The Rise of Experiential Dining

Funny, how sometimes work and hobbies end up going hand in hand. Just recently at work, I wrote about the rise of experiential dining and the trend of adding zing to the dining experience. And then last week, I attended a multi-course meal that two of our city’s passionate chefs, Kanishka Sharma (founder of The Tenth Muse culinary experience) and Pallavi Mehta, had put together based on their personal life experiences and with local ingredients and influences in every dish. Part of an on-going series (of a monthly sit down wine and dine, The Courtyard Food Project) at the lovely space on Double Road, The Courtyard, which serves as an al fresco restaurant and dining space for events such as supper club dinners and dining experiences as well as a community space with performances, on arrival I was greeted by a beautifully set table and a glass of Svami Tonic Water.

 

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These dinners bring together a diverse set of people, who share an interest in experiencing an intimate menu created especially around a theme. NAVU, which means ‘us’ in Kannada, was the name and context for our meal last week. This meant we heard Kanishka and Pallavi’s reasoning for creating a specific dish as well as felt local influences in the dishes, while their storytelling gave us a glimpse into their lives too. Kanishka talked about how a neighbor when she was growing up, would always ask if she drank tiger’s milk, since she was a fearless kid, and this translated into our appetizer course with coconut milk (Ice apple or Ceviche with coconut tigre de leche). And then there was Pallavi’s reminiscence of being the new member of a mainly Bengali staffed kitchen, and their reaction to her throwing out prawn heads rather than using them in her cooking, which led to her serving up the chutney made with prawn head.

 

We actually began the meal with a tangy Rasam and deconstructed Sabudana Vada. This was followed by the Tigre de leches appetizer and then a raw mango rice with mango salsa, topped by a fried papad. The next course was the prawn pickle and head chutney served on an amazing rice cracker that made me think of the rice apalam/papad I would eat as a kid in Chennai. This was one of my two favorite dishes of the night. And then came the other stellar dish, a beautifully cooked and seasoned pork chop served with sauteed local greens – this dish also incorporated 100% Karnataka single origin chocolate. Of course there were veg versions of both dishes, with veggies replacing the prawn and meat.

 

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And then it was time for dessert, which came in two rounds, the first being a jackfruit cremeux with fried cheese on top and black rice kheer topped with puffed black rice. I have never warmed to jackfruit, so left that one after a bite, but the gusto with which another diner accepted my offer of it, proved its appeal! And then out came a caramelized roselle flower and chocolate truffle made from Naviluna chocolate (formerly Earth Loaf – with their little factory space in Mysore). Our entire meal was accompanied by the always delightful wines from Big Banyan Wines. I loved all the local touches, from the chocolate to the wine, and it was a pleasure to spend an evening with a new set of folks. Just proved to me yet again, that a good meal is a great way to get people together, laughing, talking and relishing! Something that the team at The Courtyard and Kanishka have been doing successfully for some months – I met some folks who were on their third such dinners.

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Brunch at the New Radisson Blu Atria

We all love Sunday brunch, don’t we? Sunday being, for many, the only day of rest in the week, the idea of waking late, then heading out to a long, leisurely, luscious brunch, has quite an appeal. I’ve always been a Sunday bruncher – it was something my mother instituted at home when I was growing up, and living in the U.S, Sunday brunch for Mother’s Day and the like was a given. Over the last couple of years, almost all the hotels in the city have started serving up Sunday brunches – some extravagant, some elegant, all enjoyable. One of the latest additions to the scene is at the Radisson Blue Atria Bengaluru. The old Atria Hotel has had a facelift and a brand makeover, and now under the Radisson Blu label, has launched a lovely Sunday brunch, which can be enjoyed poolside or indoors in the restaurant’s air conditioned comfort (which is what we opted for on a sweltering May afternoon). Oh, and a dip in the pool is part of the package, so make sure to carry your swimwear!

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The live grills counter and a bar counter were set up outside – it’s an IMFL beverage package at INR 1950 plus taxes, which means you can drink and eat to your heart’s content – now that’s a nice way to spend Sunday afternoon! There was a nice spread, with Indian, Asian, Continental, and Mediterranean offerings across the salads, appetizers, and mains. What we were impressed with was the range of salads, the live grill counter, and the meats. The Papdi Chaat and Pani Puri (I liked the way it was served to the table) went down well – we all being chaat people. There was also Pav counter with both veg and non-veg, and dim sum and tacos, as also a pasta station and kebab corner.

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I always pile my plate with the fancy salads at buffets, and this time was no exception. The Prawn salad with tomato salsa, Pesto rubbed fish  with orange segments, Seared tenderloin salad with wild mushroom, roasted shallots and Dijon mustard, and the Tuscan pork and bean salad were all nice flavor combinations and made a good chilled start to the meal on the hot day. There were the Middle Eastern dips of Baba Ghanoush and Hummus and Tabbouleh salad too – but we couldn’t find pita bread to go with it, and made do with the fresh breads from the bread counter which was quite nice. There were also Oysters served on the half shell, which were dressed with onions, lemon juice, and cilantro, and we went for a couple of rounds of these – fresh, beautiful, and definitely a treat!

From the live grills, we loved the prawns which were large and fresh and simply prepared with a spice rub, letting the shellfish speak for itself. The Olive and Pepper Lamb Chops were also a big hit – perfectly cooked and again, with balanced spicing that did not overwhelm the meat. There was also a Mustard Marinated Fish, and Pesto Chicken. The Barbecue Pork Belly from the carving station was another item we went back for seconds off – the jus, the pork belly with the soft fat and the crackling skin – so good! There was also a selection of fairly typical mains – paneer, fish and chicken curries, biryani, dal makhani and more for those wanting Indian food, and Thai green curry chicken, an Oriental fish prep, veggies, fried rice, and noodles for those wanting Asian.

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Such was the heat of the day that we stuck to beers and fresh juices, but were told they have some nice cocktails – next time! Dessert was not as vast as one sees in buffets, but everything was nicely put together, with around 8 pastries/puddings/mousses, and half a dozen Indian sweets including Kulfi, Sandesh, Ladoo, and Moong dal halwa. There was also ice cream and fresh fruits. I chose to end with the live banana fosters counter – there were various toppings and sauces to choose from and it was a good ending to the meal. Pancakes and waffles were also being made to order. I noticed a kids section with items more in tune to little appetites, like burgers, fries and smileys. All in all, a very pleasant experience at a good price point, and everyone’s sure to find stuff to their liking.

The Obento Experience at Edo

A meal at Edo, ITC Gardenia’s signature Japanese restaurant is a feast in the truest form – a feast of the senses. From the beautiful setting, to the delicately balanced and layered food, dining at Edo is always a pleasure. And now, rather than waiting for dinner time to head there, Edo has opened its doors for lunch as well. You can get a la carte dishes, but what’s the inviting new thing is their Obento (Bento Box) lunches.

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An Obento meal, traditionally, is served in a lacquer box with partitions for different dishes, and portioned for a single diner. In other words, you get to enjoy a multi-course meal in one go, with everything presented together. I like this for a number of reasons. For one, I can eat my meal at my own pace. Secondly, I can eat the dishes in my order of preference – like you know, saving the Prawn Tempura for last, even though it technically is a starter item. Third, you get to experience a range of items at one time, and you get to be surprised by what Chef Kamlesh and his staff are up to in the kitchen. Fourth, when I have everything laid out in front of me at the same time, the meal is sure to go faster. And this, actually, is one of the reasons for a Bento meal – Edo wants you to be able to enjoy their food and ambience even if it is for a quick Obento luncheon rather than a more elaborate and leisurely dinner service.

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The Obento is available in both veg and non-veg, and can be customized to suit a diner’s particular likes and dislikes or dietary needs. So if you’re allergic to something, ask for a substitute. While waiting on our Obentos to make their appearance, we were treated to the fun that is a Sake Bomb. A small cup of Sake is placed atop chopsticks that are strategically arranged on a glass of beer. Now, in unison, everyone counts to three in Japanese: Ichi, Ni, San – and then bangs their fists on the table. Splash and pop – in goes the Sake cup into the beer glass, and then it is time to down the lot in one go!

With Sake coating our insides, and much laughter and story exchange happening, once the Obento trays appeared, loaded with a multitude of deliciousness, silence descended on the table, the kind that a great meal demands. And now for the burning question- what was our Obento luncheon? Rather than the boxes, this Obento meal is served on a large tray, with small trays and bowls of the various dishes. An up-scaled Bento Box, if you will. And the dishes are presented/meant to be partaken of in a certain order, though of course, one can do what they like. First up: pickled vegetables – Oshinko; the appetizer – Zensai – a delectable crab salad; Sushi and Sashimi – fresh and beautiful Tuna and Salmon.

Now was the moment for Miso Soup, but I decided to wait on pouring it out of the cute kettle it was in for a little longer – after all, there are few tastes more pleasurable than a perfect Miso – which I know from past experience, Edo’s is! I also reserved the salty egg custard, called Chawanmushi, for later. Instead I ate the beautiful Tempura of prawns and zucchini blossom (well, I saved one of the prawn ones for last), and then went for the Robatayaki or live grill, which featured a skewer of chicken and a beautifully cooked and sauced piece of fish underneath.

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Now, I dove into the Miso soup – the entire experience, from pouring it out and smelling it, to then partaking of it, with the morsels of seaweed and tiny cubes of tofu, was perfection. Chef had served a bowl of Udon noodles for the main course, and this was the one dish I felt didn’t go with the rest, so I stopped after a couple of bites and dove, with relish, into my Chawanmushi – this one had a piece of fish cake and some edamame atop, and prawn and chicken at the bottom of the bowl it was set it, adding some texture and flavor as I dug my spoon further in.  This dish is a definite acquired taste, and some found it better with some soy sauce added, but I for one, just love it the way it is.

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We of course ended on green tea and dessert (Mizugashi) – which didn’t come as part of the Obento tray, but later on. The fantastic Matcha (green tea) ice cream was served on a caramelized sesame infused cups that were crunchy and sweet – a perfect foil for the delicate ice cream. I happily ate my own portion and stole the half left by my not-blessed-with-a-sweet-tooth friend. A fitting cap to an altogether lovely meal! The meal, though planned for lunch time, will also be created for anyone who would like it as their dinner.

Details: Edo, ITC Gardenia; Obento Luncheon available between 12.30-2.45pm; INR 2250 plus taxes for non veg, and INR 2000 plus taxes for veg.

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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).

A meal to remember at Memories of China (Vivanta by Taj)

There was a good run of Chinese New Year food festivals to bring in the Year of the Rooster in Bangalore this year, and I managed to catch three or four over the course of the 15-day long celebrations. Memories of China, Vivanta by Taj, M.G Road’s signature Chinese restaurant, helmed by Chef William Tong, was the grand finale to my CNY celebrations. Chef had curated a menu of special dishes, including a few from his main menu, and for that I am very thankful, since I can get my favorites even after the festival’s done! Memories of China has been in existence for a really long time, and it is heartening to see a place not just maintain its standards or rest on its laurels, but continue to deliver fantastic (and dare I say it, “authentic”) food and a wonderful dining experience. Now, without further ado: here are the dishes we tried at the CNY festival.

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Fried Prawn coated with Wasabi and Mayo and topped with Caviar! Now that’s how you kick off a celebratory meal!

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Haricots Vert with crushed Yellow Bean (Douchi): I could have kept eating this all night – crispy, tangy, and delicious!

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Shiitake Mushrooms with Bok Choy – the latter was cooked beautifully and retained its crunch, and the mushrooms were the perfect companion – not overpowering the delicate flavor of the bok choy.

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Singing Chicken – a sizzling chicken dish with dried red chillies, mushrooms, squash and more.

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Traditional Lamb Belly served in a clay pot – strong flavors and tender meat.

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Our Dish of the Night: Stir Fried Sliced Fish with Egg white. This really was something else, flavor wise! Egg white with Grouper fish and then finished with chillies – a new combination and a deadly one!

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A perennial favorite: Burnt Garlic Fried Rice. The portion was large enough for feed five of us!

Return of Aquafest at Karavalli

Aquafest has been an annual event at Karavalli, The Gateway Hotel, for as many years as the restaurant has been in existence – namely: 26. It is no mean feat that so many years down the line, this once a year food festival is still eagerly anticipated, looked forward to, and visited by seafood lovers. What’s so special, you ask? Well, how about a mix of well-loved Karavalli specials (check out the West Coast Seafood Grill section of the menu), alongside dishes that are curated just for Aquafest, for the run of the 2 week festival? We’re talking the best of seafood, from clams and mussels, to scampi and crab, and fish galore! Chef Naren, whose presence and influence are very much part and parcel of Karavalli’s fame and charm, and his team dig out home style and family favorite recipes they’ve come across over the years, to create a menu that features the treasures of the ocean, from Mangalore, Kerala, Goa (aka the Malabar and Konkan coast).

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Scampi Tawa Fry

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Ari Kadukka – the innovative mussel dish

I visited on day 2 of the festival (yes I was that eager, plus traveling soon thereafter means it was my only chance!) and we got to taste 8 of the starters, 2 curries, and 2 desserts off the Aquafest menu. Scampi Tawa Fry (fresh Scampi grilled in spicy Mangalorean masala)  was the first shellfish to make an appearance, and was eaten with the alacrity that such deliciousness demanded. Karuapila Konju (Tiger Prawns pan fried with onions, tomatoes and fresh curry leaves), was another delectable morsel. One dish that was different, and which I found rather innovative, was the Ari Kadakku (spiced rice dough stuffed mussels, tossed with local spices) – basically, mussel shells were filled with an idly-like batter that had been infused with mussel meat, and then steamed. Another different dish was the Yettida Biscuit Rotti, which was Mangalorean spiced pooris infused with minced shrimp, spiced copra, and semolina. I also loved the Goan Cafreal King Fish – the tangy, green masala and the beautifully cooked fish made me eat every bite!

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Yettida Biscuit Rotti

Now amidst all this goodness, two dishes really blew us away. The first was the Bombil Rawa Fry (Bombay duck marinated with spicy chilly masala, coated with semolina and fried). I like my fish mild and Bombay duck has a reputation for being anything but. However, this prep, with the perfectly crisp coating and a liberal squeeze of lemon on it – oh! The second was the Neitha Denji (sea crab fried with Kundapur spice mix and ghee), a Kundapur masala crab ghee roast that had me diving in with both hands, fingers covered in that luscious ghee roast masala, cracking at the crab claws and shell to get to the sweet meat within. I am one of those finicky seafood eaters, and the fact that I went all out to get every last morsel is testament to my love for this dish! I was tired and looked like I’d done battle by the end of it, much to the amusement of my dining companion and Chef, but it was well worth it!

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Bombil Rawa Fry

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The divine Sea Crab Ghee roast

Meen Moiley, a Kerala style fish curry, and Marwai Pundi, a clam and rice dumplings gravy dish, were our two mains – accompanied by Neer Dosa and as anyone who has ever dined at Karavalli knows, the most out of the world Appams. For dessert, Chef served us Raagi Manni (a fascinating, Dodol-like dessert of raagi flour, jaggery and coconut milk mixed, set, and cut into pieces) that my dining companion loved, and the Mangalorean specialty of Kashi Halwa, a grated white pumpkin sweet that I was happy to round out my meal with. Aquafest is on until the 30th of November, so make sure you drop in for some sumptuous seafood! And umm, Chef, could you please put the Neitha Denji on your regular menu? 🙂

Details: Karavalli, The Gateway Hotel; INR 2500 plus taxes for two

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King Fish Cafreal