Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Day of Immersion and Dinner at Sampoorna Haven, Besant Nagar

On the third day of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, the idols are immersed in the ocean, river or well, whichever is feasible. I was uncomfortable with the idea of praying to the Ganesh idol and throwing Him into the ocean, so I called my trusted help to do the honors. She came by noon to help me clean the house and after one long tiring day, we went over to the beach in the evening. The weather was beautiful but ridiculously crowded and roads flooded with people because of the Velankanni church celebrations. We decided to brave the situation and I managed to squeeze my bike into a parking lot. Armed with our petite clay idol, we walked over to the shoreline. 
While I stood by watching, my help prayed to Him and we bid him adieu. It felt complete. We decided to hang about for a while, but it had started to drizzle. Instead of heading home for dinner, I planned to treat my help to a lovely dinner at the newly opened Sampoorna Haven restaurant. 

Obviously I was excited. I was looking forward to a memorable Sunday evening dinner and head home for a well deserved slumber. We were ushered to our table by the window and that was where it ended. All we ordered was the tomato-basil soup, Arabic mezze platter, and a Spicy Garlic Fried Rice. We had to wait for over 30 minutes to get the soup. The floor manager avoided our table and made no eye contact either. We were hopping mad and wanted to walk out of the place. Right on cue, the soup arrived. The soup was good, but the bread sticks were like a lump of clay. So we ditched it after a bite or two.
The mezze platter should have served along with the soup or shortly after, but it took its one time to make it to the table. The presentation was eye-catchy, it was the taste that shattered my imagination. The babganoush, the tzatsiki and hommous were far from the real version, they reeked of garlic and tasted nothing like what it was supposed to be. The so called pita breads, deep fried and oily made the platter unappealing. This was a death sentence to someone who enjoys and understands Mediterranean cuisine. I strongly recommend removing this platter of the menu or either you learn the recipes well before you publish or serve them! 

We had to send out a couple of reminders before the final menu item was served. It was spicy, nevertheless tasted great. My help enjoyed it while I went home and downed a dose of gelusil. We did not leave a tip given their lousy service and authenticity of their dish. The value for money gets a negative. I certainly would not go back again for another peek at their menu.

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi was a lovely affair to remember this year. 

I had not planned on celebrating initially, but my mom's help called and offered to buy a lovely petite Ganesh idol and flowers and the famous Durva grass for Him. She came over a day prior and off we went shopping at the Thiruvanmiyur market place. This was my first time and it was a chaotic choice. It seemed the entire city had descended there for the joyous celebration. We bought fruits and veggies, all Rs 10 a packet. The entire shopping experience was wrapped up in under INR 350, while I would have spent more than twice the amount in other swanky places like Pazhamudir Cholai. I decided henceforth to visit the market on weekends and stock up for the following week.

The previous night, I spent hours scouring through recipes and dreamt about the big day through the wee hours of the morning. The day had arrived. I had asked my help to get home a little earlier than noon since the main worship had to be completed by 1:00 AM. The menu included sundal, thengai payasam, fried modakam, vadai, lemon rice, fritters and of course rice and other side accompaniments. 

To add to the charm, one of my nib-paintings of Ganesha, which was lying idle at the dining area, found its rightful place at the festivity. He became the centrepiece around which the specials of the day were organised.

The payasam made with fresh grated coconut was a show stealer. It was a new recipe and the success of the dish made it grander. 

Technology has shrunk the world and we pretty much as world travellers in that sense - you can connect to any place, anyone and any time. My mom joined the celebrations over video and chanted the mantras, while my nephew added the music. It was a lovely family affair. My nephew loves all the drama and has his own ritual to perform in the pooja room. So while I did the rituals here, he ran to the prayer room to get his prayer bell and began chanting. It was such fun celebrating the occasion with the little one.

In the evening I went to the Ganesh temple to offer prayers and later to my cousin's house to take her mother's blessings. 

All in all, it was a blast!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Calvin's CLoud

Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it.

Mark Twain

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lunch at Burgundy

I was invited by a colleague for lunch before his last working day to celebrate his career move to Dubai. Lunch was at the famed Burgundy's which I had heard of, a million times, but never made it there. The place is supposed to be packed to the hilt on weekends for its wine. I was excited and was looking forward to the luncheon with the group. Finally, I thought I could get my hands on their menu.

For starters, vegetarians had a potato cutlet, a very dry bhel puri and not so fresh pani-puri. I could not understand how one can go wrong with the most simplest and tastiest chat, the bhelpuri. It was dry and had asbolutely no spice to it. My heart sank. The tomato-basil soup was alright. No complaints there. Thankfully.

We started with the salads. The fried brinjals were fantastic as were the okra in curd, followed by well marinated vegetables and fruits. I loved their cheese bake which was delicious. The manchurian in gravy was a knock out as were the roasted spicy cauliflower. The noodles was  a goner. Not sure what the chef forgot.

I just had a piece of bread and cottage cheese and quickly moved to desserts. The dessert section was a huge let down. It was dry and the custard was way to eggy for some of us. We instead settled for strawberry ice-cream, cos vanilla with chocolate sauce was tucked away where we could not see. We had to ask for it to be served! 

We were let down and shocked by the way they had organized the buffet, not to mention the average fare. Price was a no brainer - not much value for money.

So much for the excitement. I was glad this was going to be my first and last trip there.

Calvin's CLoud

Its lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them,  and discuss whether they were made or only just happened.

- Mark Twain

Terry Fox Run, Chennai Aug 24 2014

I participated in the Terry Fox, Marathon of Hope run last week, on Aug 24. It was also my brother's birthday. I never knew who Terry Fox was, but when I started reading about him prior to the walk, it moved me deeply. Akash Dube who passed away two years ago due to leukemia started the Chennai Chapter after learning about this great Olympiad who ran till his last breath and changed the way we looked at life.

Similar to my Sowcarpet Food Walk, I met many like-minded bunch of youngsters who were all upbeat about the run and were taking different modes of transport to reach the venue. I did not go with anyone nor did I know anyone in the crowd. I din't care. All I cared about was the objective at hand and my inspiration, Terry Fox, as I jogged the distance and more. If he could run with prosthetics and bone cancer chewing him up, I needed to put in the maximum effort to keep running to the finish until I could do no more - I had to keep the flame of hope alive.

We all had to get our hands marked with a special ink and start the run. It was euphoric. You could walk, run, cycle and it was a free charity event. More than 10,000-15,000 people participated. What a glowing tribute!

FOr me, it was also personal at some level. I had lost two of my uncles to cancer and my neighbour, a lovely couple died within a few years of each other to cancer. It is a devastating disease and terribly painful, 100 times more than what you and I can imagine. My emotional connect made me stronger and I ran almost the entire distance - almost but not entirely. 

I reached the finish, picked up my certificate and jogged back to the Exit and walked it almost half-way home. While the entire run was mapped for 6 kms, I essentially completed almost 8-9 kms. It was my way of honouring Terry Fox and Akash Dube. 

Keep Going.

Celebrating Madras (present day CHennai)

While the date is considered controversial, it is popularly quoted that Chennai was founded on Aug 22 1639. The erstwhile East India Company (Francis Day, Beri Thimmappa and Andrew Cogan) transacted a piece of land, with the local rulers. It is where Fort St.George stands today as a testament to history. (Source: Wiki)

The concept of Madras Day was put together by Vincent D'Souza (of Adyar/Mylapore TImes fame), Sashi Nair (renowed journalist) and S.Muthiah (the famous historian) to celebrate the city's journey through time. It eventually became a week long celebration turning into Madras Week

I participated in the Sowcarpet Food Walk organized as part of the Food Walk events. It was a sultry day and on a whim, I stepped into the bus and took off to the venue. I had heard so much about Sowcarpet and the adjoining Flower Bazaar, so it was curiosity more than anything else that motivated me to take this trip. Once I alighted, I asked passers-by for directions and was pleasantly surprised when one of them offered to guide me since the gentleman was headed for the same event. By the time we reached the venue, the group had already started exploring the famous joints, run by generations and savoured by the local community.

At the famous Mehta Bros, we tasted a lip smacking Vada Paav, a famous street food in Maharashtra. We also tried their mirchi-bhaaji (fried spicy fritter), which is guaranteed to make your ears smoke! The price was slightly on the higher side, but worth the trip.

Next haunt was at Kakada Ramprasad for their hot delicious thin jalebis and the aloo-tikki chat (potato cutlet with spices and other add-ons) which simply knocked it out of the park. It was INR 100 together, expensive again, but tasty. 

They don't allow you to photograph whilst making the recipe, so food bloggers, take note. However, the humid weather and the chaos added to the confusion. The orders were getting piled up and the staff was overwhelmed. Everyone made a dash for their order, screamed above the rest and the staff screamed back when the order was ready! 

By this time, I was feeling full and decided I could not take anymore. But Anmol Lassiwala changed my mind one last time. Dinesh Soni, a former wrestler from Patiala started this business to beat the Chennai heat. This is an absolute must-try on your foodie list. He was great to talk to and even complimented me on my silky tresses. I tried the kesar lassi which was divine. He serves them in huge glasses which is like a dinner full-course meal. But dont get scared, he offers a smaller glass for a different price. 

I could not walk another step after this. I was officially done. I did not want any other food distraction messing with my lassi taste on my palate. I walked back to the bus station with happy memories.

However, next time around it is bound to get twice as crazy and the organizers should be better organized to handle that volume of response. It will certainly make for a better experience.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Quick Bite at Sangeetha, Adyar

We had to get a lot of outdoor wok done and with a long evening ahead, we decided to hop over to Sangeetha, famous for its vegetarian fare, for dinner. Inspite of being in my neighbourhood for years, I never felt compelled enough to drop by for a bite, until curiosity got the better of me. All with a purpose - I was looking forward to tasting the pesarattu, a moong dhal crepe filled with rava (sooji) upma. I had this delicious Andhra speciality at Idli-DOsa at Sathyam cinemas with my cousin. The ginger chutney that accompanies the crepe is the true hero of the dish. Since then, its been on my mind. 
When I looked through the menu, I was disappointed to find out that Pesarattu is served only on Saturdays. Apparently, the idea was to serve specials each day, to keep the customer base entertained. So we decided to try soups and split a plate of Schezwan noodles. For complimentary bites, everyone was served a plate of fryums. Either they forgot our table or they did not think it necessary. I asked for it on the principal of equality and attention to detail. 
For the real deal, I ordered the vegetarian kebab, which was perfectly done. We had a spicy mint chutney to add moisture and flavour to the dry warm slices.

Since the restuarant is famous for Indian food, and we usually make similar dishes at home, we settled for a slight safe choice. That explains why we split a tomato soup garnished with fried bread. It tasted great. Especially after a long day out, a warm tasty soup can uplift your soul.

For the close, we ordered a plate of spicy noodles. We also let the chef know we did not want a plate of oily noodles, because sometimes, they add a heap of chilly oil to enhance the taste and it gets very heavy and leaves an oily after taste. That said, the plate of hot noodles served with vegetables was delightful. 

On the whole, it was an enjoyable. Service was quick and quantity was good for two. Price was a tad high in comparison to slightly high end restaurants like Cream Centre. The bill for two was approximately INR 350. Sangeetha gets crowded on weekends, so better get their early. If there is anything I would like them to improve upon, it is their cutleries, too plastic. I understand from the point of maintenance, it is easier, but from an appetizing view, it is not so appetizing.

Calvin's CLoud

Even if things don't unfold the way you expected, don't be disheartened or give up. One who continues to advance will win in the end.

- Daisaku Ikeda

Sunday, July 06, 2014

A Surprise Dinner at Eden

My uncle was visiting us from Bangalore just for a day. Since we hardly meet, I decided to take him out for dinner at Eden, another famous vegetarian restaurant which my family, friends and I patronize.

I also got my aunt a simple jewellery piece as a belated birthday gift and their sweet little kid, a big bar of chocolate. We picked up a sea blue t-shirt for my uncle, which he liked, but not before he tried the earlier tshirt that I had bought, which turned out to be too big for his medium frame. So the plan was to drive over to the beach, find a parking spot on a Saturday evening if you are truly blessed, walk over to the shop and exchange the t-shirt and head over the beach for a while and wrap up with dinner at Eden.

It was a perfect plan and it worked beautifully. The evening drizzle made it even more endearing. I had completed a cycling session an hour earlier and was lucky to have caught a rare rainbow over the ocean. It was such an unexpected magical moment, so I called home and let them know incase they were interested in making a dash to the beach. 

It was breezy and just a great feeling to sit by the banks, enjoying the bluish-grey sky and watching the corns getting grilled over the charcoal. As the evening progressed, the beach came alive with the rows of snack shops ready to fry away the usual favourites. We decided to make a move since we were hard pressed for time.

We went to Eden by 7.00pm and the place was relatively empty. Within 30 minutes, it was packed with waiters scurrying from table to table taking orders. They forgot our soup and the Tandoori salad and had us waiting for over 30 minutes. 

We were terribly disappointed with their service and I was embarrassed when my uncle suggested we cancel the order! After a reminder, the tomato soup and the salad were served immediately. The soup was well flavoured and served at the right temperature. The tandoori salad, which is my favourite did not measure up. The cottage cheese (paneer) seemed chewy and possibly not fresh, because if it was fresh panner, it would cut through like butter. The rest of the vegetables were done well. The coriander dip was an excellent accompaniment. 

For the main course, my uncle preferred rotis. For the sides, I ordered a dal makhani and a tandoori gobi masala. While the dal makhani was cooked with the right spice levels, the gobi (cauliflower) masala was a little too hot for me to handle. So mom and I attacked the mildly spiced lentil gravy.

Thankfully, we had ordered just enough portions and except for the dry vegetable, we cleared our plates. The bill for three was INR 1300 including tips, moderately priced.  I usually don't tip for poor service, but gave them the benefit of doubt on this occasion. The service is usually impeccable and the waiters are old timers who take care of each and every customer who walk through their doors. Some days are like that I guess. Who knows I may need the benefit of doubt on another day!

Sizzlers at Cream Centre and Off to Rescue the Dragon

videoSundays are off for my house help. So I sometimes plan a movie or hop over to our cousin's place or just grab a lovely lunch at one of our usual haunts. I was craving for sizzlers for a while and on this particular Sunday, I was  not feeling well and like a cat on the wall, was undecided for most part of the morning. I dragged myself to Art class and when I got back, decided we might as well do the lunch and head over for the afternoon show, How to Train Your Dragon-2 at Express Avenue.

Creams Centre is a usual favourite at home. We had been there on so many occasions with friends and family. Its a 15 minute drive from home and you have valet parking since the restaurant is on the main road.They serve only vegetarian and the menu is a little bit of everything. I sorely miss my hummus with pita bread, which was always my first bite. Their Spring Vegetable soup is well prepared with fresh cottage cheese, shredded cabbage, carrots and spring onions in a light corn flour mix with soya sauce. The sizzler menu is huge hit with the masses. One this particular day, pretty much every table had some sizzle going on. The quantity is good for two. 

The onion ring starters are served in an interesting visual presentation, but we usually avoid it since we make a more rustic version at home. Second in this hot weather, we can the deep fried starter a miss. The American Corn Cheese Balls is another delectable treat, fattening but tasty. Kids usually take to it like a charm. Most of the sizzler menu have taken turns at our table with different luncha and dinner groups - you have the Mexican sizzler, Italian, Chinese and Paneer Shaslik. The Paneer (cottage cheese) version and the Italian are by far our favourites. The Paneer ka Baap, a signature dish and the Crispy Aloo (potato) Tikki sizzler seemed like a recent addition, but I am not sure. Anyways, we went ahead and decided to take on their signature version. 

The service was a little slow eventhough we went early. During the busy hours, if you are lucky, you may find a table by their garden enclosed in glass, which is refreshing. The signature dish did not disappoint. It was simply smacking good. The price for two was INR 600, which was reasonable. 

After wrapping up with a lovely lunch, we headed over to train the dragon. Only it should have been, How to Save Your Dragon-2. The effects were excellent, but the story was like a soppy love story with too many dialogues and just colourful dragons whizzing all over the place. Gerard Butler's voice did make me smile, but lets face it, at the end of it all, I could not wait to get home for a cuppa!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lunch at Pind, Velachery

We had a team lunch at the Pind in Velachery recently. It was a stone's throw away from work and a few folks told me that the food is delicious. So the decision was easy. Pind in Punjabi means a village or community. The entrance to the restaurant is quite interesting with local references.The lassi (yogurt based drink) was highly recommended and it is supposedly served in bottles as is the local practice in Punjab. 

Reservations were made since we were a large group and it was recommended on their site as best practice. Once we were seated, no service was available for a while. Maybe we should do the reservations for that as well!

We all decided to go for the Patiala thali (plate served with a variety of dishes) since it seemed wholesome, but unfortunately did not include the lassi. The service was terribly slow and it seemed to me they were avoiding us while we were getting starved.

Finally after a long while, the food seemed to trickle in. We were served tomato soup followed by the tandoori paneer, which was to die for. Succulent and well spiced, it was fantastic. This is followed by a greasy fried corn sautéed in soya sauce, which we still ate because we were famished.

The bread basket arrived and the sight was overwhelming with the roti (wheat based) and naan (all purpose flour) stacked and gleaming under the lights. The thali itself looked heavy. There were a lot of paneer  (cottage cheese) based dishes and I could not really enjoy it because they were so rich and makes your stomach feel heavy. You have a choice of plain rice or pulav, and the pulav which was everybody's favourite was the villain of the piece. The spices had our tongues crackling.

So we dived into the dessert, which was the gulab jamun with ice cream that eventually cooled us down.

Overall, good food but poor service. Ambience was interesting, but nothing to die for. The house serves pure vegetarian dishes which is great news for some of us folks.

Parking is an issue since the restaurant is located in a narrow street. Valet service is available if that makes you feel better. 

I think the thali was INR 250 per head which is a tad expensive. I suspect the reason is they won the Zomato Users Choice Award. You can certainly pop in there atleast once and that is how I get to do my reviews.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Calvin's CLoud

The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue.
 ~Author Unknown