Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Trendy and Tasty Mexican (from my archives)

Over one hundred tequilas to choose from,highly creative menu items and the best freshly made guacamole in town. An unbeatable combination for a nice Mexican night out in Manhattan.

Folks, head to Dos Caminos everytime you're in the mood for margaritas and some people watching. The restaurant is rated among the ten best in New York City by the World Press. The place is usually packed on weeknights with young professionals all out to have a fun time with colleagues. Despite the huge dining room, there's a cozy feeeling created by the dim lights and the warm hues. While you wait to be seated, try the prickly pear margarita and order a serving of some guacamole and chips. The chips are brought in a small basket and are still warm from being freshly made. Guacamole is custom made depending on how spicy you want it. I love being entertained just bit while dining and Dos Caminos' personalized guacamole preparation is quite something to watch. And the guac is absolutely delicious. Go easy as you may fill up even before appetizers!

The menu looked very interesting though I have to admit that the veggie options are quite limited. My farmer's market vegetable quesadilla was just heavenly - it had roasted peppers, eggplant and other complex flavours. If I hadn't gone overboard on the chips, I would have definitely tried the sides of which there were enticing options for vegetarians including grilled corn and fried plantain.

A bit on the expensive side but if you stick to a margarita, some guacamole and an entree, it's actually not too much of a splurge.

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Dos Caminos, 373 Park Avenue South, between 26th and 27th Streets (212-294-1000)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wow Bao, Chicago

Greetings from the windy city! For those of you living in America, hope you are enjoying Thanksgiving weekend. We arrived here on Wednesday for H's cousins' reunion. 17 of us have piled on at his eldest cousin sister's home in Aurora, a suburb of Chicago which is supposed to have one of the best school districts in the nation. When looking to relocate anywhere in the U.S. based on your kids' schooling needs, follow the desi trail to the zipcodes that have the best public schools and you can't go wrong.

We drove to downtown Chicago yesterday. Some of our cousins had never been so were excited to take in as many sights and sounds they could on a freezing cold evening. It was 20 degrees fahrenheit and flurrey when we drove in. Our first stop was the mega Borders bookstore on Michigan Avenue for some cappucinos, masala chais and hot chocolate to warm us up. the 2nd floor had a pretty impressive food section and I was dying linger on but everyone else wanted to go clothes and shoes shopping so I allowed myself to be dragged along to the Water Tower Place, one of the nicest shopping malls in downtown.

I noticed Wow Bao the minute we walked in to the Water Tower Place. A wonderfully inviting aroma of garlic, ginger and sesame stir-fried foods wafted in the air. Upon close inspection I discovered that one could take-out steamed buns filled with meat and vegetables, spicy pad thai noodles, rice bowls, soups and salads. Steamed buns are the Chinese version of bread made from flour and yeast except that they are almost always filled with something delicious. I loved the green vegetable bun I ordered along with a glass of Hibiscus Lemonade.

Wow Bao is a fantastic modern concept for Chinese takeout. I'm really looking forward to Wow Bao spreading its wings soon to Manhattan.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Samosa chole

Kailash Parbhat also has the best samosa chole in Bombay. Samosas are crispy turnovers stuffed with spicy potato and peas. Chole is made from chickpeas simmered in and onion and tomato curry with lots of Indian spices. Samosas are usually dipped in coriander chutney or tomato ketchup but chole makes an excellent and hearty accompaniment to make samosa chole a perfect mini lunch.

You can also make a yummy street food called samosa chaat using the samosa and chole by cutting the samosas into small pieces and then adding a bit of chole, some sev (puffed rice), raw onions, tomatoes, coriander, tamarind chutney, salt and lime juice. Yum!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Crispy and succulent jalebis

Jalebis are my favourite Indian dessert. And the best jalebis in Bombay are made at Kailash Parbhat Hindu Hotel in Colaba. Flour batter and sugar are piped into spirals and dunked in ghee to create this crispy delight which is soft and gooey on the inside. A pinch of the best quality saffron is added to the mixture before frying to impart the charactertistic tangerine colour. The jalebis from KP are just the right sweetness and crispness. I can easily eat five or more at once if I'm not careful!

I've never attempted to make jalebis at home but in case you are feeling adventurous, here is a simple recipe that I found on the net:

* 2 cups Sugar
* 2 cups Maida (flour)
* Ghee for frying
* A pinch of Kesar (saffron)
* ½ tsp Baking powder
* 1 tsp Cardamom powder

1. Mix maida with baking powder, cardamom powder and water to made a batter of the consistency of thick cream.
2. Put it aside in a warm place to ferment for 24 hrs.
3. Dissolve 2 cups of sugar in 2 cups of water and boil till it becomes a syrup of one thread consistency.
4. Add saffron soaked in warm water.
5. Now heat Ghee in a deep frying pan.
6. Fill up with batter in a muslin cloth and pierce it from the bottom.
7. Now allow the batter to fall into continuos double circles .
8. Allow the jalebis to set and then turn over once.
9. When fried well, remove out of the pan and slip into the syrup, apply slight pressure so as to make them absorb the syrup.
10. After 5 minutes, take it out of the syrup, drain and serve hot.

Tip: Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of cooked pudding filling immediately after pouring to prevent a skin from forming.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Souk at The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai

I am amazed by the dazzling diversity of international food available in Bombay these days and not just at the five star restaurants. Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Thai and Middle Eastern seem to be the most sought after by Bombayites from Churchgate to Vashi. It's quite exciting to see Bombay develop into a terrific city for foodies and words like katsu, carpaccio, tabouli and satay become common parlance.

As luck would have it, I dined twice at Souk located at the Taj in South Bombay on my quick visit this time. Souk is a Middle Eastern restaurant serving mezze and other traditional dishes from Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, and Morocco. The ambience is not particularly Middle Eastern (and I was sad that they didn't energize the atmosphere with Turkish music) but the top floor of the hotel offers stunning views of the Gateway of India and the Bombay Harbour. On my first visit for a business dinner, I was very lucky to be seated at the Chef Table in the exclusive Casablanca Room overlooking a small balcony with roses and other fragrant potted plants as well as a close-up view of the Gateway of India. The chef paid special attention to our table and surprised us with a delicious tasting menu including mezzes, humus and babaganoush, falafel, chickpeas soup, Moroccan vegetarian tagine, bakhlava and rose petal icecream. On my second visit, I had a simple dinner with Nisha and Vikram for Vikram's bithday. We ordered a few mezzes and shared a light couscous and vegetable stew dish. We were even treated to a creamy birthday cake. The highlight of my second visit was ordering a hookah in double apple flavour and savouring it with mint tea while catching up with my dear friends.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Aviyal is a traditional South Indian vegetable dish made from an assorted variety of boiled vegetables laced with a deliciously light curry of yogurt, green chilies, coconut and cumin. Fresh curry leaves and some dollops of coconut oil add the finishing touches giving aviyal its distinct flavour. Aviyal is best enjoyed with freshly cooked basmati rice but is also yummy on its own if you are watching your carbs.

Here's how GB makes Aviyal:

1 Potato
1/2 cup French beans
2 carrots
1 green plantain
4 or 5 medium sized arbi (you need to boil the arbi separately and not with the other vegetables)
Half pumpkin each (red and white)
1 cup yogurt (a bit sour if possible)
1 tablespoon rice
1 tsp cumin
1/2 cup grated coconut
5 to 8 green chilies
A pich of hing
2 teaspoons coconut oil
a bunch of fresh curry leaves

Chop all the vegetables and boil them is as little water as is needed. Keep aside.Take 1 tbsp rice and soak in 3 tbsps of water. Then grind with 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 cup grated coconut and five to eight green chillis. Beat the yogurt taking care to remove all lumps. Add the ground masala and boil for few minutes. Then add vegetables to this batter. Stir well and add salt, hing powder stir for few minutes. Once the aviyal becomes thick, keep aside. Heat two teaspoons coconut oil in a small fry pan and add the fresh curry leaves until they sizzle. Then add this mixture to the aviyal.Enjoy with freshly prepared rice.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Homemade Bhel Puri

I arrived in Bombay from London a few days back for a business meeting. I'm staying the weekend to hang out with my parents and friends. As always, it feels so terrific to be back here in Bombay. I'm being totally pampered in every way you can imagine. And I'm soaking up the sun, glad to be far away from the bitter cold in the U.S. I so wish I could stay longer and extend the luxury of being thoroughly spoilt but I have to hop back on the plane tomorrow and make my way back to New York. Agh!

Our cook at home, Gulabibai (GB), knows all my favourite foods and starts cooking them for me from the minute I arrive. I almost have to beg her not to stuff me so much that I sleep all day long. Yesterday GB made me some lip-smackingly delicious bhel puri at home.

Bhel is very simple if you have the right ingredients. In the U.S, you even get dry bhel ingredients in readymade packets and all you need to do is add a couple of chopped boiled potatoes, fresh ripe tomatoes, raw onions, tamarind chutney, cilantro chutney, fresh cilantro, a bit of lemon juice and salt. I love the flavour of garlic in my bhel so when I make this in Manhattan I also add some freshly chopped garlic or some garlic paste. But GB would never dare to add garlic though I love it so much because it is banned in my parents' house. Many South Indian Brahmins do not use garlic in cooking because it is considered to be a flavour enhancer for meat and therefore not to be found in the kitchen of a strictly vegetarian home.

Next up: Aviyal (including the recipe)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Fifteen - Jamie Oliver's restaurant

The excitement about eating at Fifteen starts even before you get there. Jamie Oliver's bubbly recorded voice surprises you when you call to make a reservation as he explains the concept of the restaurant. Fifteen was been conceived as a training ground kitchen for handpicked disadvantaged teenagers who Jamie thinks have the potential to be next generation star chefs. Once Jamie signs of with a characteristic panache - "big love, J" - you speak to an equally warm and enthusiastic hostess who makes and confirms your reservation.

By the time you arrive, the expectation is already set very high. Fifteen is located in the north east part of the city, a short walk from the Old Street tube station. It forms a triangle of sorts with Clerkenwell and Islington just north of the city centre. I was impressed by the unpretentious exterior and just couldn't wait to get in. The trattoria is located on the ground floor and it serves Jamie's taken on Italian food. An open kitchen and freshly made antipasto and seasonal vegetable dishes tempt the diner. The atmosphere is somewhat rustic Italian.

I had lunch downstairs in the restaurant which serves modern Mediterranean food with an Italian influence. It is quite retro in styling and I loved the pink and white decor of the place which makes it feel like an upscale diner. There are many interesting pieces of art including a gigantic pencil shaded drawing of a pig and a baby created from coloured mosaic tiles.

Appetizer was ricotta fritters in a chili tomato sauce with rocket and shaved parmesan. The ricotta was amazingly fresh and just melted in the mouth after you savoured the light crisp coating.

Main course was a ravioli of sorts whose name I am blanking on now. The ravioli thingie was stuffed with butternut squash and came in a light white sauce with saffron and sage. I loved how the sage was lightly fried which gave it a nice texture. This dish was pure heaven. All the sweet and savoury flavours combined beautifully together to create something truly outstanding.

Dessert was also exceptional. I ordered a vanilla and grappa panna cotta with honey roasted figs and balsamic.

I would rate this meal one of the best meals I've ever had, if not THE BEST. Jamie Oliver has gone up in my esteem and adoration more than ever. Not only is the food in the restaurant exceptional but it is also for a great cause. I don't think Jamie makes any money from this establishment - it all goes towards helping disadvatanged kids. No wonder you don't even blink when you see the bill and realize what an unbelievably expensive meal you just thoroughly enjoyed!

On the way out you can buy any of his several books. I noticed that Jools (Jamie's wife) has just published a book called "Minus nine to one: The diary of an honest mum" that is all about her two pregnancies and bringing up their baby girls, Poppy and Daisy. If Jools' style is anything like Jamie's, this should be a thoroughly enjoyable and fun read for anyone thinking of or just had babies.

Sandwich and Crisps

I don't think the Atkins diet ever made it to the UK judging by the heavy consumption of carbs at every meal. I haven't been able to escape sandwich and crisps which is a very popular combination at lunchtime in London. The good news is that both the sandwiches and crisps are available in a wide range of fillings and flavours.

I had roasted pepper, goat cheese and caramelized onions in a toasted sandwich yesterday from an organic cafe in Clerkenwell. I couldn't resist getting a bag of Salty Dog Crisps which were delciously crisp and had a wonderful sea salt flavouring. These crisps are made from the best potatoes and are sliced thick and loaded with flavour for maximum bite and punch. And they come in all sorts of interesting flavours like Jalapeno and Coriander, Roast Beef (!), Sea Salt and Black Pepper, Strong Cheddar and Onion, Ham and Mustard etc. Frito Lay could get some great ideas from these guys!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Absolut Icebar London

Talk about taking cool to an entirely different level. Literally. I had drinks at the Absolut Icebar London last night and it was absolutely amazing and quite inspirational. I drank a hot passion fruit vodka cocktail which sounded like the perfect drink to give me some relief from the minus five degrees centigrade temperature at the bar. I drank from a glass made entirely from ice brought to London from the Torne River in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden where the Icehotel is located. I had never heard of this architectural icon before and just couldn't believe that they build the hotel every year at the start of winter and it melts when summer comes around. The hotel has now been built and melted by nature fifteen times. Wow. My colleague and I spent about thirty minutes at Icebar mostly freezing our asses off (even though we were robed in capes before we entered). But we were totally in awe of the concept. Make sure you have reservations before you go and be prepared for a chillingly different experience. Cheers!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The only redeeming quality about Air India

I got a call on Friday morning that I had to be half way across the world by Monday morning for a client meeting so I jumped on the next flight out of JFK which happened to be Air India from New York to Mumbai via London. I was really bummed not to have a better connection on a better airline. Who wants to fly Air India!! I have no positive associations with Air India. I had flown them only once before when I was doing my undergrad at Davidson and used to make the annual trip home every summer. Air India lost both my bags and did not find them for a week. I chose not to fly them ever again if I had a choice. 12 years later, I find myself on Air India again (at least in Business Class thanks to work). I decided to have an open mind and actually looked forward to the journey.

I won't bore you with how bad the experience turned out to be yet again. I won't tell you about the seats which didn't fully recline or the lack of in-flight entertainment all together. And I won't tell you about all the other little things that these guys have just not bothered to think about while designing the customer experience. I will tell you though that the food was just fabulous. And it wasn't so tasty to me just because I love Indian food. It really was pretty outstanding. If Air India has got one thing right, it's the meal service. The cabin crew are super warm and go out of their way to make sure you have a nice drink and meal. And they don't skimp on the alcohol either. The British gentleman next to me was pleasantly surprised at how much gin he got in his G&T!

The meal in the picture was breakfast. We were served spicy potato curry, a light and airy upma with peas, baby uttapams with tomatoes and onions, plain creamy yogurt, a croissant, 3 parathas and some jam. I asked for some extra spicy pickle and was delighted when the stewardess produced a nice selection from First Class - lemon pickle, green chili pickle and chunda. Yum, yum - I could have survived on the parathas and the pickles alone!

PS - I'm on the road till mid-November and will try to post as much as possible, workload and jetlag permitting :)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tofu Udon Soup at Republic

Republic is a surprisingly affordable but trendy noodle house in Union Square that I visit often, especially at lunch when there is time to eat away from my desk. Not having the luxury of time this week, I ordered in. I was worried that the soup would get cold by the time it arrived but that wasn't the case.

I highly recommend the tofu noodle soup for vegetarians. It's tastiest dish on the menu but only after you add lots of spicy sauce! Tofu udon miso broth is the base to which udon noodles, fried, soft & firm tofu, tibbon seaweed and bean sprouts and other greens are added. This dish has an amazing combination of textures from the fried tofu to the silky noodles. Be warned: you've got to love tofu to enjoy this noodle broth!

37 Union Sq W
New York
(212) 627-7172

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tomatos and Basil

I rarely walk out of the grocery store without tomatoes in my bag. Since moving to New York, I've been addicted to fresh basil as well. And the combo of the two is just plain delicious.

I make bruschette on weekdays when I'm too tired to make anything more involved. I usually pick up some sourdough bread on my way home from work. I cut the bread into 1cm thick slices and grill on my grillpan that is sprayed lightly with olive oil. Meanwhile, I wash, core and squeeze out the seeds of a few tomatoes. I place them in a bowl, tear in the basil and the add a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil and some vinegar. I like to add sea salt and pepper as well but you don't have to if you like your tomatoes on the sweeter side. Once the bread is grilled, I rub with a cut garlic clove, heap some tomatoes and basil and dig in!