Monday, April 07, 2014

New Year's Dinner (2014) at Tuscana on Chamiers by Willi

I was looking for my LG microwave user manual when I chanced upon a restaurant bill for INR 1687. When I looked up the restaurant's name, it was Tuscana at Chamiers known for its Italian fare. 

After quite a bit of homework, I had decided to go there with a friend to usher in the new year. The exteriors look nice and comfortable and the interiors looked quite sober. I remember that the prices were ridiculous for such a mediocre fare. I think the bill was tagged to the fancy menu. 

We ordered the Fritter Zucchini, which is nothing but cucumber bajji or a snack that is common in Indian households and was oily. Next we had a salad verdure, which was a basic grilled vegetable plate with a dressing. The main course was a Chilli 9 pizza and the dessert, which was the only highlight of the evening was a classic Zucotto, a frozen creamy chocolate sponge cake dessert.

Besides burning a big hole in my pocket and a fancy website that let my imagination soar and sore, I have no other well meaning memories of the place. Well, there was a pretty kid who wanted to come over to our table and play with us. We played hide and seek for a while from our respective seating areas and it was a lot of fun; of course her parents had a hard time keeping her at their table. That as I clearly recall was the only fun part of the evening.

I probably liked a Wawa sandwich with their amazing pesto sauce or a simple aloo patty (hashbrown) at Subway. The parmesan-oregano bread topped with veggies and toasted cheese with hasbrowns was a killer and way lighter on the pocket - INR 116 only!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Copper Chimney Calling for Lunch

An earlier attempt to go to Copper Chimney with my team was aborted due to some emergency that one of my colleagues had to attend, much to everyone's disappointment. Since then we had given up the idea of a team luncheon. The opportunity presented itself months later when one of our senior team members was transitioning to a new role. So we decided to have a send-off luncheon get together. Dhaba Express was one of the choices which was not on top of our list and we finally decided to go over to Copper Chimney, which was a 10 minute car ride from our work place. I was thrilled. We can finally have our closure. What I really loved was the short distance to good food and I did not have to pay. 

The ambience was beautiful. It was airy and the team had made use of the natural light to good use. One of my colleagues also told me that CC employees differently-abled people on a part-time basis to work there. Now that's something very establishment should think about. Since I am a vegetarian, I can only talk about the veggie spread. We started with a lovely warm bowl of tomato soup topped with fried bread crumbs. It was a good start. What caught my attention was the Chaat station and I could not wait to get there. I started with a lovely cold tender cottage cheese-paneer salad, tomato-cucumber slices, and julienne apples and cucumber mix along with a medium sized pepper pappad.  

As I made my way around the vegetarian line, I fell in love with their tandoori vegetables which included baby corn, cauliflower, tomatoes and baby potatoes baked in a lovely aromatic yogurt based spice-mix. I added a dash of coriander-mint chutney and spiced yogurt. It was fantastic. 
Happily, I hopped over to the Chaat section and ordered the Dahi-puri, which are mini-fried puris filled with fresh thick yogurt and spices, topped with savouries and pomegranate. The chaat was flavourful and had just the right spice-levels. A few of us ordered different chaat items and enjoyed it to the hilt.

For the main course, it was a simple menu comprising Naan (Indian bread), dal (lentil), paneer burji (scrambled cottage cheese), jeera rice (cumin based), vegetable gravy dish with corn and mushroom and one more paneer dish. They were all well made dishes and enjoyable. To complete such a heavy lunch in such a humid afternoon, you need to absolutely wrap it up with a scoop of cold curd rice. I was in heaven. Well, almost.

The dessert section also had a limited spread, but I was quite confident that it will be as tasty as their main course. There were gulab jamuns (fried sweet marinated in sugar syrup), orange jelly topped with cream and cherry, fruit salad, vanilla ice-cream, semiya kheer (milk based warm dessert) and small cake pieces.

The dessert was a little bit of a let down. The jamuns were cloyingly sweet even though I had it with a scoop of ice-cream, which is a classic combination. My colleague who tried the jelly did not quite like it because of the overpowering essence of the colour. I do not enjoy jelly based desserts much, so I did not venture in that direction. The cake was dry and not as tasty as it looked. So I dropped it after a small bite. I planned to bite into some warm semiya kheer, which was quote alright. It was served hot and was not too sweet. That helped balance the jamuns sweetness, which was a tad too much.
The service was excellent. It was a well-groomed staff that looked after all their customers. Food was simple and tasty. The buffet price per head in comparison was a little high I thought. Would I recommend Copper Chimney at Ascendas to my friends? Absolutely yes.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Calvin's CLoud

And above all things, never think that you are not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you at your own reckoning.

- Isaac Asimov

Cha(a)t at Gangotree and Dessert at Cream N Fudge

Gangotree in known for its famous Indian snacks and savouries. I promise to get the pictures next time. The chaat (savouries) items originated as famous street food in India and with time, became popular among every strata of soceity. Today even in weddings, its quote common to find a mouth-watering over crowded Chaat stall at the dinner venue.

I sometimes go over to Gangotree with friends to bite into some spicy Bhelpuri, Pavi Bhaji and double-decker sandwiches. As far as Bhelpuri goes, I still stand by my Madras Bhelpuri house for their crisp, healthy flavour. My poor friend who had been living on dosas for the last three days badly needed a break. She wanted something light since she was leaving for the US tour in a few days. So we went to Gangotree. We split a plate of lovely pani puri and had a regular plate of pav bhaaji each. She wrapped up dinner, or so I thought with a cup of hot spiced tea. 

As we were preparing to leave, she asks me if we could have ice-cream at Cool Cats or Cream N Fudge. I hesitate. I know I had just started working out recently and was not too sure if I wanted to give in to the temptation, though I must confess I did look through the vast array of London Dairy ice-creams at Nilgiris just the day before. I gave in because I was going to see my friend only after two months when she is back from her tour and heads back again in July. 

So we headed over to Cream N Fudge for a heady taste of 100% Vegetarian ice-creams, meaning they do not contain egg. That was a pleasant surprise because I knew of a friend who only accepted ice-cream treats at Freeze Zone in Alwarpet because they were vegetarian. We asked the guys at the counter for the ice-cream with the lowest calorie count. He was clueless and so were the rest of the team. Maybe we looked like idiots. For godsake, when you are here to have a lovely bowl of fantalicious ice-cream, who the heck gives a damn about anything else? As an alternative, I suggested we could have an ice-cream with more fresh fruits and possibly ease our conscience. I was also completely smitten by the waffle cone dipped in chocolate at the edges. So we ordered a Peach Melba in the smallest bowl served in a waffle-cone. Each bite took us to the next plane. Ignoring the canned peaches that were served, we both ordered two bowls of ice-cream for our moms to enjoy their treat. 

As Heywood Broun rightly quoted,
" I doubt whether the world holds for any one a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice-cream"

Monday, March 17, 2014

Women's Day Luncheon at Mainland China and Sigree: GLobal Grill

Off late I have been eating out a lot and it has become a weighty issue. I try to counter it by a 45 minute cycling and taking a course of fruits instead of a meal. I am in two minds to sign up for two marathons given my present day lifestyle. 

Women's Day celebrated on March 8 was happily on a weekend. Though I dont subscribe to such celebratory days, I quite enjoy the attractive offers that come with them. 

I love the fare at Mainland China. It has always been consistent. I was craving for their Hunan Tofu in a spicy sauce for a very long time. The occasion was perfect. Mom also loves Chinese for their light flavourful cuisine. We ordered a clear soup which was unfortunately a not great choice. Instead we dug into the tofu and the vegetarian siu-mai momos for appetizers. Both were fantastic. I was a little let down that my another favourite, the lettuce wrap in water chestnut was not available. 

For the main course, we had our usual pan-fried noodles in soya sauce (you also have a white sauce option, which made no sense to me in a Chinese haunt) heaped up with vegetables. It was fantastic except that it still had a heaviness because of the oil, I think. The pan fried noodles at Wonton, was much better. 

The surprise element in the entire afternoon was the dessert course: Fried Icecreams. My mom had never heard of it and obviously had never tasted it. They served three sizeable pieces fried on the outside with dessicated coconut and drizzled over with honey. It was a perfect score. The team gave us a gift voucher to be availed at any of their signature restaurants worth INR 500. The meal for two was INR 1374 inclusive of all taxes, which was reasonable given their portions, presentation and excellent service.

Monday was another heady celebration of Women's Day at work. The ladies decided to take a chance with the new place Sigree, similar to Barbeque nation that served unlimited grilled starters followed by a north-Indian style buffet. I was quite excited. When we got there, we were ushered to our table and kept waiting for  a good time. The servers were running around like headless chickens and no one really paid any attention to our large group. I was miffed. I could not find the floor manager either and finally got the attention of one of the boys to get things moving. We were served a refreshing lychee lemon soda drink followed by separate vegetarian and non-vegetarian starters on each grill. The paneer grill in mint chutney was fantastic. It was soft and juicy just as it should be. We were also served potato fritters, grilled spicy pineapple and babycorn, which was alright. 
The variety of grilled items served in Barbeque Nation was well thought-out and the spice levels were bang-on. The highlight at lunch in BN was their corn fritters and service was round-the-clock. Of course they did not have much to offer other than a bland buffet. In Sigree, it was just the other way round. The buffet spread had a nice array of breads, rice and gravy dishes. We particularly loved the cheese bake vegetables that was done to perfection. We wrapped up the desserts with Phirni (kheer), date-walnut cake, chocolate truffle, my favourite lemony jalebis and a scoop of ice cream drizzled with nuts and chocolate sauce. What I did not know and neither did my colleague was we were both in a for a surprise. The girls got together and had ordered a lovely fruity birthday cake and left us glowing. It was such a lovely afternoon to remember. Coincidentally, I celebrated my last birthday at Barbeque Nation in a similar fashion and the entire restuarant team also did a birthday dance for me. I can still see myself blushing.

Overall, Sigree really needs to train their team for professionalism in service and work seamlessly. In their feedback form, I rated them average for service and a very concerned manager enquired about my unhappy rating. Hopefully, they will turn things around for the better or it will be such a shame. For now, Barbeque Nation rules!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Calvin's CLoud

In politics, If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.

- Margaret Thatcher

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Queen (2014)

Directed by Vikas Bahl, this bollywood flick starring the immensely talented Kangana Ranaut, Raj Kumar Rao including model turned actress Lisa Haydon became the talk of the town following the movie's world-wide release on March 7 2014. I decided to surprise my mom with a slightly different genre than what she was really used to and managed to get us tickets in different rows. The movie halls were packed and this was my best bet. By the time we reached the theatre weaving through horrendous traffic and picked up some grub, we missed the first 10 minutes of the movie, which was a bit of a disappointment, but we picked up the story.

Rani (translated as Queen in English) is a small town girl from Rajouri, Delhi. Her family runs a sweetmeat shop and has given her a sheltered life. She meets Vijay, a family friend's son who courts her throughout their college years and they are all set to tie the knot. Work takes the ambitious Vijay to London. Two days ahead of the wedding, Vijay calls off their wedding citing their different social statuses and her small town background. The family is in shock and Rani locks herself up in her room surrounded by the remains of the day, the wedding preparations. Next morning, she wakes up and eats a laddoo (Indian sweet) and joins her family at the breakfast table. She announces that she wants to go for the honeymoon alone and visit her favourite place Paris and also Amsterdam as already planned. Surrounded by an understanding family and a very wise grandmother who tells Rani that every day is different, the protagonist embarks on her journey.

At each and every turn, the movie shifts back and forth between her past conversation and regressive experience with Vijay and her present progressive state of mind. She finds an unlikely friendship in Paris with the hotel employee ''Vijay''-alakshmi, played by the leggy lass Lisa Haydon and in Amsterdam, Vijaylakshmi's friend, an Indian stripper who is in the job to pay for her family's education. Her alter-ego Viji helps Rani find her persona and she breaks free from the shackles of Vijay's controlling behaviour. She lets herself loose at a discotheque, has a couple of drinks and parties hard. In Amsterdam, she is allotted a hostel room with three other guys played by the uber handsome Mish Boyko, Jeffrey Ho and Guitobh Joseph. She takes on the challenge with an Italian chef, the very handsome Marco Canadea of selling golguppas and nurses a huge crush on him. She shares her first kiss with the chef who is equally attracted to her. She is reminded of Vijay's self-centered attitude when he asks her not to take up an accountant's job while in India. 

Vijay who realises his mistake comes in search of her in Amsterdam and picks up a fight when he finds out she is sharing a room with her three friends. Rani understands Vijay's small mindedness and instead chooses  to go for the rock concert to be with her friends She tells Vijay they will meet in Delhi. Upon reaching Delhi, she stops over at Vijay's house and returns the engagement ring with a hug. You almost feel sorry for the poor bloke. 

The direction by Vikas was brilliant. There were no judgements made on anyone and only acceptance of people from different walks of life. Everyone has a story. Rani returns home a self-assured and assertive girl who chooses to live life on her terms and leaves behind her once familiar shadow of her former self. Kangana shines in her role and is a natural. It was an absolute treat to watch her in every frame and she carried off her kurta-jean look beautifully. All this goes to say that it all depends on how we carry ourselves. The supporting cast lend their bit to create the transformation. The movie is meant for grown-ups given its very realistic visuals and portrayals. The music sounded almost similar to Devdas, but it was peppy and keeps you dancing. Mom and I thoroughly enjoyed Queen over Bhelpuri and Buttered pop-corn. 

We decided to do dinner on the way much to my mom's feeble protests and wound up at Creams Centre devouring a lovely Paneer Shashlik sizzler and very hot spring vegetable soup. The paneer was soft and succulent and the rice was light, mildly spiced. We were ravenous and after such an appetizing movie, we were ready for the real meal. The fare was INR 572 inclusive of service charge, service tax and VAT. 

We drove back home by 10.30 PM to a good night's sleep with great memories of an exciting evening.

Calvin's CLoud

I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races
So I trust, too.

-John Masefield

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kerala Beckons!

God's Own Country is so true. Kerala will always remain in my heart. If I could afford to buy a miniature version of a tharavadu, one of the traditional houses, by the river, I would do that in a heartbeat. T had been inviting me for a long time and after a year and a half of procrastination, she still had a little flicker of hope that I would visit her. She made one last ditch effort to coax me to make it to the famous Chotanikara Magam festival, which is celebrated every year by the women folk. 

I was missing Nina, their boxer. She is a bundle of joy and very pretty too. She had a near death accident in which her hind legs were fractured in a hit and run late night. Her resilient spirit got her through, not to mention the unflinching love her family gave Nina and nursed her back to health. So I had a lot of things running on my mind. We went back and forth about getting tickets and finally, I went early morning to the reservation counter and managed to get a tatkal ticket.

I had a pretty decent trip and had to wait for an hour to be picked up from the Ernakulam train station since T was experimenting with the shortest route, which invariably took her longer than expected. In the meanwhile, I enjoyed the beautiful sunrise and got into a brief conversation with a family from Pune who were on a pilgrimage. T and I ended up chatting and catching up with so many things, that we missed our morning plan to go to the nearby Poornathrayesha temple, dedicated to Vishnu, who takes the form of Santhanagopala Murthy. This is one of Kerala's greatest temples and well-known for its utsavam held in Nov-Dec, known as the Vrischikolsavam. The lord is believed to be the elder brother of Chotanikara Bhagavathy. 

Later that afternoon, we made it to the powerful Chotanikara Bhagavathy temple for the magam darsanam. She is worshipped in three forms, as Saraswathi, Lakshmi and Durga at morning, noon and night respectively. The temple architecture stands out as a testimonial for the wooden sculptures, also known as vishwakarma sthapathis. She is believed to cure those who suffer from mental illness. During the makam thozal, She is given a ritualistic bath in the sacred pond and for the makam darsanam, when the temple opens at 2.00 PM, she is adorned with gold jewels, ornaments and garlands. It is believed that this was the form that Vilvamangala Swami saw after the installation of the Keezhkaavu Bhagavathy. The crowd was massive and the sweltering heat did not help. Women were jostling each other and my friend and I were beginning to wonder if we will last for the next couple of hours until we reached the main sanctum. After nearly three hours and a lot of fervent prayers, we were blessed with Her grace. It was a sight to behold and the very purpose of my last minute train ride to Kerala seemed fulfilled.

For the next day, T had organised a temple tour starting with the famous Edapally Mahaganapathy temple, which is maintained and worshipped by the royal family. The temples of Kerala and their rituals adorning the deities and worship is one of the most breathtaking experiences for a traveller. 

From Edapally, we went to the Kodungallur Bhagavathy temple in Thrissur district. This was my second visit to the temple. The last visit gave me goosebumps just seeing Her form. The temple is believed to be a dedication to Kannagi and her martyrdom, built by the Chera king, Chengottuvan. Yet another popular belief was that Shakti was installed by Parasurama on the advice of Lord Shiva, when the former was tormented by the demon Daruka. Bhagvathy in the form of Bhadrakali is believed to have killed the asura. She is the residing deity in this temple.

From here, we headed over to the Kadampuzha Bhagavathy temple in Malappuram district. On the offerings is known as Muttarukkal, where people flock to get rid of obstacles that they face by buying coconuts to be broken by the priest into two equal halves, signifying that the problem has been destroyed by divine intervention. If a coconut does not break, the devotee has to return with a  fresh coconut to break. My friend was nervous as hell and was worried sick that the coconuts may not break. What we did not know was that on a weekend, it will take us forever to reach the Goddess. We had to wait for 5 hours in the queue by which time, my acidity built up. In the end, alls well that ends well. The coconuts broke into perfect halves. The lady ahead of us was not so lucky and had to return with another coconut since one of them did not break.

After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we went to the next temple on the itinerary, the historical Thirumandhamkummu temple in Angadipuram. 

The goddess Thirumadhamkunnilamma,was believed to be the protector of the Valluvanad kings. The principal deity is Lord Shiva followed by Bhagavathy. Legends say that King Mandatha, an ardent Siva devotee asked Shiva for an idol he could worship until his end. Shiva gives an idol which was dear to his wife, Parvati as well. She sends Bhadrakali to restore the idol from the King, but she is unable to do so. Finally, Shakti takes her full form and the King hugs the idol for protection. In the tussle, the idol splits into two and the thrimurthis (brahma, vishnu and shiva) appear on the spot. Shakti says she will remain with the idol because of her affection for Him and also installs Bhadrakali for worship. The viewing of the Goddess is also very unique. The door is opened only in parts for worship. The temple is up on a hillock and the walk around the area is beautiful.

On the last day of my stay, I had planned on making some lovely chutneys and some curries for lunch. I got through it half-way and had to make a mad dash to the Poornathrayesa temple. We went there in time for the closing ceremony and our fervent prayers for His darshan were answered. It was divine blessing.

The trip was absolutely satisfying except for my gastric attacks that undid my poor system. Nina, however came to my rescue. Maybe she sensed it, I don't know. I had been
throwing up for the entire trip because of the heat, long hours and spices. When I headed home, I was all curled up on a mat resting. She came bounding out of nowhere and jumped on me and licked me all over. She is a drool girl, so I generally don't let her lick me. But this time it was completely different. I felt instantly better like instant coffee. It is so hard not to fall in love with her. 

I am just waiting to hop back on the train to see her at the gate and fall in love all over again. Yes, add Austin and Mickey to that list. I can't help myself. I just can't.