon brioche on top of a pineapple slice in a vanilla consomme. The torchon is a method of cooking foie gras in which it is placed in a towel and poached. The flavors and textures were well executed.

Foie Gras at Fleur de LysHowever, my companion's trio of petite Ceaser salad, foie gras lollipop and tuna fondant looked even more appealing.

Trio starter at Fleur de LysI moved on to the Seared Fillet Mignon which was served with a side of Lobster Truffled Mac and Cheese en brioche and accented with red wine, shallot and thyme bordalaise sauce. As you can imagine, the dish was quite superb! The meat was tender and flavorful and served on a bed of leeks and mushrooms and the rich sauce. Classic bordalaise sauce is usually made with dry red wine, bone marrow, butter, shallots and a rich brown sauce called demi-glace. Another version popular in New Orleans cooking is a little different in that it uses garlic rather than marrow and red wine. The Mac and Cheese itself was worth ordering the dish for!

We had pre-ordered the Grand Mariner Souffle for our dessert and this turned out to be a good choice. Served with orange sauce and an orange and cardomom ice-cream, the souffle was everything you want it to be - fluffy and light as a feather and very enticing on the palate.

Grand Mariner souffle at Fleur de LysOverall, this restaurant continues to be a winner. Another of those rare Bay Area restaurants where the chef doesn't change every year - which ensures your next experience will be as good as the one you remember.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Best Dining Options in Pune

Stone Water Grill PuneA lot of people still visit my blog when searching for dining options in Pune. Since the time I last put up my Best Of list, there have been many new and worthy entrants into Pune; also, some of the old ones have since closed. Therefore, my dear foodie friends, here's a brand new set of recommendations; let me know if you agree too.

Speciality Indian Cuisine:

The Great Kabab Factory is probably the best place right now for kabab lovers in Pune in a five star setting. They offer a fixed menu of seven kababs, Indian breads, dal followed by biryani and desserts. Do try their Gilauti Kabab, their signature speciality.

Paprika Hot RocksSigree is a good option too for kababs, biryanis and curries and is very popular during weekday lunch hours when they offer a buffet style sampling of their fare.

Oh! Calcutta is a personal favorite and recommended for those who want to try something a little different. Do try the Kakda Chingdi Bhapa - a starter of crab and prawn meat steamed in banana leaf - and the Kosha Mangsho with Luchi - a Bengali mutton dish with Bengali-style poories.

Taareef is another front-runner if I am in the Aundh area. They serve the most delectible Murgh Kali Mirch kababs and a fantastic Gosht Dum Biryani. The Tandoori Raan is another winner if you have a large appetite.

TGKF PuneFor Kashmiri and Mughlai food, Shikara is another excellent choice. Do try the Gushtaba, Chakori Kababs and Tabak Maas here.

East Asian and Chinese:

I am in love with Baan Tao, the recently opened Thai restaurant in Ista Hotel. Their Thai chef dishes up some of the best Thai dishes in town. Do try the papaya salad and the Thai Fish in Tamarind Sauce and also the Green Curry with Prawns or Chicken.

Mainland ChinaMalaka Spice continues to delight with creative cuisine from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma. An extensive menu, a caricature artist and a 'street food' section makes this a place worth visiting.

Mainland ChinaHarajuku serves the best Japanese food in Pune. Visitors from Japan are frequent visitors to this restaurant in the O Hotel in Koregaon Park. While they have a limited variety of sushi, they dish up a decent selection of soups, teriyaki and teppanyaki dishes.

Finally, Mainland China which will probably win any popularity content. I have never had a bad day here. Everything on the menu is excellent. I usually start with a Peppery Lemon Soup and Dimsums which always make for a good start. Another option is the excellent Tsinghoi Chiken starter. For the main course, Burnt Garlic Fish with Seasonal Greens, Sapo Chicken or Sliced Lamb in Chillibroth are all winners.

Pure Vegetarian:

For those not of the carnivorous bent, there are several choices. While vegetarian food in India is almost always associated with the low-end, affordable segment, that is now a-changing. Shakahari at the new ICC Marriott Hotel provides specialty Indian and Thai food that is guaranteed to be pure vegetarian with nary a trace of animal produce.

Dario's is rated by many as the best Italian food in town. They only cater vegetarian food, but their pizzas and pastas are among the best.


Unique to Pune's dining scene, sizzler restaurants have existed here forever. But among the many available, I recommend Bounty's in Kalyani Nagar and Zamu's in Dhole Patil Road. Both are small and intimate places frequented by youngsters. My favorite at Zamu is the Chicken Shaslik with a starter of their popular Garlic Mushrooms. At Bounty, I usually order the Chicken in Black Pepper Sauce. The sizzle from the hot iron griddles are especially delightful during the monsoons and winter months.

Western and European Fusion Cuisine:

For those who are desperate for a steak or a taste of Europe, there are now a few choices.

Stone Water Grill provides a good selection of Mediterranean dishes nicely plated in a chic dining area. Paprika Hot Rocks is another interesting new place where they dish up grilled meats and vegetables on a hot volcanic rock. Other options popular with Pune's exploding expat population are The Ship, Arthur's Theme and Sen5es. Sen5es is especially good if you are dying for a steak or a rack of lamb. Visit during the evening hours when they light some fires given the place a very special atmosphere.


For high quality Italian food, La Terrazza is my current favorite hands down. This delightful restaurant in the Hyatt Regency is helmed by an Italian chef and provides the best food and wine combination in an unpretentious but five star setting. There is also Prego at The Westin, Little Italy on University Road for those looking for a more affordable option and Alto Vino at the ICC Marriott Hotel.

La Terrazza Hyatt PuneGood Booze and Grub:

For some drinks in a lounge setting both Esca and Zicomo are new options in the Aundh/Baner areas. However, for atmosphere nothing beats the grand-daddy of them all, 1000 Oaks on East Street. Kiva and Smokies are close second and third in my opinion.

Indian Coastal Cuisine:

When people say Seafood Restaurant here, they usually mean seafood cooked in the Konkan way. So you if love spices and seafood, head out to Nisarg in Kothrud, Mahesh Lunch Home on Moledina Road or Rahul in Aundh. They are the best options in town for Konkan seafood. Another interesting place is Coconut Grove.

Udupi/South Indian fast food:

For some quick idli-vada-dosas, Pune has Vaishali its most famous restaurant. No reservations and always packed, this place gets its share of local celebrities. Kalyani in Kalyani Nagar and Madhuban in Dhole Patil Road are a good option too for those in these parts of town.


Saturday, June 04, 2011

Kababs Galore

Sheek Gilafi at Dum PukhtIn India, kabab lovers have it good. From street vendors to five star hotels, there are many choices. But the discerning foodie is not always impressed. There is an art to the perfectly cooked kabab, one that retains its unique flavors and a succulent, juicy interior after making it past the fiery embrace of the tandoor.

The most common kababs on the Indian dining table are probably the sheek kabab and the tandoori kabab. The sheek kabab is a variation of cooking that first showed up in Turkish tribes. Historical accounts speak of soldiers skewering chunks of lamb in a marinade of spices on their swords and spears before cooking them over open fires. They used a marinade made from olive oil, yogurt, onion juice, cinnamon, all spice and crushed bay leaves. The sheek kabab in India is made from a course mince of lamb which is mixed with a paste of garlic, ginger and onion and a variety of spices that include (but are not limited to) black pepper, cinnamon, cardomom, cloves and nutmeg. Variations abound: many use raw papaya paste to tenderize the meat, while others use finely chopped peppers to add texture and taste to the dish.

Chakori Kabab at Esca PuneTandoori kababs are simpler: whole chicken marinated overnight in a marinade of yogurt and a spice mix - distinctly bright orange in color from paprika and cayanne pepper - which is skewered and cooked whole in a tandoor.

Khaimiri Roti at Dum Pukht Mumbai
Dum Pukht Mumbai
Kakori Kabab at Dum Pukht MumbaiCooking breads and meat in the tandoor came to India with the Persian hordes who invaded India and subsequently made this country their own. Tandoori style of cooking kababs are most popular in the Punjab region. As one goes further East towards Lucknow, where the gastronomic palates of the nawabs gave rise to some of India's most refined kababs, the prefered medium of cooking is on the chulha - an oven where cooking was restricted to the surface (as opposed to within as in the tandoor).

A few weeks back, I was at Kangan, the Indian speciality restaurant at the Westin Mumbai. Watching the traffic snake below in the darkening evening skies, I ordered a portion of sheek kabab with my wine. The Kangan has an innovative concept of wine tasting along with the food. Today, they brought me three small glasses of reds: two South African one Indian. While the ambiance was excellent, the kababs weren't particularly memorable here.

Kangan at Westin Mumbai
Sheek Kababs with wine at Kangan MumbaiI was also at Esca, a new restaurant in Pune. The Chakori kababs here were pretty good. Chakori kababs are chunks of chicken that are marinated in yogurt and other spices but fenugreek - methi in Hindi - dominates the taste. This restaurant seems like a good option for a quick lunch or an intimate dinner when in the vicinity of Aundh.

Dum Pukht Mumbai
Esca PuneAnd finally, I was back in Dum Pukht. This time I ordered the Sheek Gilafi Dum Pukht, an interesting variation on the sheek kabab. The kababs were as impressive as the name! Minced chicken sheek was combined with a mouth-watering combination of juicy tomatoes and capsicum that exploded in a multitude of flavors and textures in the palate. The khaimiri roti was fantastic too as was the rich flavors of the Hyderabadi Nihari Qurma that followed. That was some meal!

For those in Pune, the best bets in town are The Great Kabab Factory at the Radisson Hotel in Kharadi, Sigree on Boat Club Road, Shikara in Kalyani Nagar, Taareef in Aundh and BBQ Nation on Nagar Road and within Sayaji Hotel. I haven't been a huge fan of Kareem's expanding presence in Pune - they have been very inconsistent with their quality.

For more on kababs, read: Of Nawabs and Kababs, Kababs In and Around Delhi, Kababs at the Baluchi, and Unlimited Kababs to Heaven.