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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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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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

Dragon Boat Festival at Yauatcha

Yauatcha, of Soho London and Michelin star fame, has been on the Bangalore scene for nearly three years now. It’s location, on what I think of as the “restaurant floor” of the 1MG Road Mall, means that good food and some shopping can go hand in hand, any time of the day! June is the month of the two millennial old Duanwu aka Tuen Ng aka Dragon Boat Festival, which Yauatcha is celebrating with a month-long food festival featuring the specialty dish of the festival – Zongzi – sticky rice and meat/veggies wrapped in bamboo leaves. Eating Zongzi, racing dragon boats, drinking a special rice wine (Realgar wine or Xionghuang wine) and mingling with family and friends – that’s what the festival boils down to, whether celebrated on the mainland (China), Hong Kong, Taiwan or anywhere else, for that matter.

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