Sunday, February 27, 2005

Pat Pong delights!

Panaeng curry at Pat Pong
Originally uploaded by lools.

No, I'm not talking about the famous red light district in Bangkok but a tiny and homey East Village eatery specialing in Thai cuisine. Of course, there are multiclored lanterns and some art work that hint at the name's origins but the comparision stops there. Manhattan's Pat Pong is an intimate (seating capacity is twenty max!) and deeply satisfying (amazingly fresh flavours) experience in the best of modern Thai cooking.

At Pat Pong, I fell in love with Thai food all over again. From the intricate summer rolls in tangy tamarind sauce to the simple red curry with veggies, I enjoyed my food tremendously without having to shut out the fish sauces and shrimp powders that usually get included despite special instructions. But the folks at Pat Pong were more than attentive to my vegetarian needs - they even suggested they make pad thai without eggs. The pad thai, by the way, was absolultely crunchy and delicious.

Pat Pong was my first Thai food experience in Manhattan - shows you how much I avoided Thai despite being here for 6+ months. Now that the gold standard has been set, I'll have to see how other places stack up. Somehow I have a feeling that I'll be seeking out more Thai places now!

Pat Pong
93 East 7th
New York, New York
(212) 505-6454

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Pan-Asian in the Theater District

Originally uploaded by lools.

Despite the fact that it was snowing pretty hard on Thursday night, I took the 1/9 subway to 50th street to meet my college buddy, Uzra, who was in town from Arizona. She suggested we meet at this trendy Pan-Asian place that was right across her hotel.

bluechili's striking white interiors made us feel like we hadn't left the snow at all but Uz and I soon warmed up after a tiki tiki (their version of raspberry martini) and lycheetini respectively. I hadn't seen her in months so it was lovely to catch up finally. Uz had been travelling quite a bit as well so we exchanged lots of away-from-home stories. We chatted away while simultaenously admiring the beautiful people and the wonderfully upbeat fusion music.

The diverse menu of pan asian dishes had us debating long and hard on what we were in a mood for - should we stick with sushi that was being prepared across the bar from where we sat or should we be adventurous and choose something Thai or Singaporean instead? The crispy mussels crepe garlic as an apppetizer sounded intriguing as did the spciy pad thai as an entree. Being fond of Japanese food though, we both opted for simple sushi rolls which turned out to be fresh and delicious.

Dessert was tasting fried icecream, an unusual sweet indulgence which was a first for me. We had three scoops of icecream - green tea, vanilla and red bean - that had been dropped into a frying pan and were covered in fried batter. Sounds yucky but it was quite delicious. The softness and sweetness of the icecream was fabulously offset by the crispiness of the outer layer. The green tea flavour was by far the nicest of the three. Every night they vary the icecream in true tasting menu fashion.

Try bluchili when you're in a mood for some experimentation and want a fun, trendy Asian experience.

251 W 51st Street
New York, New York

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Uncle Moe's Mexican Taqueria

Originally uploaded by lools.

It's really hard to find cheap Mexican food in Manhattan but one place that has become my favourite for a mid-week burrito at lunch is Uncle Moe's on 19th street between Fifth and Sixth.

From tacos and taquitos to enchiladas and empanadas, Uncle Moe's has a fine selection of Mexican fast food that can be savoured for all its freshness at one of their picnic style tables. The selection of burritos is particularly impressive. Lunch patrons favour the Watsonville Burrito which is a smaller version of the Californian - beans, cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole and any two options from a variety of meats and sauteed vegetables like beans, corn, mushrooms, peppers etc. The burritos are freshly built to order while you salivate over all the goodies that are tightly packed into the tortilla.

The Watsonville's finest flavours are coaxed out by the different salsas that you can load up on at their impressive salsa station. I love the tomatillo salsa which has just the right level of heat for me. I can never get enough of salsa the first time around though and always find myself going back for more sauce on the yummy burritos. That's when I get a broad smile and some idle chatter from the Ecuadorian chap at the cash counter who's convinced I'm Brazilian who can speak Spanish. Of course, I thoroughly enjoy playing the game :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The best street food in Sydney

Vegetable pie from Harry's Cafe De Wheels
Originally uploaded by lools.

One last thing about Sydney before I'm back to Manhattan - Harry's Cafe De Wheels. A true Australian icon, this unassuming roadside caravan in Sydney serving pies and peas has become an unbelievable celebrity and tourist attraction which also happens to remain perenially in fashion amongst the local Sydneysiders.

Apparently Pamela Anderson of Baywatch fame and I have one thing in common - we love the vegetarian pie at Harry's! I like mine with extra spicy chilli sauce served on a yummy vegetable pie topped with creamy mashed potatoes and peas. I thought that good old French Onion soup was soul food until I discovered Harry's veggie pie. Now if I could only find something this heart warming in Manhattan...

Bondi Beach

Originally uploaded by lools.

A trip to Sydney would not be complete without a visit to Bondi Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the world for surfing.

Bondi is a thirty minute cab ride from the W through many of the city's nicest neighbourhoods. I got a good flavour for the residential parts of Sydney while driving to the beach. There are distinct neighbourhoods (some more chi chi than others) each with its own character but they all blend well together to create a cosmopolitan and chic city.

The waves at Bondi Beach were as large as I've ever seen in my life. Tightly clad surfers hurled themselves on wave after wave despite the overcast weather and ice cold water. It was fascinating to watch them smoothly manoeuver their bodies in sync with the ocean. I think I was finally beginning to understand what the surfer coolness was all about.

The promenade at Bondi has lots of interesting cafes, restaurants and shops were I spent a couple of hours. Even though it's so very touristy, it feels pretty authentic given how many Aussies seem to hang out there all the time. Apparently, the thing to do on weekends in Sydney is to head to Bondi, frolick in the sea, devour breakfast and then leisurely read the paper over a fine cuppa coffeee all morning long. What a life!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

BridgeClimb - The Sydney Harbour Bridge

Originally uploaded by lools.

Standing at 440 feet from the sea at sunset with a bird's eye view of one of the most gorgeous cities in the world has got to be the experience of a lifetime for anyone - it certainly was for me! The adrenaline rush itself was enough to make me feel like this was the most extraordinary thing I have done in my life.

I've been raving about Sydney on my blog but the BridgeClimb was the ultimate Sydney experience that was exhilirating, exicting and totally magical. They say that the best things in life are free but this one comes with a cost - $225 Austrian dollars for the climb at twilight! But it's worth every penny and more.

The entire event was three and a half hours. It began with extensive safety procedures including an on-ground simulation of the climbing conditions. Our guide, Shani, was a native Sydneysider with a gorgeous smile and a lovely personality. She expertly lead our group and kept our spirits high throughout the trip. The climb itself was not scary (unless you have vertigo) at all, much to my disappointment. The thrills came from the breathtaking views of Sydney harbour from every angle at every height. From the Opera House to the botanical gardens, Luna Park to the South Pacific Ocean, being so high up changed my perspective and gave me a wonderful sense of the landscape.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a magnificent and enduring symbol of Australian ruggedness and old-fashioned virtues. It's not half as lovely as the San Francisco Bridge but it has an imposing presence on the city skyline that is quite endearing. The construction took took eight years and over 1400 people. It was completed in 1932.

BridgeClimb is a fabulous enterprise that met with quite a bit of opposition before it opened the fabulous opportunity of climbing the bridge to the public in 1998. New Yorkers can look forward to this out of this world adventure close to home. Shani told us that BridgeClimb Brooklyn was scheduled to open in 2001 but has been pushed back several years because of the terrorist attacks. Hopefully it will be up and running soon. Wouldn't it be spectacular to view the Manhattan skyline from the top of Brooklyn Bridge? Now that's something exciting to look forward to in 2006!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Manly Beach

Originally uploaded by lools.

Manly is one of Sydney's premier beach resorts situated about seven miles north-east of Sydney on the lower Northern Beaches. The beach was named after Captain Arthur Phillip's encounter with the confident and "manly" Aboriginal people of the Kay-ye-my clan. It took us about 30 minutes by ferry from Circular Quay to reach Manly.

Manly will always be special for me because it was the first time in my life that I experienced such clear blue water. I was totally mesmerized looking far out to the horizon and seeing the progression of colours - light beige, turquiose, aquamrine, blue, navy blue, sky blue...just spectacular. I could spend hours on this beach soaking up the sun and staring out into the far edge of the world...

The beach was not too crowded but lots of young and old Australians alike were frolicking in the water. Being this close to the ocean and not wanting to pass up the opportunity, I took off my sneakers and socks and allowed the waves to splash my feet. Brrrrrrrr...the water was freezing! I did not expect that at all given how many people were out in the ocean. It was a nice change however after having the sun directly in my face on the ferry ride over to Manly.

Manly is a surf town much like Huntington Beach etc in Southern California. There are plenty of cool shops from where you can buy surfer inspired fashion. We had a fun time shopping for a gift for a colleague's 11 year old daughter trying to balance the fine line between "fashionable" and "raunchy"!

Riding the ferry from Circular Quay

Originally uploaded by lools.

Circular Quay if often referred to as the birthplace of Australia as it was here that in 1788 the First Fleet landed the convicts, soldiers and officials from the motherland. Ferries leave for different points and islands in and around Sydney from Circular Quay. We boarded the ferry for a cruise around the bay and to visit Manly Beach at the far end of the harbour on the South Pacific Ocean.

We had a fabulous ferry ride standing outside on the deck. The weather was just perfect (especially when compared to the biting cold one has to bear while cruising around the San Francisco Bay) and the views were just unbelievable. We passed a few small Angel Islandish islands along the way and admired all the houses and apartment complexes that dotted the coastline. Sydney has got to be one of the world's best places to live. The quality of life here seems so magnificent!

Monday, February 14, 2005

Heaven on earth

Originally uploaded by lools.

I'm so in love with Sydney. It's so spectacularly gorgeous down here, I'm amazed we've all not migrated to Australia. I thought San Francisco was the most beautiful city in the world but I'm quickly changing my mind (and my heart).

While strolling around today, I discovered an oasis of 74 hectares in the heart of the city occupying a beautiful position at the harbour's edge. The Royal Botanic Gardens has every shade of green one can imagine in nature. From the very light shades of lemongrass to the deep, dark tones of a palm leaf, RBG is an artist's paradise. The lushness of the flora and fauna is truly refreshing to the senses.

Walking around with the gentle breeze from the bay, you can perceptibly feel a tremendous sense of oneness with nature. It was great to see so many people enjoying the beauty of the gardens. Being Valentine's Day, there were lots of couples spread out on blankets in different pockets of the gardens, locked in eachother's gazes and sipping some champagne on a splendid summer day.

The garden has many different levels and sections including a Herb Garden and a Tropical Centre but my favourite part is the Farm Cove (and arched pathway) from which you get breathtaking views of the Opera House. Sydneysiders seem to love this area as well as it was packed with joggers and walkers alike even at lunch time on a working day!

The Wharf at Wooloomooloo

Originally uploaded by lools.

I'm staying at The W Sydney located in a finger wharf at Woolloomoolo which is in the eastern part of the city. Like the other W hotels, I love the overall design and personality, but the W Sydney has the added coolness factor of its unusual architecture.

The Wharf at Wooloomooloo is the largest of many finger wharfs that jut into the harbour in this part of the world. It was completed in 1914 and was the point of embarkation for soldiers bound for the World Wars. It also served as the landing place for the thousands of immigrants who came to make Australia home. The Wharf had a rocky period and almost got demolished but it is now a thriving block of Sydney given the development of the W as well as restaurants, bars and apartments. The promenade at the wharf is known to have some of the best eateries offering spectacular views across the harbour, marina, royal botanical gardens and the city skyline.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

LuluManhattan goes to Sydney

Originally uploaded by lools.

I'm leaving this afternoon on a business trip to Australia. I'm super-excited and have been dreaming all week long about the 80 degrees weather, the warm turquiose water and the spectacular views I'm going to experience. I've heard that Sydney offers up the very best of San Francisco and Rio. What more could I ask for!

This is only my second trip to the Southern Hemisphere, the previous one being to Argentina. There's something magical and mysterious in being so far away from home in lands which seem so much more wide open than ours. I remember flying over the Pampas before landing in Buenos Aires and feeling literally out of this world. I think this feeling will be even more amplified down under in Australia.

Stay tuned for an eyewitness account of Sydney. I do have meetings all day but I suspect that jetlag will offer fine opportunities for blogging. I can already picture myself totally wired at 4 am, furiously typing on my laptop while I wait for the sun to rise over the Sydney Harbour.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Alex the Shoeshiner

Originally uploaded by lools.

Small things can make a highly stressful New York workday a little less manic. On Wednesdays I relieve my boots of all the soot and grime collected over the week by getting them shoeshined at my own desk. Now that's a luxury only Manhattanites probably experience given our obsession with grooming!

The shoeshine boy who does the rounds of our floor every week is a Brazilian chap called Alex who has been in the States for almost ten years now. He came as a tourist and upon the recommendation and connections of a friend decided to be a corporate shoeshiner - that's his profession now! And he gets enough business from the entire building of one big Madison Avenue agency and a few floors of another Park Avenue South one to eke out a living in the Big Apple. Wow, pretty impressive, huh? You look at him and you'd never guess that he shoeshines all day.

While Alex polishes my boots, I listen to stories about how he wants to go back to Brazil soon. He jokes about becoming the next President of Brazil like Lula given his shoeshine background! The primary reason Alex cites for returning home is the brutal New York winter. We chat about the cold and how depressing it is. My office has no heating this week so I'm really feeling the pain. We exchange stories about the hot summers and extremeley mild winters in Brazil and India. Before I know it my shoes are shiny and I'm at least smiling thinking about ice cold caipirinhas and beaches having momentarily forgotten about my jammed inbox and all the emails requiring attention. Sigh, back to work I guess. What a luxurious distraction that was.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Babu arrives in Manhattan

Originally uploaded by lools.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. We went to meet our friend Joy for dinner at Kati Roll company only to find that the owners (Payal & Anil) had recently opened a new restaurant in the basement called Babu. Payal, who owns Kati Roll, is a good friend of Joy's and is a pucca lass from Calcutta who is a very successful businesswoman in Manhattan. Her husband Anil is a fabulous creative who I know from my days at O&M in Bombay. They are a wonderful Indian couple who seem to really have the knack for the restaurant business. They kindly invited us to dinner at their newest establishment. We were asked to be critical of the food and service as they were still in the testing and refining stage of the restaurant.

Babu is the newest Indian restaurant in Manhattan that is a shrine to the cuisine of Bengal. Both Payal and Anil grew up in Cal and their love for the culture and its cuisine is evident in every aspect of Babu.

You enter through a big wooden door as though making your way into a rich businessman's home in Northern Calcutta. The main dining room is decorated sparsely and the big mirrors that are hung like paintings feel like they've been transported from his bedrooom. The restroom is so exquisite, I could easily spend an hour in there! You almost feel like royalty using the king's bathroom given the exquisite silk saree screen paintings, the old-fashioned sink and the wooden toilet seat.

The menu card, designed by Anil, is simple yet supremely elegant. The cuisine of Calcutta has been influenced by so many different cultures that I'm sure it must have been hard to decide what to serve guests. They've boiled it down to selections from Bengali, Chinese and Muslim dishes one typically finds in Calcutta.

The food is served in copper thalis. Every dish comes with luchi puris, a tangy tomato chutney with corn and a raw chopped onion relish. My aloo dum and chola dal were just divine. I topped it off with rasomalai whose tenderness was so unbelievable that I could have easily had ten!

It's really nice to see Indian restaurants speacializing in regional Indian cuisine. I think this trend will continue in 2005 and Manhattanites are finallly going to experience Indian cuisine in all its variety and richness. How wonderful it would be to have a Konkani, Chettinad or pure Iyengar restaurant open in Manhattan soon!

99 MacDougal Street
Between Bleecker and Minetta

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Craving some pav bhaji

Originally uploaded by lools.

Dying for some Bombay street food after reading Rumy's blog, I decided to whip up some pav bhaji at home here in Manhattan.

Pav bhaji is one of Bombay's most popular fast foods. It's nothing but a wonderfully spicy blob of well mashed boiled vegetables on top of a toasted bun liberally soaking in butter. Sardar's in Tardeo has the most delecious pav bhaji in Bombay though its's probably a thousand calorie meal right there.

Here's a simple recipe:

2 russet potatoes, boiled, peeled and diced
1 c cooked small chopped mixed vegetables - carrots, beans, peas, cauliflower
1/2 c chopped onions
5 tbsps butter
4 green chilis, slit and chopped
1/2 inch ginger, sliced finely
2 tomatos, chopped
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp ginger garlic paste
salt to taste
1 tsp garam masala
a bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
lemon wedges for garnish
4 pao or buns, halved


Heat 1-2 tbsps butter in a pan. Reserve 3 tsp chopped onions for garnish and fry the remaining till light brown. Add green chillis, ginger and tomatoes and saute over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat, then add the red chilli powder, mixed vegetables and potatoes.

With a spatula, simultaneously mash and stir for 5 minutes. While stirring, keep sprinkling the ginger garlic paste, dissolved in 6 tablespoons water. Add salt some extra butter. Increase the heat and stir well.

Sprinkle garam masala, coriander leaves, lemon juice and remove from heat.

Garnish with remaining chopped onions.

Apply the remaining butter on the bun-halves, place them on a pre-heated frying pan. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Serve with the bhaji and a lemon wedge.

Yoga Sutra

Originally uploaded by lools.

I'm definitely begin to LUVVV Manhattan. There's so much to discover and experience here, it's just a matter of getting connected to the best that the city has to offer.

I was incredibly fortunate yesterday to find out about Yoga Sutra , an incredibly beautiful yoga studio in the heart of the city. All thanks to my friend, Shri, who is obsessive about researching and finding the best of the best. She invited me to take an ashtanga class with her and I gladly accepted even though I'd never taken a class before. Yoga has gone mainstream in the U.S. now and millions of Americans are well-versed in this unique philosophy of life. Frankly, it's a bit embarassing to be Indian and not know Vinyasa from Iyengar or what pranas are all about. I really should have observed my father's daily practices while I was growing up in Bangalore and Bombay and paid more attention to what yoga is all about. Oh well, I guess it's never too late do anything.

Yoga Sutra is situated on Fifth Avenue at 42nd street, right opposite the New York Public Library. The design of the space speaks volumes of the intended philosophy. The high ceilings and spotlessly clean hardwood floors create a spacious and open space that is immediately calming to the mind. A small library section has a low table and colourful silk cushions to sit on while browsing the studio's collection of books and magazines on the subject. The actual room where yoga is practiced has beautiful brass lamplights placed in front of pictures of various Hindu gods. A light incense lends the room a pleasant fragrance.

We spent an hour and a half going through the ashtanga routine which was incredibly difficult for me given that I'd never taken a yoga class ever. The breathing was the first part to master. I found it harder than I thought to stand still and hear my own breathing. Goes to show just how much out of touch with our own bodies we can get if we don't pay much attention. The stretching was hard as well but our teacher was encouraging and really allowed us to take our own pace. By the end of the 90 minutes, I was profusely sweating and totally amazed by the heat my body had generated.

I have to say that it was a life changing experience. It's so incredible to me that one can really learn to control the mind and body and take charge of the things that happen to us. I'm now curious to learn more about the philosophy of yoga and see how I can integrate it more into my daily life.

Yoga Sutra
501 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10017
(212) 490-1443

Saturday, February 05, 2005

A piece of Argentina in the heart of SoHo

Originally uploaded by lools.

West Broadway, between West Houston and Canal, is SoHo's star-studded showcase of haute-couture and haute-cuisine. Restaurants in this block include Balthazar, Cassa La Femme, Felix and a host of other popular establishments.

Cafe Novecento is a charming Argentinian (or is it Argentine?) restaurant that brought back for me delightful memories of Argentina including Malbec, pasta and dulce de leche, the only three staples of my vegetarian diet while disocovering Buenos Aires and Bariloche a few years ago.

Novecento's atmosphere is cozy and bistro-ish but the dark wood furniture and the old-world lighting fixtures lend the restaurant an elegant ambience. The staff, all of whom are Argentine, are very friendly and quite knowledgeable on the wine list which has many gems from South America. The bartender recommended the Trepiche Malbce, the least expensive bottle of wine on the list from the Mendonza region in Argentina which turned out to be just lovely!

Harsha and Joy, my dinner companions, were raving about the filet mignon imported from Argentina (but of course) and cooked to medium-rare perfection in chimichurri sauce but I can't really back that up. I intensely focused on my vegetable ravioli and tried hard not to visualize innocent, chubby cattle happily grazing in the Pampas and blissfuly ignorant to their impending fate.

The highlight of the evening was dessert. An Argentine food experience is not complete without mention of dule de leche. It's amazing what can be done with just sugar and milk. Caramelizing is nothing but heating sugar till the molecules start breaking down but it is the complexity of flavours (butter, rum, fruit, flower) and textures (thick, chocolately, butterscotchy) that result from the caramelization that makes dulce de leche so unbelievably divine. Novecento's chefs whipped up a really good dulce de leche poured generously on a crisp white crepe and powdered sugar. Yummy!

If you're tempted enough to try some dulce de leche, look no further than La Paila, the top-ranked brand available in gourmet stores.

Cafe Novecento
343 W Broadway 
New York 10013

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Rocking Horse rocks!

Originally uploaded by lools.

I just got home from dinner at Rocking Horse, a moderately priced Mexican restaurant in the heart of Chelsea. You have to love bright orange walls and loud chatter to really enjoy this place. Those of you who know me know that that orange is my most favourite colour (but no more orange coloured gifts, please!) and that I'm not exactly the quietest person you'll ever meet, so you can imagine just how much I enjoyed the ambience.

Beware of the mounds of freshly fried tortilla chips that tempt you from the get-go. They're so yummy - especially when dipped in the spicy salsa - that you might be full even before you've had a chance to check out the menu. Slurp instead on a Rocking Horse margarita on the rocks with salt while your mood is elevated a few notches by the upbeat Latin tuunes.

The food's absolutely delicious though somewhat on the greasy side. I wasn't pleased with my sticky fingers from my wild mushroom quesadilla quarts though it was very flavourful and cheesy.

I couldn't believe when the host told me that Rocking Horse has been around for over 16 years. It feels as though it opened just last week!

182 Eighth Ave
Between 19th and 20th Sts.