Taste of Calabria Italian Food Festival

I always enjoy Italian food, and over the years, my interactions with a number of Italian chefs and winemakers has been a treat. I love the passion they bring to their craft, their (unfailing) reference to their Mama and Grandmama in whose kitchens they first began their culinary journeys, and their charm. And of course, the wonderful (and rich) food they always feed us! And this interaction with Chef Luigi Ferraro, on loan from Shangri-La Delhi, was no exception. He has created a special menu which is available until March 24th, for the From Capri to Calabria southern Italian Food Festival at Caprese, Shangri-La Bangalore’s Italian fine-dine.

We made our way over the weekend, and got to meet and chat with Chef Luigi, and try some of the dishes off the special festival menu. From Calabria himself, the menu is his interpretation and a modern take on southern Italian fare. Employing touches of molecular gastronomy, sous vide cooking, and deconstructed dishes, Chef Luigi presented us with a delicious multi-course meal, each course plated like a work of art.

Apart from a la carte (which will run you around INR 2000 a head), there is also a pre-fix menu, available paired with wine at INR 4500 all inclusive, or just the food at INR 3500 all inclusive. Considering you get three wines as part of the wine paired option, it is a great option for those who enjoy wine with their Italian repast. We sipped on a mellow and medium bodied 2013 vintage Soave Allgrini Corte with our meal. And now, here come the visuals!

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The Amuse Bouche that started us off: Potato croquette on a bed of Pecorino cheese that was somewhere between humus and foam in texture with microgreens and olive oil.

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Antipasti 1: Tomato tartare, buffalo Mozzarella, basil. Dehydrated capers and artichoke cream were the surprise elements, and that bell pepper sauce at the bottom went so well with the Mozzarella.

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Antipasti 2: Free-range chicken with bell peppers and Pecorino Romano cheese ice cream. Thinly sliced chicken and cubed beets, bell pepper sauce, and indeed, a cheese ice cream. Rich and decadent!

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Primi Piatti 1: Ravioli stuffed with parmigiano reggiano 24 months, sauce with morel mushrooms, green peas, asparagus and modena balsamic (in the form of pearls). Do I really need to say more? Just read that list of ingredients!

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Primi Piatti 2: Fagottini with burrata and lobster, green peas and amalfi lemon. Oh lobster heaven was achieved, though I overall found the dish rather salty.

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Secondi Piatti 1: Chicken breast and thigh, spinach, wild mushrooms, pumpkin with rosemary sauce and saracena moscato. Perfectly cooked chicken; diced pumpkin added great flavor and some texture to the dish.

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Secondi Piatti 2: Sea bass with saffron potatoes, amalfi lemon and black olives. Fantastically cooked sea bass with crispened skin, and look at that gorgeous two-toned potato crisp!

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Secondi Piatti 3: Involtino of vegetables with Fontina cheese. The obligatory eggplant vegetarian course.

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Dolci 1: A gorgeous citrus tart, deconstructed with the lemon curd and meringue pieces, and fresh strawberries for an extra pop of tartness!

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Dolci 2: Tiramisu parfait – another deconstructed dessert, which the coffee lovers at the table enjoyed. I contented myself with picking out the chocolate pieces and dust and stayed away from the coffee cream in the center.


Now at the Pavilions (Raj Pavilion New Menu)

Au revoir, 2016 – it’s was an all over the place year, but as always, dining experiences stood out and made for some very satisfying and good times with my food-loving, food-blogging gang. The time has come to end the year, my first as an independent food blogger, and this post on the new menu launch at ITC Windsor’s Raj Pavilion is a fitting end to a(nother) year of good food. One, it brought together the madcap group; two, it was an interesting and delectable lunch; three, it allowed us to wallow in the luxurious old world charm of ITC Windsor, and all that lovely glass at the Raj Pavilion. Which, by the way made for some lovely photographs, with the natural light streaming in from the side and overhead.

 

In keeping with their mandate of “responsible luxury”, the menu gives diners information on the danger level of the fish so they can make informed choices, alongside having symbols against the different dishes that mark them as locally sourced, gluten free, containing nuts/pork, etc. Did you know that ITCs serve water that’s zero mile and purified in-house? Just another way they do their bit to reduce carbon footprint. #TrendingAtPavilion was the hashtag of the day, as this luncheon was not a solitary affair, but held across multiple ITC Pavilions all over the country, with bloggers and food writers participating and posting on their social media.

As we waited for the new menu to be brought forth, we were served Pulled Lamb Cornettos and Tomato and Feta Wonton Cups along with two mocktails. The first dish to make an appearance was the Burrata with Anise-poached Pears, and what a grand start this was! Father Michael (Vallombrosa Cheese Shop), a local priest who is known in food circles for his fantastic cheese making, was the source of the Buratta. The anise spicing on the pears was judicious and in combination with the creamy cheese and the bread and salad greens on the side, it was a great set of flavors. Next up was another cheese starrer, Molten Brie with Pretzel Crusts, accompanied by roasted beets and a green apple chutney that had some heat to it – this dish had a number of elements, but they all came together wonderfully.

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The next dish was a seemingly simple Shrimp Cocktail, but elevated to unusual with a Curry Leaf and Kokum Mayo, which gave it an interesting color and most delicious and unexpected taste – the boiled eggs on the side added a certain something too. Soups were next, and both the Singaporean Laksa and the Mushroom and Barley were packed with great flavor. The mushroom soup is one I would want to reach for on a cool winter day, and the injection of celery and leek that came in a little plastic tube was a fun element. The Laksa won more favor at the table, with its shrimp, chicken, fish , noodles, boiled egg, tofu, and coconutty broth.

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Next up, mains – four dishes were presented and shared by the group. From the local love section there was Bisibele Bath, which was served with half a dozen sides including expected ones like boondi and pachadi, and more unusual ones like Parmesan cheese and dried carrot shavings. The dish was appreciated by everyone, especially the unique cheese topping. Personally, Bisebele Bath is not something I like, so after a tiny taste, I moved on. The other and biggest hit of the mains was the Slow Cooked Mushroom and White Bean Soup, with crusty bread and garlicy broccoli on the side – again, this was a soul satisfying soup for a winter’s night.

The other two mains, unfortunately, didn’t translate well to the plate. The Gratinated Meatballs in a Makhani sauce with cheese was actually lovely – didn’t expect to like Indianized meatballs but it worked. However, the accompanying spaghetti had been tossed in curry leaves and that marred the overall taste – somehow, the curry leaves in a pasta dish just didn’t resonate with any of us. The Lamb Rib and Broad Bean Tagine, served with couscous and stewed apricots, was actually the most anticipated dish of the main course, and its presentation in a Tagine was flawless, as was the couscous. Unfortunately the lamb and stew itself was altogether over spiced, and the overpowering cinnamon taste made it difficult to eat. We of course passed our feedback on to the kitchen and Chef, and I am sure that there will be a lot more care in the making of this hereafter.

The piece de resistance of the meal was the desserts, courtesy ITC’s pastry chef, Chef Alrich. I am a cheesecake lover, through and through, so the fact that I took just a couple bites of the beautiful cheesecake that came to the table and concentrated on the other two offerings should give you an idea of just how good those desserts were! Milk Chocolate Parfait with Darjeeling Tea Namelaka and Raspberry sorbet was beautifully plated and presented, and the finishing touch of a rich chocolate sauce poured at the table. I actually went back on New Year’s eve for lunch to Raj Pavilion, just so I could order and once again savor this dessert. From the halved hazelnuts to that decadently delicious chocolate sauce, the tart raspberry sorbet and the parfait – this was all kinds of awesome!

The Pavilion Chocolate Fudge with Jaggery Caramel Sauce was equally wondrous and wonderful – and we shamelessly took our spoons and dug into the tureen which held the sauce, unwilling to leave a single drop! We ended our meal thus in dessert bliss, and then spent a few enjoyable minutes takin in the beautifully decorated lobby, complete with working model train amidst the Xmas decorations.

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Did someone say (Go) Cheese?

Cheese is comfort food for me – there may not be much else in my refrigerator at times, but cheese will have its place. That, and some bread are enough to make a meal of. I remember as a kid, when we had family coming from the UK, US, or even the Middle East, cheese would be on the list of requests – blue cheese, goat cheese, sharp cheddar, a rich brie. La vache qui rit and Kraft tins (anyone recall those?) in fact are part of some of my earliest memories. And there was always Amul on hand, locally. But let’s face it, the very reason we asked for cheese from foreign shores was that the choice here in India was quite limited. Later, living in the US, I could enjoy even gourmet cheese without breaking the bank, and did so quite regularly!
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Now of course, there is every manner of cheese and brand available here in India, but still, most come at a rather steep price. But in the last couple of years, the market has seen local brands bringing more variety, and at an affordable price. Go Cheese has been one I keep going back to, for their slices and the wedges. Thus, when an invite came to a Go Cheese tasting event at The Biere Club, in association with Femina Magazine, where the brand’s spokesman, celebrity Chef Ranveer Brar would be leading the way, I accepted even though it was just a day after I was back in town, after two weeks away. And am I glad I did! I learned more about the brand, its parent brand Parag Milk Foods, different ways I could incorporate cheese into dishes and how to create interesting flavor combinations, and came away with a goodie bag that introduced me to some new Go Cheese flavors (kacha aam, peri-peri and more), and has me well stocked with a food I consider a staple!
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The evening began with a short set by stand-up comedian and a founding member of East India Comedy, Sahil Shah. I am always leery of stand-up acts because many a time they either cross the line from funny to offensive, can be overly sexual, or well, just aren’t that funny. Mr. Shah was, much to my delight, on point, hilarious, and sharp witted – nimble both with his jokes and with finding that balance between funny and outrageous. It was a fun and funny start to our evening.
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Mr. Mahesh Israni, Chief Marketing Officer of Parag Milk Foods (Go, Gowardhan, Topp Up, Pride of Cows), was next on stage to talk to us about the brand’s various offerings, their processes, and enlighten us as to the cheese scene in India. Did you know that Gujarat consumes the most cheese in the country, with Bangalore coming in 3rd and Delhi 4th? The company has more than cheese to offer, btw, under it’s different lines – there’s also milk (regular and flavored), ghee, curd, buttermilk, butter, and paneer. They are geared up for even more growth than the current 35%, equipped with a plant that has the capacity to churn out 1600 varieties of cheese products! One very interesting factoid we learned was about the Pride of Cows (currently in Maharashtra only) brand under Parag Milk Foods, which offers premium, organic milk that is never touched by human hands across the entire cycle, from cow to packaging to sale!
And now, it was time for the main man himself, Chef Ranveer Brar. Rather than making it a formal talk, he chatted with the audience from the stage, and gave us a quick rundown of facts on cheese, and then half a dozen cheese pairing and sides (sauces, fruits, etc.) options. His suggestions incorporated both Indian spices and elements, and Western condiments. As he talked, we were served a three-cheese platter with Gouda, Colby, and Cheddar (not sharp), alongside crackers, fresh figs and grapes, a sauce, and of course – wine. Both red and white were on offer, from KRSMA Estates, a Karnataka brand. I decided to have a little of each, and tried the cheeses with them, to see how the more acidic white and the drier red would play with the flavors on my palate.
The high point of the evening, food wise, was the platter of hors d’oeuvres made with Go Cheese, that appeared at the tables next. Cheesy Pepper Agrodolce Calzone, Beetroot Carpaccio with herb Almette and mini greens, Cheddar and Monterey Jack flour nacho with avocado salsa, Mustard, Tomato and Olive bruschetta, and a wedge of crumb fried cheese accompanied by Chilli Grape chutney – all delicious and showcasing the cheese beautifully. The carpaccio and the bruschetta were my favorites – the former for the mouthfeel and the herb Almette cheese, and the latter for the sharp mustard tang that lingered. We ended with two desserts, made with cheese – Saffron Cream Syllabub with fresh fruits and Biscotti Crumbles and Almette Cheese Topped Humming Bird Cake with Edible Flowers – both were a tad too Indian to find favor with me, but were liked by others at the table.
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I came away feeling good about supporting locally made cheese and not needing to buy imported to get my cheese fix. I now have some varieties of spicy cheese to add to my next grilled cheese sandwich, or top my pasta with. And the next time friends gather for a drink or even just tea, I will have a trick or two up my sleeve, thanks to Chef Ranveer’s tips. All in all, an informative and delicious two hours!
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Mezzaluna’s new Italian flavors

Mezzaluna, the Italian fine dine restaurant at the Mövenpick Hotel & Spa is definitely one of my favorite Italian eateries in town. However, the fact that the hotel is far, far from home, means my visits are few and far between. In fact, when I was there a few weeks ago, some quick calculations and thinking back made me realize it had been, horror, a year and a half since my last visit! Under the genial and capable hands of Chef Armando di Filipppo, who has been with the establishment for about three years now, and has relocated to India en famille, Mezzaluna is always  a delight. I prefer afternoon dining over dinner here, for the simple reason that the sunlight from the windows and the charm of the life size prints of Italy (almost floor to ceiling in height) comes through better in the day, and also because there’s somewhat less traffic at 1pm than at 6pm!

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I liked the interiors of checkered floor and life size Italian ‘scapes so much, I even posed for a pic!

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