Category Archives: Wining & Dining

Restaurants, pubs, lounges, brunches, cocktails, drinks

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Savouring the world, one dish a time!

My first taste of Portuguese food was in Goa. The owners of the now restored 213 year old mansion Palácio do Deão, built by a Portuguese nobleman, had opened their doors to visitors for a taste of the traditional cuisine. I don’t remember the names of the dishes now but our hosts Rubem and Celia Vasco da Gama had gone to great lengths to lay out a memorable spread. I do remember the fish cooked to perfection. And the calamari flavored to bring any foodie to raptures.

Dining area
This old but restored Portuguese mansion made the ideal setting for a traditional meal

A taste of Portugal Main course

I’m glad I captured some of these culinary delights on camera so when I sit back and think of the delicious food, I can supplement my memories with photographs. Of course, the images don’t do justice to the actual taste of the mouth-watering delicacies served, but they only increased my curiosity about the cuisine and food of Portugal.

Goa was a Portuguese colony till as late as 1954 and the influences on the food and culture are indelible.

The Portuguese are said to have brought in potatoes, tomatoes, guavas and even cashews from Brazil to Goa and many of these ingredients today, find their way into Goan dishes, especially the Christian fare.

In my mind, there is no better way to explore a place than through it’s food and cuisine. And as cliched as it might sounds, I do actually live to eat so it seems but a natural way for me to explore a new place. I look forward to my next meal with anticipation, especially when I am travelling. I usually go armed with a list of recommended dishes and make sure I try at least a few of them.

Noodles
When in South East Asia, it’s difficult to resist a meal without noodles

Not only is exploring local cuisine interesting, but eating as the locals do adds to the whole experience.

I was recently in Vietnam, when I got to sample some really scrumptious local fare. From the traditional pho, to fresh and fried spring rolls, to the gorgeous (and tummy filling) pancakes filled with shrimp and rice, it was definitely a trip to remember for me. I even have memories of what I ate and at which particular place. The little non-assuming roadside eatery in Saigon where we sampled fresh spring rolls for the first time.

Making of the spring roll
A lady cooking fresh spring rolls; this has been her livelihood her whole life is what we’re told

The fish at a homestay in Mekong Delta, served like I’ve never fried seen before. The spring rolls we first learnt to make on a cruise ship and then relished. And the list goes on…

Pho in Vietnam
You can’t leave Vietnam without tasting the pho

Lots of seafood!
Streets are lined with sellers who pile up their stock and wait for buyers

Ingredients for the spring roll
The fresh spring roll is both delicious and healthy

I’ll have what he’s having!”

In March of this year, during a trip to Kerala I met with food and travel blogger, photographer Nelson Carvalheiro (and belatedly also found out how famous he really is!). Nelson in fact, through his amazing food pictures and experiences has the ability to bring about the above reaction from any onlooker.

Yoga poses with Nelson
Nelson indulging in a spot of yoga to get rid of all those calories piled up during our Kerala trip

During the trip, our meals were memorable, not only because of the varied spread but because of the fact that it would bring us together to discuss more about our cuisine and influences. We enjoyed authentic Kerala cuisine, the rice delicacies, the avial and stew, the fish cooked in different styles and best of all, the famous Kerala sadya (a multi-spread vegetarian meal) served during festivals but where everyone got a lesson on how to eat with their hands. It was an experience like no other. I was so taken in by the meal served on the houseboat while cruising the backwaters (probably our best!) that I even wrote about the experience.

Traditional fare from Kerala - appam with egg stew
Yummy egg stew served with fluffy appams in Kerala, India

Putta and kadlakai curry
Another delicacy called putta, with coconut and rice, along with kadla curry

As I head to Europe next in August visiting friends from various regions for the next couple of months, I am definitely looking forward to the more attractive aspect – sampling local fare. From the seafood paella and sangria of Spain to the variety of cheese in France, to the famed seafood and other delicacies of Portugal (if I am given a chance!), I’m surely looking forward to this trip already.

I definitely wouldn’t mind a “foodgasm”. I can’t think of a better way to experience Portugal!

(NOTE: This is an entry for the 16 day food tour of Portugal being conducted by APTECE. More details are here on Nelson’s blog. The last day is July 31.)

Farm fresh!

Far from the madding crowd

An account of our day out with the Chefs of JW Marriott, Bangalore at the First Agro Farm, Talakad. This is a guest blog post by Mukta Chakravorty, while the pictures are mine.

What is the recipe for a perfect and memorable day? There may be many, but here is mine. Head someplace far from the city where you can reconnect with nature and appreciate the simpler things in life. Add to it some great company and fabulous food and voila! There you have it!

So on Saturday, February 22, a bunch of us foodies, along with a group of extremely talented chefs of the JW Marriott, Bangalore headed to the First Agro Farm for a ‘Chefs’ Cook off’ session involving a taste of farm fresh food and an opportunity for the chefs to interact outside of their work environment.

We had an early start and the crisp morning air helped drive away the remnants of sleep from the previous night. Chef Jolly, executive chef of JW Marriott greeted us and gave us an overview of what the day had in store for us. After a quick breakfast of hot croissants and tea/coffee at the Marriott Kitchen, we headed off to Talkad, near Mysore.

Rows of fresh veggies!
A view of the First Argo farm in Talakad

It was a fairly long drive, but the company was pleasant. After a mistaken detour, we reached the First Agro Farm where we were warmly welcomed by Nameet, the Director of the farm. We were handed glasses of very refreshing gazpacho (a Spanish cold soup) made from the fresh and organic tomatoes and peppers grown at the farm.

Delightfully orange
The very delicious gazpacho soup, refreshing after a long journey

Rejuvenated by the soup, we were ready for a tour. Not many among us had been on an organic farm before and the wide variety of fresh vegetables and herbs bowled us over. There were peppers of different hues, horseradish that was delightfully pungent, cabbages, cauliflowers, all lined up prettily. We took off on an interesting treasure hunt amongst the rows of vegetable patches stretching ahead of us. With Nameet giving us clues, we had to look for the particular vegetable or herb he was referring to. And what discoveries we made.

Chefs on field discussion!
The chefs have a discussion on the field!

We lost count of the varieties of tomatoes grown there. They came in all shapes, sizes and colours. There were the bright red and pulpy San Marino tomatoes that are used especially for pizzas; pear shaped yellow ones on the vine (it seems the ones on the vines keep ripening even after they are plucked); tomatoes with ridges on them; the pea-sized, fish-boned structured tomatoes and the midnight indigo tomatoes that were a royal, deep blue and purple in colour.

Colours in my hand
Different colours and varieties of tomatoes growing on the farm

Chefs day out!
Chefs posing for a picture – Daniel, Jolly, Bruno Ferrari and Susanto

The cherry tomatoes were simply divine. Red hued, almost grape-like in size, they were immensely sweet, juicy and flavorful. We could easily have polished off the entire lot, they way we kept on plucking and popping them into our mouths. As we explored, we found out purple basil, different kinds of chillies and a host of other herbs and plants. And all of it is organically produced, free of any pesticides. The tour finally came to an end and then came our favorite part – the food!

Fresh and delicious!

While we were involved in the ‘treasure hunt’, our talented team of chefs had been busy laying out a lavish spread of fresh salads and barbeque for us. To top it off, there was wine that had been generously provided by Raghavendra of the neighboring Vindiva vineyards. It was truly a sight to behold. And ravenous as we were, we wasted no time in queuing up and tucking in.

Salads to die for!
Fresh vegetables and ingredients made for the most delicious salads!

At the salad counter, the chefs tossed us made-to-order salads and the choices were staggering! Fresh rocket leaves and assorted greens, smoked chicken, fried peanuts, khus-khus, shrimps, carrots, beetroot, etc with imaginative dressings like pomegranate, mango, pesto and more. All the vegetables had been picked fresh from the farm itself. They also had an amazing green-peas hummus with pita. It was lip-smacking and we went back for second and third helpings.

The barbeque counter was buzzing as well with roast chicken, lamb, pork, baked potatoes and lots more. By the time we finished our main course, we were too full to even move. Just when we thought we could eat no more, Chef Daniel Koshy, the executive pastry chef brought out an array of decadent desserts which looked too good to pass up! So we tucked in all over again.

Over the grill!

Satiated, we sat around chatting and taking in the sights and sounds around us. Pretty soon, it was time to leave and head back to the city. But even as we got ready to face the daily grind, along with the hustle and bustle of traffic, it was comforting to know that there are always some places you can head back to when you need to get away far from the madding crowd.

Bruno creating his own hat
Chef Bruno promises an unforgettable experience at Alba,
the Italian dining place at JW Marriott, Bangalore

More pictures in this Flickr Album

(PS: On an invitation from the JW Marriott, Bangalore).

Heady infusions at the MBar

Heady infusions at the MBar

We’re getting options these days! From a place which people looked down on (you live where?), to a happening suburb, Whitefield has come a long way. In fact, today it’s a bit of a boast to say, “I live in Whitefield”.

Not only do we have 5 malls within striking distance, we also have the Marriott, Whitefield in our backyard. I recently tried the brunch at the hotel and was quite impressed by the spread.

This time around, it was to check out their lounge, Mbar and the impressive selection of cocktails they have on offer. Their secret behind the potent mix that goes into the cocktails – alcohol infused with different flavours and kept in large jars for around 3 months. So imagine a vodka infused with jalapenos, or a tequila and Malibu infused with pineapples, which looks and smells really heady.

MBar view

These infusions are then used to prepare their range of signature cocktails.

A few of us had gathered around the table that Friday evening and the Food & Beverages Director, Vivin Kuriakose took us through the different kinds of cocktails and explained a bit about what goes into them. With a relaxed atmosphere and some nice lighting, the MBar is the perfect place to knock back a few drinks after a hard day’s work!

The MBar lab!

So this is what we tasted:

MBloody Marytomato juice and chilly infused vodka with Worcestershire sauce
Have this with the extra lime and Worcestershire sauce and feel it warm your insides. And if you want to make it spicier, add a dash of the chilly sauce to go along with it. Though they do not use fresh tomatoes, it doesn’t take away from the flavor at all.

M Bloody Mary

Pomegranate and Basil Martini – Vodka spirit is infused with fresh pomegranate and basil.

It’s very refreshing and I loved the taste of the basil, which is not ground, but left as a whole leaf, and the flavour stays with you as you sip. It’s a best seller, and no wonder!

Basil and pomegranate martini

Orange Mojito – classic style with orange flavoured white rum, and garnished with fresh oranges. A smooth drink which goes down easily.
Orange mojito

Tequila Coladatequila and Malibu infused with macerated pineapple shaken with coconut milk served frozen.
This one was rather delicious and you might not be able to stop at just one!
Tequila colada

Down and Dirty Martiniolives macerated with brine and vodka and dry vermouth.
You can taste the olives, which have given off some off their oil into the infusion. And the unmistakable “dirty” taste. This one is a bit tricky. You either like it or you don’t.
Down and Dirty martini

M Cosmopolitan
Classic, served shaken with vodka infused with cranberries, grand marnier, cranberry juice and lime juice.
The making of...

Of course, besides this signature range, they can make you any other cocktail you might fancy.

Another interesting fact –some of the drinks are served in beakers and the bartenders are wearing lab coats. Might remind you of those chemistry classes in college.

Short eats

The food is quite delicious too, try the patatas (prepared from potato), the hummus, which was quite delicious and the wholesome burgers. I couldn’t really get to the main course as the starters and appetisers themselves were quite a mouthful.  But there are steaks, fish and pasta if you’re in the mood for it.

Yummy short eats

To end the evening, try the long island iced tea, which is served in a rather large beaker. Provided you’re not driving home, of course.
- The Flickr Album

(Disclosure: This was a special mixology event held by the Marriott, Whitefield on invitation).

Mojito Mania

In search of the perfect mojito

The mojito is Cuba’s national drink.

“The original Cuban recipe uses spearmint or yerba buena, a mint variety very popular on the island. It’s combination of sweetness, refreshing citrus and mint flavors is intended to complement the potent kick of the rum, and have made this clear highball a popular summer drink. The cocktail has a relatively low alcohol content (about 10 percent alcohol by volume).”
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mojito

In search of the perfect mojito
In search of the perfect mojito, I landed up at Hard Rock Cafe, for their Mojito Mania festival one evening. With the lure of real fruit added to the mojitos, it was an offer hard to resist.

But before I get to the mojitos, here’s a recipe for those of you who are adventurous enough to try it at home. There are variations to the mojito that will give it a different taste/flavour.

Spread before us were around 15 mojitos with flavours ranging from strawberry, kiwi fruit, grape, bell pepper to green apple. Quite a visual and sensory treat!

If you’re looking for a mojito, this might be the right time to try out one. With the real fruit in the drink, it’s a sure fire winner. The flavour depends mainly on your tastebuds. Depends on what fruits you usually like. I particularly enjoyed the strawberry (on the sweeter side) and the bell pepper versions for the slight tang (and the fact that it offset the sweetness).

In search of the perfect mojito

So what are you waiting for? Head out to the Hard Rock Cafe and treat yourself to one! Fruit + mojito = what’s not to like? :-)The festival is on till June 9.

(Disclosure: This mojito tasting was on the invite from the Hard Rock Cafe).

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Gourmet Stroll

Food, wine and conversation

Food and wine together are an irresistible combination. Especially on a weekend, when it’s time to let the hair down, rejuvenate and relax!

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However hot Bangalore is turning during the day, the evenings are relatively pleasant. At least outside. So one Saturday evening, with a couple of friends, I decided to stroll through Indiranagar trying out different wines and restaurants. This is a frequent event organized by Poshvine (if you haven’t visited this site, do it right now! – it’s a treasure trove of interesting experiences in Bangalore and other cities). Christened the Jacob’s Creek Gourmet Stroll, it turned out to be quite a culinary experience. Not to mention a chance to sample some of their wines as we hopped along.
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We began with Bricklane Grill, where we gathered in a rather charming and cosy setting by the poolside. We started our culinary journey with a sparkling Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay, just the right accompaniment to the delicious aperitifs and starters for the evening. The finger food kept coming by and I especially remember the mushrooms with cheese – simply divine.

After a round of introductions and a quick overview of where we were heading (in case it slipped our mind after all the wine!), we set off for our second round. It was quite an eclectic group, which had gotten together. A few Spaniards and an Italian, adding to the flavour of the gang.


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Coming back to the stroll, we sauntered across to Terrazzo, just a short walk away on the buzzing 100 feet road. Here we had the Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay, which nicely complemented the bruschetta and the pasta dish we were served. My first experience with Terrazzo, but it probably calls for another visit later. The conversation was already getting louder and more animated by now. I chatted with a lady next to me, who confessed that she wasn’t a wine drinker, but never the less seemed to be enjoying herself.

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It was time to cross the road again. Our next stop – the Smokehouse Deli, which opened recently and has gotten quite a few reviews. On my first visit, I had a mixed experience. The service was definitely iffy, but I could tell that they were struggling with the crowds. We had to wait a very long time. The salad wasn’t what I’d expected either. This second time around proved to be a better experience, but then they were prepared for our crowd (we were above 20 people).
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With our main course, they served us the Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet, a relatively easy to drink red with balanced tannins and a smooth finish. I ordered the fish with it, which was excellent. But the rest of the main options like the chicken and the tomato/polenta looked equally interesting.
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To end the night, we then walked across to 100 feet restaurant. I also realized it’s been ages since my last visit. Back in the days when I had first come to Bangalore, this was one restaurant that I visited regularly and it’s nice to see that it’s still around, what with so many closing down after just a couple of years in business.
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I dug into the rather attractive selection and liked the cheesecake over the other sweeter tidbits. We had the Jacob’s Creek Rose with it and while I think a sweeter wine would do better with dessert, the experience on the palate wasn’t unsatisfactory either.

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The clock struck around 11 pm by the time we were done with dessert – also known as the time when Bangalore’s cinderellas must head home. All in all, an evening well spent with wine, conversation and some great food. If you like the sound of it, the next one is just around the corner!.

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Pizzas

Mexifornia is the flavour of the season at California Pizza Kitchen

The 5th of May is an important date in the history of Mexico. According to Wikipedia, a battle took place on this very date in 1862 near the city of Puebladuring the French intervention in Mexico. The battle ended in a victory Mexican Army over the occupying French forces. This holiday remains very popular in the United States where it is celebrated annually as Cinco de Mayo.

Pizzas

Mexifornia flavoured pizzas

So what better month is there than May to launch a new festival? Californian, with a twist of Mexican – Mexifornia! The proposition sounded interesting and so last Friday evening I found myself trying out the new “Mexifornia” menu launched by California Pizza Kitchen in Phoenix City Mall in Whitefield.

It will also be available at their outlets in Mumbai and Bangalore from April 29 to May 19.

I rarely eat pizza when I’m eating out since I’m not too much of a fan. So when I do, I want really good pizza! But besides pizza, I know Mexican food can be pretty interesting with their traditional styles of cooking and the ingredients that are used so that got my attention.

The newly opened outlet at Phoenix city is just below Trader Vic’s (also part of the same chain, as also Mai Tai) we’re informed.

There are quite a few specials that are a part of the new menu. Amongst them, this is what we tasted.

Fire roasted enchiladas that are flavoured with cumin, paprika and other spices, and then baked with cheddar and fontina cheese. It’s then coated with homemade enchilada sauce and topped with crème fraiche and cilantro. We had ours with chicken but vegetarian option is also available.

Enchiladas

Fire Roasted Enchiladas

The Adobe tacos are made with freshly toasted corn tortillas, topped with adobe fried chicken (you can also have shrimp/paneer) and topped with signature smokey barbeque and chipotle slaw. The Mexican rice with it’s trademark flavour and with beans and corn mixed in it, complemented the dish nicely.

Tacos

Adobe Tacos

We also tried two pizzas. The first one was the “Baja Supreme” – a thin crust pizza, which I prefer.

It had black beans, mushrooms and roasted corn. And it’s garnished with cilantro and then topped with just enough of a creamy mozzarella cheese, which is quite delicious. Definitely recommended if you like thin crust. This was the highlight of the evening for me.

Baja Supreme

Baja Supreme

The second pizza, which is called Chicken Carnitas, has a homemade cilantro pesto smeared on the base (which is thick), reminiscent of coriander. Topped with slow roasted chicken breast, and then with mozzarella, gouda cheese and red onions. There’s a spicy orange chilli salsa to go with in on the side, in case you want up the spice quotient! If you like a slightly Indian twist to your pizzas, you might enjoy this one.

Chicken Carnitas

Chicken Carnitas

Chef Vinod was very helpful and kept explaining what special flavours and seasonings went into the special dishes. He said most of the training was imparted online, but he’s confident that with his experience in the industry, the tastes will be consistent with what they’re supposed to be.

Chef Vinod

Chef Vinod

For the drinks, we tried a long island iced tea (not in the picture) and a red wine sangria, both of which were pretty decent. The sangria though did not have the soaked fruit, which I think is what gives this drink it’s signature taste (as also the added brandy/sherry). However, I’ve been on a long search for the perfect sangria (might as well be the topic of another post!), and have yet to find it. Fat Chef in Jagriti, Whitefield, does a pretty good job though I must say, and I usually try one when I visit it.

Drinks

Drinks

And then the best part of the meal. At least for those who love their sweet. This dish, the churros and chocolate mousse is just want it aims to be – mouthwatering and delicious. The churros are a fluffed Mexican pastry, very soft and light on the palate. It’s served with a homemade mole mousse – and they say it’s available only at CPK. So sweet lovers – you have something to look forward to at the end of the meal.

Dessert

Churros and Chocolate Mousse

Back to the special menu and they have quite a few others like the tostada pizza, the spicy Mexican fettucine and chicken tequila fettucine (sounds interesting!). So if you’re looking forward to trying some Californian food, with a taste of Mexico, you know where to head from April 29 onwards – California Pizza Kitchen it is!

The price range of the specials start from around Rs 300 for enchiladas and go upto Rs 665 for the pizzas. The special Mexifornian festival is on from April 29 to May 19, 2013.

More pictures on Flickr. 

(Disclaimer: This review was done after a special invite from CPK, during a special preview of the menu with invited bloggers. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.)

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