Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I'm in London till Sunday

Hi People -- I'm going to be in London for work and then pleasure through this Sunday. I haven't been in over 10 years so I'm really excited. Please let me know if you have any suggestions on where to eat and cool places to check out. Thanks!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Thai watermelon salad to beat the heat

It's so warm and sunny in Manhattan today so I made a big watermelon salad for lunch. Finding all the ingredients in my kitchen was a bit of a drag but the sweet and spicy flavour combo in the Naked Chef's very summery Thai watermelon salad recipe was just delicious. The mint and cilantro blast a wonderful freshness to the salad so make sure you don't skip these two greens in the recipe.

Serves 4
1/4 watermelon
2 handfuls of fresh cilantro, leaves picked
2 handfuls of arugula
2 handfuls of fresh mint, leaves picked
1 small bunch of radishes, finely sliced
a handful of peanuts or sunflower seeds
4 oz feta cheese

For the dressing
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 red, 1 yellow and 1 green chilli, deseed and finely sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
6 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 3-4 limes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the skin from the watermelon and cut the flesh into small cubes, removing as many seeds as you can be bothered to. Place the cilantro in a bowl with the arugula, mint, watermelon and radishes. Put the ginger, chilli, soy sauce, olive oil and sesame oil into a smaller bowl and add just enough lime juice to cut through the oil - the number of limes you will use depend on how juicy they are. Season to taste and make sure the dressing is well-balanced.

Place your peanuts or sunflower seeds in the oven or in a pan and warm through, then roughly pound them up in a pestle and mortar or in a metal bowl using the end of a rolling-pin. Dress the salad really quickly. Divide between the plates, sprinkly over the hot peanuts or sunflower seeds and crumble the feta cheese over the top.

Enjoy with a glass of chilled ginger lemonade.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Bahamas: Day 3- Snorkeling

Our last day in the Bahamas was the most memorable because we escaped the ordinary tourist routine and whetted our appetites for adventure by snorkeling in the Northern Exumas, about 50 miles from Nassau.

We whizzed off in a state-of-the-art, high speed power boat at about 9 am from Paradise Island Ferry. We glided over crystal blue waters for about an hour before we reached Saddleback Cay, one of the uninhabited beaches in the Bahamas. We cooled off in the water and relaxed on the beach for a few hours before we went snorkeling.

We snorkeled about five minutes away from Saddleback where there was a shallow coral reef teeming with colourful fish and other exotic sea creatures. This was my first experience snorkeling and I totally loved it. There was something so mesmeriziing about slowly meandering my way underwater while seeing the bed of the ocean and all its glorious flora and fauna.

We encountered lots of beautiful fishies:

And were also lucky to see a stunningly coloured starfish:

We spent the rest of the day back at Saddleback. After experiencing such a virgin beach, I'm not sure the Hamptons is going to match up this summer.

Overall, the quick 3 day escape to the Bahamas was such a battery-charging trip. Even though Manhattan is really growing on me, I can see myself needing to get away the city every now and then. Luckily, many of the islands in the Caribbean are only a 3 hour flight away. jetBlue also flies to the Dominican Republic from JFK so that's definitely going to be our next escape.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Bahamas: Day 2 - One & Only

Our second day in the Bahamas was very relaxing. We woke up late, had a nice, long workout at the Atlantis fitness center and then ate a leisurely lunch at Shark Bites by the the Royal Towers swimming pool.

At night, we dined at the tres elegant and extraordinarily charming Dune restaurant at the One & Only Ocean Club which is a few miles from Atlantis in Nassau. It felt priviliged to be at the One & Only - the resort is very exclusive and secluded from the rest of the world. No wonder that rooms here cost upwards of $1000 a night!

Dune is owned by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the internationally known chef and restauraurateur. The menu is French-Asian with Bahamian influences. We had drinks at the Dune Beach Bar pictured above before heading to the dining area.

Here are a few things we ate at Dune:

Sesame rice crackers with a spicy and crunchy peanut sauce

Mussels in a chili and lemongrass sauce

Sweet pea soup with long croutons

Tropical sorbet icecream (the coconut sorbet is to die for)

Are you hungry as yet?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Bahamas: Day 1 - A room with a view

Light sea green. Teal. Dark turquiose. Aqua. Sky blue. Cyan. I couldn't recall enough shades of blue to match the different colors of the Atlantic ocean that I could detect from my airplane window as our jetBlue flight started its descent into Nassau International Airport in the islands of the Bahamas. My eyes lit up as I took in the breathtaking expanse below, thrilled as could be to experience for the first time, the ocean at her purest.

We stayed at the Atlantis on Paradise Island in their Coral Towers. The buxom Bahamian who checked us in seemed to have a soft spot for Indians so we lucked out and got a lovely room with a balcony and a spectacular view as shown in the picture above. Sunrise and sunset viewings from the balcony were relaxing and energizing at the same time. The sheer sense of calm and beauty soothed the mind and rejuvenated the soul.

Atlantis is an amazing resort though hardly exclusive. You get a very Vegas-like feeling with the top-notch restaurants, shopping, gaming, swimming pools, tennis courts, fitness center, non-stop entertainment and family-friendly activities. The trick is to know when and where to avoid the crowds. I found the Royal Towers area a little more secluded than the rest of the resort. And the best time to explore is early in the morning when all the kids are still in bed.

The most interesting, and absolutely fascinating, parts of the resort were the marine habitats. The different lagoons house over 50,000 sea animals from some 200 species. From phosphorescent jellyfish and dazzling colored fish to sharks, barracudas and stingrays, you can get close-up views of all kinds of sea creatures at the Atlantis. It's so easy to stare endlessly at the lagoons and the larger-than life fish tanks, tasting a bit of what life under the ocean must be like.

In my next couple of posts, I'll share the highlights of my vacation from days two and three, including more photos.

Friday, May 20, 2005

That meme thing!

I'm getting ready to leave for the Bahamas early tomorrow morning. Instead of packing and thinking about my trip, I'm blogging away..tsk..tsk..tsk..such is the addiction.

My friend, Amy, tagged me for the latest meme doing the blog rounds around the world. I think it originated as a general books meme but has now turned into one about cooking and is called Five Favourite Books.

1. Total number of books I own:
No idea but I know I have 69 cookbooks.

2. Last book I bought:
I just started a Book Club with my friend, Shivani, and we're reading The Kite Runner this month. I still haven't finished the book but it's been one of the most engrossing stories I've read in a long time. Khaled Hosseini has a real gift for story telling and I know that I will be eagerly awaiting his future books.

3. The last book I read:
A few weeks back I completed The Mango Season by an Indian author called Amulya Malladi. The story is about a Telegu Brahmin girl in her late 20's who lives in the Bay Area with her American boyfriend. She goes home to Hyderabad after seven years to break the news to her parents that she is going against their wishes and will be marrying her boyfriend. The book is a quick read. What I loved most was how Amulya weaved in recipes into the narrative and really made me experience the mango season through her descriptive prose.

4. Five Books that mean a lot to me:
Like Amy did, I'm going to stick to cookbooks. I have to say it was really hard to choose from my collection of 69. I'm listing those that I find myself referring to time and again. Here they are:

Tapas, Spanish Appetizers -- this is one of my most prized cookbooks. Those of you who've been to the annual tapas parties we hosted on the 432 Quartz deck in California know first hand how delicious these recipes are. Remember how tasty the patatas bravas were? And how utterly divine the marinated sweet red peppers? For the rest of you, trust me, if you buy just one more cookbook, let this be the one.

Lifco's "How to Cook?" by Vedavalli Venkatachary -- this is such a gem that it's not even available online :)
Given to me by my dad, this is my source of inspiration for pineapple rasam, coconut sevai, kancheepuram idlis and carrot halwa amongst a host of delicious TamBrahm food that I grew up on and attempt to replicate in Manhattan.

The Fondue Cookbook (Hamlyn) -- this was the first book that I relied on for a dinner party when I first moved back to the U.S. five years ago. I use it every year when the weather gets colder and veggies and cubed bread dipped in cheese is all I want every day!

The Tomato Cookbook (by Christine France) -- this is the ultimate guide to a classic ingredient. I love tomatoes and I find myself browsing through this book very often for ideas as varied as moussaka and piperade with crostini.

And finally, my beloved, Naked Chef, whose autographed copy of Jamie's Dinners is my essential weeknight cookbook.

5. Which 5 people would you most like to see fill this out in their blog?
Rumy because I'd love to know more about her reading habits, Manish Vij because I'm just getting to know him better through his blog, Nish because she's probably reading some really cool books, Larry because he's such a cool dude and finally, my Dad, just because I love that he blogs.

Phew, this post took one helluva long time. Now I'm really ready for the beach!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Off to the Bahamas

I'm escaping to The Islands of the Bahamas this weekend to recharge and rejuvenate. Despite my growing fondness for the city, it does get to me from time to time. Nothing like a weekend away to refresh the spirit.

I'm going to be laptop and BlackBerry free all weekend long so you won't hear from me till early next week. I'll have my PowerShot elf on hand to capture the amazing sights so I can share my experience with ya'll.

Have a nice weekend!

Lil' Frankies Pizza

The East Village has some of the most interesting eating places in town. I loved the atmosphere and food at this lovely little Italian pizzeria called Lil' Frankies.

The name indicated that it might be a bit of a hole in the wall but the restaurant was actually quite charming given its shabby chic decor including mismatched plates at dinner. The cozy dining area, the flaming wood-oven and the antique wine racks exuded a casual yet elegant vibe.

The menu was surprisingly diverse for a mid-priced pizzeria and included an impressive array of salads, appetizers, pasta and sides in addition to the pizza. Lil' Frankies also has an impressive wine list - all Italian, of course.

The antipasto plate we ordered came with roasted peppers, eggplant and potatoes, fontina cheese and a few cured meats. It was perfect to chase down all the wine we were consuming. My arugula salad was topped with a few sheets of a delicious parmigiano reggiano. Main course was Pizza Funghi which came with fresh mushrooms, tomato, mozzarella and parsley. The crust was super thin and super yummy.

Lil' Frankies is now my new favourite pizza place in Manhattan. I noticed it was right next to The Tasting Room, a tiny wine bar that I've been wanting to check out for ages. All the more reason to head back to First and First very soon!


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Sa Woy Thai in the Upper East Side


Some restaurants are way more attractive than the food they serve. Sa Woy Thai in the Upper East Side is one of those places that justify their high prices for average food by totally bribing us with their stunning decors.

I met an old college friend for brunch on Sunday at Sa Woy. The brightly painted walls, the ornate brass lamps looming over the bar, the gorgeous Thai antique pieces and a young, hip Thai waitress blended well to create the perfect ambience for the chef's modern take on traditional Thai cuisine.

Unfortunately, the food was not as memorable. The summer rolls had way too many herbs and raw julienned vegetables stuffed into a wrap and its dipping sauce was rather bland. The noodles with shiitake and eggplant were totally unpalatable as soon as I detected the beef broth in which the noodles must have been cooked. The only saving grace was my coconut lemon grass soup with assorted vegetables which I doused with generous quantities of chili sauce and chilis in vinegar.

I may go back to Sa Woy but only for a cocktail in a nice atmosphere after a stressful day at work - but only if I lived close by, which I dont. Highly unrecommended.

1479 First Ave.
(212) 744-6374

Monday, May 16, 2005

Sunday morning run

I'm unexpectedly growing to love Manhattan. I never thought I would like living here but my friends knew better and everyone told me that I was gonna love Manhattan. I have to admit that they might have been right.

Slowly and surely, I'm getting addicted to the energy and vibe of the city. The urband grind - something I detested at first - is becoming the de facto pace of life now. I find myself thriving on the hectic pace, the stress, the constant need to be stimulated.

I went for a 3 mile run yesterday morning. I loved pounding the pavement from Chelsea to the West Village and back at 9:30 a.m. on a gorgeous Sunday morning. I'd never experienced the city so early on the weekend and it was truly an exhilirating experience. Running through Chelsea, I passed many adorable dogs being walked by their owners who were sipping Starbucks and carrying the New York Times Sunday edition in their hands. In the West Village, early bird tourists were waiting for the happening brunch places to open up. The air was crisp and full of excitement. I just loved being there when the city was just about to come alive.

Now that the summer is here, you'll be reading a lot more about my jaunts through the city in my favourite sneakers. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 14, 2005


I finally tried out Sukhadia's "Indian Vegetarian Gourmet" for lunch today. Not sure what is gourmet about Bombay street food and a Gujju buffet but the experience was worth it nonetheless.

As you walk into Sukhadia's, you are greeted by a Chaat Corner on your right hand side from which you can order bhel poori, sev poori, samosa chat, kachori chat, dahi batata poori, aloo papdi chat, pani poori and chutney sandwiches. When Kim and I walked in, we didn't see anyone ready to serve us so we made our way to the back of the restaurant to the dining area through a long corridor of sorts. We passed by the sweets section and the buffet on the right and chivda on the left. I have to say that I was unbelievably tempted by the kaju katlis, balushahis, burfees and other assorted Indian sweets so innocently staring at me. They were so ready to be taken.

The dining area with the marble top tables, plastic flowers and mirrors everywhere is a bit garish and not tasteful at all but it's at least better than Dimple's less-than-hygienic atmosphere. Our Mexican waiter was very sweet and his excellent service more than made up for the ambience.

The menu is a dream for vegetarians who love Indian food. Chaat is only one option. An entire section of the menu is devoted to platters - dhokla, samosa, batata vada, lilva kachori, patra, mixed pakoda, chili pakoda, thepla, gathia jalebi and dahi vada! Isn't your mouth watering already? If it weren't just the two of us, we might have ordered one of these.

The hot entries selection was the most enticing to me. I was having a hard time choosing from pav bhaji, chole bhatura, aloo paratha, ragada pattice, vada pav (I loved the fact that a restaurant is serving this!), vegetable burger, channa tikki, usal pav and even vegetable biryani.

If these selections are not enough to make it difficult to decide what to eat, Sukadia's also has a daily special on weekdays serving items like undhiu, bajari rotis, methi paratha with hyderabadi baingan etc.

In the end, Kim and I shared a few chaat dishes - samosa chaat, bhel and pani poori. The bhel was very good - crunchy, tangy and with the right amount of tamarid chutney. Kim liked the samosa chaat as well but I prefer the one at Madras Mahal. The pani poori was a huge let down though, especially the paani. It was not tasty at all.

Midtown Manhattan
17 West 45th Street 
New York City, NY
(between 5th and 6th Avenue)
212 395-7300

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Chocolate covered strawberries

We had our first Book Club potluck get-together this evening at my place. My friend, Shivani, made the best chocolate-covered strawberries. She brought a whole tray of these dark chocolate, milk chocolate and almond and milk chocolate covered treats. The strawberries were unbelievably juicy which made biting in really fun. And the chocolate she used paired really well with the fruit. Shivani told us that she's tried many brands of chocolate but has found that Ghiradelli works best. Of course, it's from California :) Though this dessert is somewhat decadent, the fresh fruit flavour at the end makes you feel like you've just had a healthy snack!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Simple arugula salad

When I was at the Farmer's Market on Sunday, I also picked up a bunch of fresh arugula. Have to say that Manhattan is not cheap - a bunch of arugula (enough for a salad to feed two) cost me $4.50! No wonder a salad costs $10 and upwards in the fancy restaurants.

I was watching Emeril on Friday night when he showed a really simple salad with arugula that looked simpley delicious. Take a clove of garlic and coarsely chop it. Put the chopped garlic in a glass salad bowl, add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a few splashes of red wine vinegar and some glugs of extra virgin olive oil. I like to throw in some sea salt and freshly ground pepper as well before whisking it all together with a fork. Then add the arugula and dress well. Garnish with freshly shaved parmesan. Perfect with a glass of chilled Chablis.

I have to say that Manhattan has made me appreciate food and wine much more than I did in the Bay Area. Perhaps it has to do with living so close to the Farmer's Market and Whole Foods, not to mention the many wonderful gourmet food stores in the West Village.

I feel the tide slowly turning in favour of the Big Apple . . .

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Big Apple

I took an early morning stroll around Farmer's Market yesterday to check out what fruits and vegetables are in season. I was looking for apricots and peaches to make some jam. I haven't made jam at home since I left California where I had a fig tree in my backyard. I'll have to wait another month or so for peaches, apricots and nectarines but apples are in abundant supply right now - all varieties of them from the sweet and delicious Honey Crisp to the tart Granny Smith. I bought half a dozen Honey Crisps as a healthy accompaniment to the large chunk of white cheddar that is lying in the fridge ready to be consumed.

Do you know why New York City is called the Big Apple? Curious to find the answer, I did some research on Google and found a very fascinating story about how New York was branded. I was particularly impressed to learn about the negative associations that New York imparted to apples (it had more "houses of ill" per capita than any other city) at the turn of the century because of which sales declined in the U.S. The Apple Marketing Board then embarked on a repositioning initiative and came up with slogans like "An apple a day keeps the Doctor away" and "As American as apple pie" and infused these into popular culture. Quite a remarkable transformation in that they were successful in ridding apples of unsavory associations. In America at least, apples have a very wholesome image these days. Brilliant marketing, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Juice Bar

I was reminded of Haji Ali's Juice Shop this afternoon when I stopped by Juice Bar in Union Square for a healthy, drinkable lunch. From carrots and pineapple to ginseng and ginger, a wide array of juices are custom blended per your taste by the friendly juiceman. I asked for a hearty juice that didn't contain any sugar. The juiceman confidently recommended the carrot, beet and ginger juice as the one I would love. It was naturally sweet, felt very healthy and filled me up instantly. Can't wait to go back again to try another one of Juice Bar's juicy boosts.

Juice Bar is at Broadway and 16th, right outside Coffee Shop.

Cinco de Mayo at Lucy Latin Kitchen

Cinco de Mayo has gotten me California dreaming all over again. I'm feeling particularly bummed to have missed my San Francisco office's TGIT (Thank God it's Thursday) where the margaritas and guacamole were in abundant supply, I heard. I really miss San Francisco and my Mexican hangouts there, especially Casa Sanchez and their fabulous salsas.

Not being someone to pass up on margaritas, I headed to Lucy Latin Kitchen on May 5th with my colleagues to celebrate freedom and liberty on behalf of Mexican-Americans :) Lively, noisy and totally packed with a young, trendy crowd, Lucy was perfect for after-work drinks and gossip. Be warned though that Lucy serves a mean margarita. Trust me, only two and I was totally hammered in a few hours.

I didn't get to try the food but am told they have a fine Pan Latin menu with outstanding ceviches. Sounds like Vegetarians may have a rough time unless they're perfectly happy with chips and salsa for dinner!

Lucy Latin Kitchen
35 E. 18th St.
(212) 475-LUCY (5829)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Ethiopian paradise in NoLita

Originally uploaded by lools.

I have to admit that I'm not very curious about African food. I've always felt that the vegetarian options would be severely admitted. When I think of Africa, I think of wild boar and other exotic game. But Ghenet, a charming Ethiopian restaurant in NoLita has introduced me to a new cuisine where I have plenty to choose from.

I had a lovely dinner a few weeks ago with a close group of friends at Ghenet, which means "paradise." What's interesting about Ethiopian food is that it is quite pure as it has not been influenced by other cultures. And luckily for vegetarians like myself, the fact that Christians and Muslims (who make up most of the population of Ethiopia) observe so many meatless days means that the culture has developed a lot of vegetarian dishes made from assorted lentils and vegetables like cabbage, peas and spinach.

We ordered a vegetarian plate among other dishes to share. The food arrived on a big platter over a light Ethiopian style bread called injera. We were also served a separate plate of injeras. An injera is a chapati-dosa combo. It looks like a chapati but tastes like dosa because the dough is fermented and has a slightly sour taste. You tear off pieces of injera and scoop up veggies or lentils from the plate. The food felt very Indian but it was different at the same time.

The most tasty dish by far was Aterkek Alecha. It's a spciy yellow lentil dish. I even found the recipe from Ghenet's website:

1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups chopped red onion
2 cups yellow split peas
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 jalapeños, seeded and thinly sliced
6 basil leaves.

1. Pour 1/4 cup oil into a heavy pot, and place over medium heat. Add onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and golden brown. Add remaining oil, and simmer over gentle heat.

2. Wash peas under running water until water runs clear. Place in pot with 6 cups water, add salt and bring to boil. Skim foam. Cook over medium heat until half done, about 20 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid, and add peas. Add minced garlic and ginger, and simmer gently about 25 minutes, or until peas are tender, stirring occasionally and adding reserved water as needed to prevent sticking. Add jalapeños. Just before serving, add thin strips of basil to pan. Serve with injera.

Ghenet Restaurant
284 Mulberry St. & Houston St
New York, NY 10012

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Fig Martini

You may remember reading about how much I love Nobu, especially their Lychee Martinis.

I was third time lucky tonight to get in without a reservation and no waiting time. I could not believe that we were immediately seated. 8:40 p.m. must be a good time to show up at Nobu for an unreserved table for two. Given how chi chi this place is, I'm amazed how I've effortlessly slinked my way in each time.

In addition to my Lychee Martini, I took generous sips from H's Fig Martini which was just divine. It's nothing but Pearl Vodka infused with figs, splashed with lychee juice, shaken and served straight up with a dried fig as garnish. I'm a huge fig fan andnow Nobu has given me one more reason to love figs.

I was dying to get the Pear Martini for round two but decided to have something to come back for.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Sakura Matsuri

I took the 2 train today to Brooklyn to see the Sakura Matsuri 24th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. It was overcast and a bit cold when I left Manhattan after lunch but by the time I emerged from the Eastern Parkway subway station in Brooklyn, the sun was shining brightly and it had warmed up considerably.

My friend and I waited in line for about 10 minutes before entering verdant territory. What a pleasant change from the grimy streets of Manhattan. Everything in the garden was so beautiful to look and we went a bit photo crazy.

I'm sure that walking through the Cherry Esplanade would have been heavenly early in the morning before the crowds arrived in full force. It was the peak of rush hour by the time we landed up so we had to navigate through many families with strollers and various groups of tourists to get decent pictures. We were totally floored by the blossoming of the cherry trees that are planted in two rows opposite each other. The million shades of pink were just spectacular. No wonder then that everybody, from those like me with simple digicams to professionals with their heavy duty cameras, was angling to get the perfect picture.

Here are some of my favourite shots from today:

The Cherry Esplanade

Fun with shadows

A bed of fallen leaves

Japanese Hill-And-Pond Garden

A gorgeous fish in the pond