Ai nayi: Review of Ai

So as our weekly ritual, we went to spend the Sunday trying to figure out a nice place to eat. I had heard from Prateek that Ai’s Sunday brunch is supposed to be good.

So after I saw Sanctum since, reflexly hubby goes off to sleep after wearing the 3D glasses, we went to Ai. As usual the husband was given drinks menu and me the brunch menu (I wonder why?why can’t women order drinks for men?) Khair, so the menu looked impressive- there was beef, pork,chicken and fish. So started with salad which has 4 types of lettuce -iceberg, green and red, the got 3 sake size little cups of 3 types of soup- miso, miso with tofu and tomato infused with jasmine- this sucked big time! with cold starters of some sort of Sashimi – highly avoidable.

Now time for starters which surprisingly where hot and fresh but again didn’t have much imagination or variety so there were different types of skewers- Pork, Chicken, Mushroom,Fish they all tasted the same as they were dipped in barbecue sauce which is very off the shelf. What impressed me was there was this guy who served us freshly made sushi at our table, so i tried beef, salmon and asparagus. Its a no-go place for vegetarians for sure they have no choice if you don’t want to eat mushroom or asparagus.

Only 1 pre-made sushi was served which again had salmon in it hence, very little choice. Then the main course came so I ordered prawn curry with rice and hubby ordered veggies with noodles- the prawns were unimpressive but the veggies curry was good and the noodles were better than eating plain rice. The desserts had 3 really small portions of creme brulee, some sorta gooey brownie and ice cream hovering around average, with freshly glazed fruits and recommended Darjeeling tea ice cream.

I will give Ai numbers only for style and will recommend that you experience Yum Yum Tree at New Friends colony they are great – the service is good, the food imaginative, they’ll bring all the entrees and dimsums that you would ever want to eat. But let me warn you they don’t serve a main course. So it’s deserts and entrees, dimsums and lots of Jasmin Tea.So the last time when we went everyone wanted to eat noodles also so the cook specially prepared stir fried noodles for us which were so-so but I will give him marks for the effort he put. Also, the Maitre D here is more active and the service never subsides. Recommended food here are their glass dumplings with Prawns and their entree made of pork ribs.

 

Advertisements

Grilled at last…

Bombay (yeah I know…but I don’t like saying Mumbai) – supposedly a haven for eating, dining, breakfasting, brunching…lunching…teaing and all that. I say ‘supposedly’ because I haven’t really had the opportunity to explore more than 10 eating joints in the last six years of my stay here, so going by what I’ve read and heard, that’s what it is – a haven. I should be ashamed of calling myself that with my fantastic record. But in my defense, of the limited joints that I visit, I am pretty much, a patron.

This post comes in the light of a slight deviation from the routine of six years. My very vegetarian in laws (just sis in law and hubby), my preferably vegetarian husband and the purely non vegetarian me decided to meet for dinner last Saturday. We almost entered the restaurant where we went to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, first Sundays of the month, buying a new lampshade, getting all traffic signals green, …basically anything. Anyway, just as we were entering, my SIL said she’d heard of a grill house nearby that we could check out. I was thrilled since the last time the four of us (or even just me) went to a grill house was two years back, soon after my marriage. That was something that had undergone more planning than the marriage itself…hey come on, we were going to ‘Kebab Factory’ (in Noida I think) for the first time and it was a big deal. We have been planning to go to Barbecue Nation near Bandra for the longest time but in vain. That’s another story.

Anyway, in less than five minutes we were out of our favoured restaurant and outside ‘Grillopolis’, in a place called Oshiwara located in the western suburbs of Mumbai. The name was about as far Greek as the place could get. Can be surer of that as my husband and I went holidaying in Greece last year and are pretty sure no façade there inspired what we saw in front of us. But I did not let that bother me…food (read grilled meats) was what I was waiting for and I was sure it would beat the ‘oh so famous’ (dunno why) Greek salad. Being a Saturday, we got a table in a record 10 minutes. Obviously we did not go for the a la carte since the buffet had five non veg and five veg starters, just as many dishes per category in the main course and desserts. Not bad. I didn’t even bother with the veg…and I’m not sorry. First up, I dug into the chicken kebabs that had some sort of a rice flour coating – soft and juicy on the inside, crisp on the outside. Lightly spiced but delicious. Then came the grilled fish with baked beans (didn’t know that could be a combo). It certainly wouldn’t have qualified for Masterchef Oz coz there were BONES!!! Did anyone watch the episode where Gary cooked a fish dish in a Masterclass and Callum found a bone in it…what a slap (or should I say prick) that was! Anyway, the grilled fish was decent. Found no more bones after the initial bits. Then followed some delectably soft mutton shammi kebabs served on tortilla chips (huh???). Didn’t bother with the tortillas but the kebab was lovely. It did not have the hit smell or taste of the original shammi kebab but it was fragrant and really really soft. Probably that’s why they served them on the tortillas so that they held shape. Then, dhan ta tan…grilled prawns. Was having prawns after eons. Didn’t mind how they were served…except raw of course. Spicy, well cooked. Very nice. Four down, one more to go. As I waited for it, I wondered what they could possibly serve – chicken’s done, so is fish and goat and prawn. Hmm…and then it came…chicken again!!! Well, that’s about as big as the non veg circle went. Pretty orthodox for a place called Grillopolis eh? But this time the chicken was quite interesting. It was a seekh kebab. Indian notes of garlic and earth spices in the beginning and then a kick of soya in the end. Sounds odd but it made for a pretty interesting combination. Quite nice, quite different. Had several helpings. Some of the names of these dishes may have sounded Indian, but they all had a pretty western hint in their tastes. A little here, a little there. If you go there expecting to find Karim’s kebabs’ copies…mmm…not that good an idea. The name of the place actually helps putting such expectations at rest.

Anyway, by now I had had my fill. But after a walk around the buffet counter for the main course I felt some empty spaces spring up out of nowhere within me. How else was I to stuff in the masala crab and fish and mutton biryani and drunken chicken and butter chicken??? (These guys really know their way around with chicken) Ah! Is there a cloud number 10? Well I was beyond that. Yeah I had to struggle a bit to maintain dignity while eating the crab. And that was not it. I had to make a pretence to my family (veggie, remember?) that eating crab was just like sucking on drumsticks (no not the chicken ones…the green ones you put in sambhar). But how…with crab…how??? Finally I found recourse in the wall of glasses and salt n pepper cellars that I created around my plate. Couldn’t eat the crab as much as (I mean to the last shred) I would have wanted to but that sufficed for the time being.

No more space left to create space for dessert! But the brave soldier marches on and the sight of those gooey, creamy, chocolatey delights made me brave enough to run. I had two helpings of dessert…hah! Strawberry pastries, chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream, baked Alaska – layered sponge and fresh fruits topped with soft peaked whipped cream and lightly bruléed. They didn’t do it too well as quite a few grains of sugar met their end between our molars. But what the hell…it tasted great and the attempt can at the least be appreciated. And the bottomline is…all good things come in sweet packages…

With a sumptuous meal down, we got discussing whether they served the same menu everyday. We said obviously not. I’m sure they know more than four chicken dishes. When will they serve those? Might go and find out soon.

ZEST (Now Setz)

It was a last minute decision to head to ZEST to celebrate my mum’s birthday last night. We had all along planned to go to the adjoining DLF Mall, Vasant Kunj for a simpler meal, but I remembered at the last moment this super fancy place that had opened up to great acclaim and hype, and I wanted to show my mum a good time.

We arrived at the restaurant (I was wearing flip flops) fully expecting to be turned back (I wouldn’t allow myself in a fine dining restaurant in chappals). I knew ZEST to be super fancy, the new hotspot for Delhi’s elite. Up we went and were met by an army of bouncers/concierges/hostesses. “Do you have a reservation?”, “No”, I said “We weren’t expecting a crowd on a Tuesday evening”. “Can you wait for 25 mins”, he said. “No, we’ll rather go elsewhere. I am not dressed for the place anyhow”, I replied.

But what do you know; five minutes later we had a table. I wonder how the lady wearing a beautiful evening dress and sitting at the sushi bar felt when I walked in with my flip flops (I would be mad as hell, if that happened to me). Heh!

The restaurant allows children, but wasn’t really child friendly. No scratch pad or doodling paper for the restless kids waiting to mess up the food. No smiles by the hostesses acknowledging kids who don’t really understand that they can’t sit at a bar stool and order drinks. The expat bartender however, was wonderful and gracious, who offered my 6 yr old niece the apple juice she ordered.

The air-conditioning here is turned to “frozen”. I suppose this is so that the supercilious staff can carry off two button suits and stare down at the clientele. Aren’t the guests (sorry, paying customers) supposed to feel that way? Charming.

The staff are really silly. Very well dressed and all that, no doubt. The trainees wear white overalls and are the bottom rung of the hospitality food chain (I think they are not allowed to interact with humans). You have the servers (shirt, pants & weird pointed shoes) and then some sort of special people (wearing suits, I don’t know what they are meant to do). And of course the pretty hostesses wearing dresses and makeup and scarves and all that. Very posh, you may say. And I thought so too… except our special suited gentleman had his name tag wrongly tagged (so vineet becomes teeniv). He proceeded to shove the menu at my face, killing whatever is left of chivalry in India- there were two women sitting at the table, who apparently didn’t deserve his attention. I suppose in Delhi, the guy who pays the bills and look at staff in the eye gets all the attention. Ridiculous!

Another “Indian” thing I noticed… the size of the chair (roomy, I suspect, to accommodate for our large posteriors). I also found it strange, and this is typical of all Indian restaurants, that most of the table were built family style; in 4-6-8 configuration. The couple tables were apologetically placed at the far end of the room. So sad, really. I should imagine that restaurants would encourage romantic couples and such (I think, young couples out on dates and anniversary tend to order expensive cocktails and what not).

So anyhow, in due course another brisk lady appeared and shot off a question to my mum “would you like still or sparkling water?” (I burst out laughing, I am sorry, I couldn’t help it). I asked her to get us regular water. But no, it wasn’t going to be that easy. This is a fancy place, remember. Another guy came up with a bottle (I think it was Evian). “Would you like…” No, I cut him off; we have already given our preference for plain old drinking water, thank you. Mind you, by now, I have spoken to/been spoken to by 5-6 different people. Whatever happened to personalised service?

Onto the next disaster… We poured over the menu, and I decided my mum should try the tajine (you know, the Moroccan stew sort of thing). But what do you know, they don’t have it. “Why is it on the menu”, I asked. A shrug was all I got. No worries, could the chef at the Arabic live kitchen please show my mum how a tajine is cooked. “No, we don’t have the tajine at all”, the waiter/trainee/hostess/steward type guy responded. I was beginning to feel angry. Don’t have it on the frigging menu if you don’t have the bloody thing. Or let me know before hand that X & Y are not currently available. And for god sake, take the live kitchen and shove it somewhere. What’s the point of showcasing all the stuff, if people can’t experience it?

Moving on to the next disaster… I asked for chopsticks (I was having a Chinese wok), and they got me a – hold your breath – off the street cheap as hell pair. You know the one that is glued at one end that you have to break open? Remember this is a fancy restaurant with wines priced at Rs117,000 (plus taxes). I mean what the hell? I have better chopsticks at home (someone special sent me a nice collection from Chinatown in NYC, but I digress). I was really shocked. This place pretends to be at the upper end of the dining experience – what were they doing handing out take-out style chopsticks?

Oh, By the way- we weren’t shown a drink menu; I had to beg for one, literally. I am not sure why, maybe they thought we weren’t drinking… but my brother had already stopped at the bar for a beer (and the apple juice for his daughter). Very strange. Earlier, we had waited at the bar for the table to be ready, and shockingly the bar guys made us settle the bill at the bar itself, while we were walking in for food. Inexplicable, don’t you think? And then the final straw, the fancy drinks menu didn’t list any Indian/IMFL booze, yet people all around me were chugging kingfisher (including, eventually myself). Apparently the menu and its owners were too ashamed to actually write Kingfisher and Smirnoff alongside “Maison de pommes bla bla bla” (or maybe there was another Indian drinks menu, which is even worse”


Look, the food was great. The ambience was chic. And so ZEST had a lot of things going for it. But I didn’t like the fact that it wanted to come across as pompous, supercilious and fake. Be real. We are real people. Be nice. Make us smile. I am not impressed by white skin waiters and French wine lists. I am not cowered down by hostesses wearing dresses and ear pieces with wireless headsets walking efficiently around the floor.

Don’t pretend to be what you are not. Zest wouldn’t get a Zagat or a Michelin star, but would certainly win as a superb observatory of the quite revolution that is sweeping our elite.

I wonder what Vir Sahgvi would make of this place….

Bercos, Dwarka – Comfort Chinese (at home)

Metropolitan India is undergoing a global cuisine revolution. Descriptors such as niche, artisanal, authentic, creative and fusion now apply to numerous new restaurants in Mumbai, Bangalore and even Delhi (where the hippest restaurants are often found in its oldest villages – subject of a couple of posts previously). Foodies throng to these new places, discovering new cuisines and improving their geography (can you now identify Hunan province on the map of China, and do you know Jamaica through your jerk chicken or is it the other way round?).

Apparently all this is happening. Because if you live in Dwarka, you only see glimpses of this through excited reviews and colourful weekend planners in newspaper supplements, blog posts of friends, or lifestyle shows on TV that help you plan exciting evenings and weekends. Dwarka is a new-ish large suburb at Delhi’s south-western extremity, but its adjacency to Delhi’s airport hasn’t helped fly in global cuisine or far flung-regional cuisine (such as Konkani, Chettinad, Bengali and.. umm.. anything beyond Delhi and Punjab actually) here yet. Most of Delhi’s great culinary traditions find representation here however – Punjabi-tandoori, kabab-shabab, Mughlai, Punjabi-Chinese, Chhole-chaat-jalebi, with a few idly-dosa and pizza joints thrown in. Of these, Bercos is among the most famous of Delhi’s stalwart restaurant brands to have set up shop here (Golden Dragon is here too, but that’s another post).

Bercos has been one of Delhi’s greatest purveyors of Indian-Chinese cuisine, and an institution at Connaught Place (sorry, Rajiv Chowk?). At Dwarka, except to step in and pick up their ‘home-delivery’ menu once a couple of years back, I haven’t been inside the establishment and so cannot talk about ambience, service, seating and such like. But their food has been a regular and reliable visitor at our home for over two years now. Berco’s doesn’t mess much with new-fangled concepts – their ‘dimsums’ are called ‘momos’, and they offer all the old reliables of a Chinese menu – chilly garlic fish, chilli chicken, shredded lamb / diced chicken / slice fish in (choose 1) hot garlic / black bean / szechwan sauce et al. While little of it is authentic in the new-age way, the Bercos kitchen manages restraint in not going too far over to the ‘Punjabi’ way either. And so most of their food actually achieves a satisfying ‘marriage’ of robust taste and discernible flavour.

With Bercos, what you think is what you get. What comes to mind when you think chicken Manchurian? Or hot and sour soup, American chopsuey, fish in black bean sauce? Yes, that’s how Bercos makes it. And their order-taking on phone is reassuringly familiar –
Self: hello
Bercos: hello sir goodeveningthankyouforcallingbercos, you want veg or non-veg
S: non-veg
B: chicken or fish
S: fish
B: ispicy or non-ispicy
S: medium spicy
B: ok sir then you take sliced fish in black bean sauce, will be medium ispicy.
S: what about gravy?
B: do you want dry or gravy?
S: what will this dish be?
B: semi-dry, you can have it with isteamed rice.
You can only have a vague idea of what you want when you dial in, Bercos will guide you through their menu and help you decide dinner quite skilfully. And they are among the rare joints in Dwarka that deliver well within the promised time, even on a weekend evening. All of this probably doesn’t sound like much, but many restaurants in Dwarka will show you how easy it is to get these wrong.

All is not Manchurian and black bean sauce at Bercos either. Their Thai options, again inspired by Thai cuisine 101 (red and yellow curries, tom yum and tom kha for soup), are worth the occasional order as well. A Thai holy basil chicken was quite nice the last time we ordered. A segment called ‘Chef’s Special’ on the menu promises much and doesn’t deliver too poorly either. The chefs do seem to extend themselves here. A sliced fish in mustard chilli sauce tastes very un-Indian-Chinese and is quite lip-smacking. Combine this with their lovely aromatic Moon Faan rice, and you can end up with an unexpectedly good meal. I’m afraid there is no evidence to report of the soups or the vegetarian selection. Ordering from home, somehow those pages on the menu have been a blind spot to me so far.

Which reminds me, we haven’t ordered their starters in a long time either. Sorry to be abrupt, but it’s Friday evening now, and time to decide between Crispy Fish (as you like it with pepper-salt, pepper-garlic or butter-chilli-garlic) and Singapore Wok Fried Chicken!

Ahmedabad – Dhoklas, and dinner at The House of MG

Kanchuki, Nika & I got away for short break to The Little Rann of Kutch (migratory birds & wild asses!), Ahmedabad (the Sankranthi Kite Festival) and Mumbai (the Mumbai marathon) a few weeks ago.

At Ahmedabad, we stayed in a clean, friendly and cheap hotel called Hotel Volga, just off Relief Road. We checked in to the hotel at around noon and as soon as we had dropped off our bags, I hurried away to explore the restaurants near by.

Now, as you cross the road and walk towards Relief Cinema (yes – that is the name of the theater!), you will find a small hole-in-the-wall from where a matronly woman doles out the most delectable Dhoklas, Khandvis & Patras, all served with a soupy Kadhi and lightly fried green chillies. I couldn’t resist the temptation to try some, and asked her to give me a plate of Dhoklas to eat and to parcel a plate of Khandvi and Patras.

A generous mountain of Dhoklas was heaped onto a newspaper sheet, and they were moist, spongy and sweet-sour with the Kadhi, occasionally spiced by the crunch of  green chilly. I carried back the Khandvis & Patras guiltily, for I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat it all. This little excursion of mine had cost me only Rs. 30!

On the way back, I decided to go around the block from Relief Cinema, and this proved to be a great decision, for I crossed The House of MG, the only heritage hotel in Ahmedabad (interesting tidbit – the hotel gives you “carbon credits” for using less electricity, which gets you a discount on the room bill!). The hotel is known for the roof-top restaurant Agashiye, which serves a traditional Gujarati meal – I secretly decided that the nights meal would be at Agashiye.

However, that was not to be! I ate too much during the day (I ate the Khandvis & Patras, followed by a lovely lunch at a friends home) and despite drinking a potent chooran-hajam drink on Nehru bridge, I was too full from the days excesses to indulge in the multi-course affair at Agashiye.

But not to worry – The Green House at the House of MG proved a good alternative!

The Green House is an outdoor restaurant (it’s called a cafe, but it really is a restaurant) that serves a variety of Gujarati and non-Gujarati snacks. Nika got her favorite Chhola Bhatura, and Kanchuki & I ordered Rigna Nu Bhartu and the Undhiyu, along with Phulkas for me and Bajra Roti for K. The Rignra Nu Bhartu was very much like Baingan Bharta, but with less onions – good, but not special. The Undhiyu was fantastic – a medley of vegetables – yam, raw bananas, beans and potatoes – stewed in a spicy coconut and fenugreek gravy.

The accompaniments to the Bajra Roti was the highlight of the meal though – pictures really do speak a thousand words…