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".


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Michael Mina at Las Vegas

Botanical Gardens of the BellagioI have dined at Michael Mina's signature restaurant in San Francisco before, but this was my first visit to his eponymous dining place at Las Vegas within The Bellagio. Located right in the botanical gardens with its carnival atmosphere, this place brings together all his popular dishes under one roof within Sin City. I continue to appreciate the knowledgeable waitstaff at Michael Mina's restaurants who never seem overbearing or uptight.

Michael Mina at VegasMy salad was a standout. Market Greens with roasted beet, caramelized goat cheese and almonds mixed together into a sensory heaven. I have a thing for goat-cheese, but this one was exceptional: liberal chunks which had been caramelized very effectively.

Salad at Michael MinaThe Lobster Pot-pie, a Michael Mina staple, was very good too but the size of the dish was rather overwhelming. Envious glances all around us as the waiter brought out the pot, then ceremoniously cut the pie crust on the top releasing the steaming contents inside. The succulent large pieces of lobster with its sauce and vegetables in all its glory was a sight to behold. On the palate, the dish didn't disappoint either - rich and creamy with the pie crust providing texture while the lobster tail was everything you desire from a freshly prepared crustacean!

Lobster Pot Pie at Michael Mina
Lobster Pot Pie at Michael Mina
Lobster Pot Pie at Michael MinaWe ended with a sampler-sized dessert of their famous Root Beer Float. All in all, a pretty good Michael Mina experience without having to walk out of my hotel - if you can call The Bellagio that!

Root Beer Float at Michael MinaIncidentally, even some of the smaller eating establishments within The Bellagio can be satisfying. If you are here on a weekend, try the special dim sum lunch at Noodles during lunch. I thought the dim sums were pretty good and so was the wonton noodle soup I tried one day. Completely revived me from the jet-lag - at least for a while. :)

Caesars Palace Las Vegas
Caesars Palace Las Vegas
Caesars Palace Las VegasStrolling through the mammoth precincts that is Caesars Palace, I discovered the Forum Shops area with its artificial skies and Roman facades - there is also a large aquarium here, which would be popular with your kids - that is, if you are foolish enough to travel to Sin City with them!

Caesars Palace Las VegasThen there is Cleopatra's Barge, with its imperial boat for cocktails, music and dance in an unique surrounding. The Pussycat Girls lounge and gaming area with its lingerie-clad pole-dancers and of course, Pure - the sprawling mega nightclub at Caesars.


Saturday, July 02, 2011

Viva Las Vegas

The Las Vegas StripI was back again in Las Vegas, exactly after a year. This time I spent the entire week indoors within Caesars Palace and The Bellagio. If that sounds terribly confining, you haven't seen how large these resort hotels are and the variety of entertainment and dining options available within.

Las Vegas
Las VegasIn the changing skyline of Las Vegas, Caesars Palace has existed ever since I first visited this extraordinary city in the early 90s. With its opulent faux-Roman architecture, sculptures and gilded pathways, this massive casino-hotel was always my reference point for directions in the Strip. The Bellagio right next to Caesars Palace is known by most tourists for its spectacular musical fountains, but for me it is the place for gourmet dining - having garnered much of the star ratings when Michelin decided to cover this city a few years back.

Las Vegas
Las VegasIt was radiating heat when I flight landed in Las Vegas. I checked into The Bellagio and after a quick, refreshing shower tried my luck with getting a table at one of the restaurants. Unfortunately, Picasso was closed this week and they couldn't get me a table at Le Cirque, so I walked into Jean-Georges Vongerichten's award-winning Prime Steakhouse.

Resplendent in heavy Tiffany blue drapes, chocolate brown furniture and whites of the tablecloths, the decor inside is quite breathtaking and a far cry from the usual high-end steakhouses. Tall windows look out over The Bellagio's lake and famous musical fountains.

My salad of Roasted Baby Beets with yogurt, hazelnuts and fresh herbs was refreshing. However, I was here for the meat. The dry-aged Bone-in Ribeye with Crab-Mashed Potatoes was pure awesomeness. Flavorful, perfectly served medium-rare, the steak was HUGE! The crab-mashed potatoes were fantastic too.

I was also able to catch the late-night show of O by Cirque du Soleil. Having seen Ka and Mystere before, I knew what to expect. But like always, these shows are so spellbinding in their combination of artistry, acrobatics and theater through path-breaking application of technology, one cannot adequately describe the experience in words alone.

Las Vegas
The stage is a large pool with more than 1.5 gallons on water. Solid stage areas emerge from this pool and disappear as the artists perform their acts on air, water and solid ground in one seamless act. Truly worth the $150 I had to shell out for this show. BTW, it is difficult to pick a favorite Cirque du Soleil show - Ka was completely amazing too! However, while Ka has a clear storyline, O is mostly a sensory experience.