Sula Wine & Indian Food – Rotarian Wine Fellowship Dinner at The Conrad

Finding time in the midst of the work week tends to be a challenge, but there are certain events for which one most definitely makes an exception. An invite from a dear friend to be a part of an exclusive private evening – a Rotarian Wine Fellowship dinner at one of the city’s newest star hotels, The Conrad, for Indian food paired with Sula wines, did not go unanswered! Starting out at The Conrad’s rooftop pool, we gathered to enjoy some bubbly – Sula Brut, and take pictures a-plenty, before we headed to our sit down dinner at Indian Durbar, The Conrad’s specialty Indian restaurant. With the co-founder of Sula, Kerry Damskey, and the brand’s chief wine maker, Karan Vasani in attendance, we knew we were in for an evening that would be both educational and delicious! I hadn’t realized that Sula has been around for close to 2 decades, or that it as one of the earlier vineyards in the country. And did you know that Sula is the brand that brought Zinfandel to India?

We started off with an amuse bouche of a miniature sized dhokla topped with a mint foam – quite living up to the name of the course! This was followed by the soup course, which was a lamb broth, simmered overnight, served with pickled lemon and tomato relish. Our appetizer was Kandhari Murgh, a wonderful spring chicken marinated with red chili spiced curd and dried pomegranate and served with dollops of the sauces. It was interesting how the combo tasted citrusy rather than having the sweetness of pomegranate. The Sula Riesling was the accompaniment for the early courses. Now if you’re a Riesling drinker, you’re likely to find this one mild, but it, as the winemakers pointed out, makes for a perfect starter wine for someone who has just begun to drink wine. And it’s unassuming nature means that it pairs well with a variety of food.

With the breaking out of the RASA wines from Sula, the evening got even more interesting. To accompany our Kashmiri Lagan ki Seekh, which had a charcoal sauce, we we were served Rasa Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine I will definitely look out for on the shelves, as too the Rasa Shiraz, which was the next pour, to accompany the main course of Hyderabadi Dum ka Nalli or Seabass Polichattu for the non vegetarians. I am usually a fan of Shiraz, and this time was no exception, offering the anticipated body and flavor. And I learned that decanting it for a bit before serving to open it up and release the aroma. While the Nalli – my choice for mains – was nice, it was the accompanying da-e-durbar and tadka saag that packed a flavor punch. A variety of naan and paratha made dipping into the gravies all that more enjoyable.

Our dinner ended with a dessert trio: Belgian dark chocolate kheer, Sonpapdi, and Kerala vanilla pod kulfi, decorated with gold leaf., and the wine poured was the Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. I must admit to not being a sweet wine fan, and usually avoid dessert wines. Sula’s Chenin Blanc was no exception, and registered quite high on the sweetness notes. So definitely for my palate, it was the two reds that worked, over the two whites served that night. Rasa Shiraz is definitely making an appearance in my drinking at home wine collection! Getting to hear first-hand, the story of Sula, the expanding team of winemakers on board, and break bread with the co-founder and chief winemaker made for a memorable experience, in the recently opened Conrad Hotel’s opulent surroundings.

 

 

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Shizusan Shophouse and Bar – eat, drink and be merry!

Whitefield is far, really far, from Jayanagar. But in keeping with my personal mantra of  ‘will travel for good food’ there are times when Whitefield becomes appealing. Shizusan Shophouse and Bar, located in Phoenix Market City is one of those instances. A Pan Asian eatery with a vibrant, colorful decor (in keeping with the Shophouse in its name), indoor and outdoor seating, and a vast menu of dishes from all across Asia, as well as interesting cocktails, this is a must-visit. The dishes are all beautiful to look at, many paying homage to classic Asian fare, with a twist to make it Shizusan’s own.
One Sunday a couple months ago, the food family planned a combined afternoon of merrymaking and eating, and it turned into a delightful and boisterous time of much food and drink and fun. Here’s a pictorial journey of our meal, which was indeed vast, and more than even our group of 6 could consume! And to think we probably ended up tasting less than half the menu!

Some of what we drank
The drinks menu, like all the other sections, holds a lot of offerings, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, including a selection of Asian beers and Japanese whisky. Asian favorites like Iced Teh Tahrik, Iced Vietnamese Coffee, and Iced Milo Milkshake make an appearance, as well as hot and cold Asian teas. The cocktails are eclectic and will require revisiting!
Left: GinSing in the tall glass; Sriracha Blush with black salt rim.
Right: Cocky Rooster, was my drink of the day. A twist on a classic Bloody Mary, with serious spice and potency!

Starting Right
We began with sensational Edamame (with two different toppings of Himalayan Pink Salt and Shichimi or Garlic and Sriracha) and Dimsum including Prawn and Chives, Moneybags, Edamame Petit Pois, Poached Chicken Dumplings, and Crystal Vegetables.

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Sushi-Time!
We happened to visit, coincidentally, on World Sushi Day. And what a pretty array of sushi (L: Rainbow Maki; R: Nigiri) it was! However, we found the taste didn’t quite match up, but sushi not being the easiest find in Bangalore, these will do the job.

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Some Standouts

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Above: Black Pepper Lobster with roasted garlic, spring onions, mushrooms, peppercorns.
Below: Mussels in a lemongrass and coconut cream – heaven! And zesty Salt and Pepper Calamari with a fab aji amarillo chilli dip.

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The Mains
Although getting rather stuffed at this point we couldn’t but order a few different dishes off the mains. In addition to what was pictured above, we also tried some Satays and a crisp and light Asian Watermelon Salad with diced melon, radish, Feta cheese, and almond and mint in a soy-chilli-garlic dressing.
The minced Chicken Kaprow (left) took me back to eating in Bangkok, and you definitely shouldn’t miss out on the Kung Pao Calamari if you like squid. The Green Beans and Mushrooms were really good too, and while it mayn’t seem like it from this post, there are tons of vegetarian options, as well as noodles and rice items to choose from.

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Kung Pao Calamari – a must order

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Sweet Ending
There was no way we would end the meal without trying a couple of the signature desserts, and since we were a large enough group, a couple bites each and we did justice to them. Vietnamese Banh Chuoi Nuong, a chocolate and banana cake, and the Tender Coconut Cheesecake were both hits, and there were so many more I would have liked to try! This was truly one of those memorable and comforting meals filled with goodness from across South East Asia…

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Details: Shizusan Shophouse and Bar, Phoenix Market City; Whitefield; INR 2500++ for a meal for two

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.


A wedding feast fest at SodabottleOpenerWala

SodaBottleOpenerWala, hereafter to be called SBOW in this post, just completed three years as an entity, and two years in its Bangalore home on Lavelle Road. I always love hanging out there, with the quirky decor, diner style checkered table cloths, and Bollywood music playing, and of course, the toy train making its way sedately on its track overhead. Lagan nu Bhonu, Parsi Wedding Feast, a thali meal featuring the specialties and delicacies one would find at a Parsi wedding, are how they’ve chosen to commemorate the occasion. I managed to catch the festival at the tail end (the special Thalis are available until Saturday, February 25th, at both lunch and dinner) and my dining companion and I quite loved the non-veg Thali.

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Presented on a beautiful metal work thali, with two copper-colored katoris holding gravies, and the other items presented on the leaf atop the thali, this was a deceptively simple looking meal. I thought it would be easy to polish off, but rather ran out of steam around three-fourths of the way in. My friend on the other hand, did an excellent job of presenting a clean leaf! Our meal began with the Pallonji Raspberry Soda, made in-house, with a tangy raspberry crush and soda. Just what was needed after the ride to the restaurant in the burgeoning Bangalore summer! Apparently earlier iterations of this drink tended on the sweet side, but it was our lucky day, for this version was tart and I loved it.

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And now for what we ate. The plated thali comes with two pickles, an aubergine one – Vegna nu Achar, which was more dip than pickle, and the sweeter, Chunda-like one, the Lagan nu Achar, as well as Kachumbar salad. Parsi fare has its share of fried foods, and this thali has Chutney Eeda na Pattice, which had boiled egg, potatoes and some greens, Macchi no Cutlet – double cooked Rawa fish minced and delicately spiced, and one of the favorite dishes of the meal for us, and also Saria Papad. The Masala ni Daar was quite rich and I contented myself with some bites along with the rotis, and spent the rest of the time on the delicious and my top dish of the day, Gos No Sas, a beautiful white mutton gravy dish, with egg white making for a thick gravy, and tender boneless mutton pieces. The Chicken Pulao was flavorful and a good way to close out the mains.

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The proof of the pudding: a clean plate!

Dessert was two, and in mercifully small portions. There was a Strawberry Custer served in a stainless steel bowl that was reminiscent of something you would have loved as a kid, though the two adults in question quite enjoyed it too! The Plum Cake with Brandy Sauce, by contrast, was a very grown-up dessert, both in terms of presentation (served in a shot glass) and flavor (quite a kick in that Brandy Sauce!). We lapped up both in short order, and then ended our meal with Irani Chai, a strong milk tea that I always order when at SBOW. Now, if you get the chance over the next couple of days, do head over and enjoy the feast fit for a wedding!

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Details: SodaBottleOpenerWala, Lavelle Road; Lagan nu Bhonu Thali available for lunch and dinner; INR 650 plus taxes (non-veg) and INR 550 plus taxes (veg).

The new dishes at Smoke House Deli

When an invitation landed in my inbox a couple of weeks ago, to a special Chef’s Table at Smoke House Deli where they would be showcasing dishes off their new menu, I paused a moment. The memory of the last such new menu party at SHD was still fresh in my mind – where had the two years since that event, flown by?! Prepared for an afternoon of food and drink, I thus presented myself at the SHD on Lavelle Road, and awaited Chef Saurabh Arora’s line-up from the 35 new dishes on the menu. Seated in the courtyard section outdoors, we were a big group, which turned out to be rather useful when it came to sharing all that food!

Our afternoon began with a specially-made-for-us, off menu cocktail of Martini Rosso, orange juice and bitters, which had a sweet and smooth finish and potency too. The first appetizer was Crunchy Mozzarella Fritters, cheese on the inside surrounded by a noodle-like crunchy exterior – tasted cheesy (in a good way) and was not overpowering in flavor, making it a go-to with any drink. I also enjoyed the Prawn Fritters + Spiced Mayo, which managed to keep their crispiness and crunchiness in terms of both the batter cover and the prawns within. Not so much to my taste was the Panko Crusted Kashmiri Chilli + Cottage Cheese, Corn Flat Bread – too mushy in texture. The standout of the appetizer course was definitely the Smoked Black Pepper Chicken, skewers of juicy and well-marinated chicken with a kick from the pepper.

The SHD Tomato + Bocconcini Salad, Queen Olives, Pesto Vinaigrette is a great addition to the new menu, especially for olive lovers. The Spanish Queen Olives are almost the size of a fruit with less pungency than the usual green olives. There was Boccocini – egg-sized Mozzarella – as well as crisp greens and I will definitely be ordering this on my next visit. I contented myself with just a couple of spoons of the Roasted Sweet Corn Soup + Sour Cream; Truffle Oil because I wanted to keep space for the pasta and mains that were coming up, especially since there were two Risottos to sample. I love me some Risotto, and neither the Pepper Crusted Chicken + Rosemary nor the Slow Roasted Cauliflower + Mascarpone disappointed. However, it was the Potato Gnocchi + 3 Cheese Sauce, Roasted Vegetables that delivered the knockout punch of the course. Three cheeses, Parmesan, English Cheddar, and Emmental were pressed into service, and cheese crisps on top completed the serving. Am quite happy to be vegetarian when presented with such a dish!

Of the five mains served, I literally took a single bite of each, and then dug into the Half Roast Rosemary Chicken, Wild Mushroom AOP as that was my favorite. With some lettuce on the side and delicious mushrooms and a poached egg that added depth to the already lovely flavors of the dish, I would happily have licked the wooden bowl in came in, clean. Slow Braised Belgian Pork Spare Ribs + Apple Slaw and Pan Grilled Fresh Bhetki + Jalapeno Corn Sauce were the other two non-veg offerings – and the Bhetki sure had fans at the table, but it’s just too strong a fish for my palate. The two veg offerings didn’t make much of an impression: Three way Polenta cake + Bean & Chickpeas Stew, and Roasted Vegetables + Red Cheddar Melt. Utilizing different alcohols infused in-house (with Dill, Kaffir Lime, Star Anise – respectively), the three cocktails from the new menu we enjoyed went well with our food. Sadly, I don’t have the names on hand, but the Kaffir Lime infused one was the definite winner of the three!

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SHD is known for its mouth-watering desserts, and this time was no exception. We loved three of the four we ate, and the other (Lemon Tart + Orange Mascarpone Cream) just needed some tweaking so that the lemon and citrus flavors came out, as we told Chef. Milk Cake + Toasted Hazelnuts looked gorgeous and tasted so too – in fact it was a toss-up between this and the White Chocolate + Lemon Molten Cake, the latter had spot on lemony goodness that literally oozed out of the cake once it was cut. The Prune Crumble Tart + Dark Chocolate Mousse was rich and I stopped after a couple of bites, mostly because the Lemon Molten Cake was beckoning! I’ll be heading back to SHD soon to enjoy my favorites from the new menu…maybe the salad and then dessert to maintain some “balance”!

Details: Smoke House Deli, Lavelle Road & Indiranagar; INR 2000 plus taxes for two with drinks.

Le Cirque Signature Experience

October was a tumultuous month for me (resulting in zero blog posts, I should admit), with the bright spots being far and few between. And the dinner I was part of at Le Cirque Signature, Leela Palace Bangalore, was definitely one of those high notes of the month. The original Le Cirque has been around since 1974 – I grew up reading novels where meals and rendezvous would be set up at the iconic NYC establishment, known for its exquisite take on French and Italian cuisine. Over the years, Le Cirque in NYC has changed locations, and set up additional restaurants as well. For the past couple of years, select Leela Palace Hotels in India too, have become home to the Le Cirque brand. Part of a series of dinners hosted to showcase Le Cirque specialties and signature dishes, the dinner I attended last month at The Leela Palace Bangalore, was elegant and delightful, supported by good wine.

The amuse bouche that started us off was of mozzarella cheese atop a halved artichoke, served with artichoke puree and black truffle oil. This really set the tone of things to come – elegance, simplicity, and fantastic, flavorful food all the way! The salad course was one of the restaurant’s signatures, the eponymous Le Cirque Salad, a mix of arugula, lollo rosso, segmented orange, berries, mint, beets, figs, celery, carrot, toasted sunflower seeds, lemon and oregano dressing – citrusy and light, with a lot of crunch and freshness. Corn Soup was next, with a choice of shrimp or Brie fritters – I ended up with the latter, and while the soup itself was lovely (a bit sweet and with some interesting texture thanks to the bits of tomato and the thick but smooth liquid), I think the shrimp did a lot more in terms of flavor than the fried cheese.

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The Le Cirque Salad

I was most excited about the next dish on our menu – Risotto! This is one of my all-time favorite foods to eat – it is comfort food and fine dining rolled into one. And when its a black truffle risotto, well then that makes it all the more mouthwatering! Vialone nano rice, black truffle pesto and shavings, topped with burrata cheese – the reverence that such a dish calls for was established by the silence as I smelled and then tasted and then wiped clean the plate in front of me.

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Black Truffle Risotto

Pasta Primavera is not just a Le Cirque signature dish, it was created by Chef Sirio Macccioni and presented at Le Cirque in the mid 70s and became one of the restaurant’s most famous and talked about offerings, remaining even to date, a much in demand item even though it’s not on the menu anymore. It’s one of those seemingly simple pasta preps, with butter and cream, fresh veggies, and spaghetti. It is in fact, the kind of pasta dish that authentic Italian is famous for, where a smattering of ingredients come together to transport the diner to a different plane!

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The Pasta Primavera

A palate cleansing sorbet of Limoncello with candied lemon came as a break before the main courses arrived, and for any lemon and tart flavor lover, this was a moment of happiness – strong lemon flavor that made one’s mouth pucker. I had chosen the Chicken Diable for my main course, among the options of that, the vegetarian Trio of Parmigiana, and the pescatarian Paupiette. The Paupiette was a pastry of Halibut, potato crust, stewed leek, and Rocca di Frassinello red wine sauce and won much favor at the table. For me however, the chicken was the perfect choice. Again, that perfect mix of haute cuisine and comfort food, it was pan seared chicken breast, Dijon mustard sauce, morel mushrooms, potatoes, shallots, and chicken jus. And oh, what a jus – that gravy on top was just incredible and really upped the delicious quotient of that chicken!

 

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Chicken Diable

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Paupiette

However, believe it or not, the piece de resistance was still to come, in the form of the dessert served – Crème Brûlée. I have eaten a couple great, some good Crème Brûlées, and many a mediocre one in my life, but this one was second to none. Served in an individual dish, it was a good portion and we all expected to be unable to finish it seeing as we were already sated from all that had come before. But when one is presented with greatness, one must give it the respect it commands, and in this case, that meant cracking into that beautifully caramelized top layer and scooping up every bite of the creamy center (which had black dots denoting its real vanilla bean heritage) and scraping the bottom of the dish. And then what did I spy? A recipe for this Queen of Crème Brûlées! A nice touch, though I daresay there are enough like me who would be too intimidated to try recreating it!

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Heaven!

A meal at Le Cirque goes into the category of experiential dining, rather than satisfying one’s hunger. It is, as is to be expected, also an expensive place to dine – but that really should not stop you! When you have something to celebrate, be it a promotion, special birthday or anniversary, this is where you should plan on satiating your senses…

Details: Le Cirque, The Leela Palace Bangalore; INR 7000 plus taxes for two people

Korean Flavors with Food for Seoul Festival

I got my first taste of Korean food at the age of 10. Chennai had a South Korean expat population and thus I had a 6th grade classmate whose lunch box was like a never ending source of treats for me. Pork, beef, tangy flavors and noodles and sticky rice – thinking back, I guess I was an adventurous eater even at 10! Anywho, fast forward about 25 years, and to the life that now is. A visit to the on-going Food for Seoul festival at Novotel Bengaluru Techpark’s The Square restaurant last week had me indulging in some Bibimbap, grilled meats and seafood, various vegetable Kimchi (they had at least half a dozen types – contrary to popular belief, Kimchi is not just cabbage, but rather references the “pickling” technique that creates the pungent side) and Namul (sauteed vegetarian sides) galore. Chefs Hee-Jin Park and Jong-Man Kim are here from Seoul, part of an exchange program with Chefs from sister Accor hotels that Novotel Bengaluru has in place.

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The visiting Chefs sweetly posed for pictures

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