Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Chinese welcome

Wan ho…welcome to the Chinese courtyard at the Marriotts, the hue of the evening sunset to set the mood. I was always under the impression that the Szechwan style of cooking was more suited to the Indian palate, and decided to use Chef Rayomund’s expertise to explore the perception. After all who would be a better person…Wan ho serves both Szechwan and Cantonese as well as Thai food.

I explained this dilemma to the Chef…’no problem,’ he smiles, ‘I will give you a mix of both and you be the best judge as to what suits the Indian palate.’ We sit back as the pretty hostess pours flavoured Jasmine tea. Joe was in a mood for something stronger and luckily for him, the Marriotts were having a variety of cocktails served, the receipes from Marriotts International. It was good to have Manuela the efferverscent PR executive with us, or else between the cocktails and the pretty hostesses flitting around, Joe would have been transported to another world.

The starters arrive. Char stew Pork ribs with Plum sauce, salt and pepper prawns and Dry chilly chicken. The Pork ribs were definitely Cantonese, the Prawns and the chicken Szechwan. Was there any difference in taste when my salivary juices began to work? No way! The tender meat of the braised chops in its oyster soya preparation with rice wine accompanied by the plum sauce was divine. Did I feel the need for spice? No sir….one gets accostamed to the delicate sensation of the flavors of the meat being gently beguiled by the sweetness of the sauce… fireworks in this preparation as the chillies played hide and seek…but definitely a dish to be savoured. I took another chop onto my plate. The Salt and pepper prawns were next addressed. I have to hand it to Chef Rayomund…innovation is his second name. These prawns were finely dusted with coconut powder, so fine that it left just a hint of the taste on your tongue. Even Joe missed it, because coupled with the garlic, chilly and the pickled ginger the flavor is so subtle that it complements the spice in the dish. Heavenly. The next dish…dry chilly chicken….the bell peppers with the spring onion infused with five spices and tossed in chilly bean sauce. Infused…yes that is the word…the infusion of this latest entry down my oesophagus, added to the intoxicated frame of my mind, and believe me, I did not even have a sip of that cocktail which Joe was tenderly nursing.

Was there a difference between the two styles of cooking? Chef Rayomund explains. It is only in the method of preparation and the ingredients used. Cantonese food is normally braised not fried. Chillies are minimal and normally Oyster or soya sauce id used. Szechwan food however is tossed in oil and ginger garlic and chillies play an important role in its flavouring. I guess we Indians are habituated to fried food and extra spice, but believe me in the spare ribs the lack of these ingredients do not matter at all.

So we decided to experiment with the main course too. Pork with Pak Choy a Cantonese preparation, Mapo Tofu which is Szechwan and Lamb in XO sauce a Cantonese preparation which is Chef’s speciality. Lets talk about the Mapo Tofu first since it is a vegetarian preparation. ‘What is Mapo?’ I ask curiously. ‘A ladies name.’ Chef Rayomund answers. I wrinkle my eyebrows in perplexity. Everything is named after ladies…even hurricanes. But this preparation blew my mind literally. The marbled tofu was soft as a ladies kiss….Joe’s simile. Now if you guy’s think otherwise, just check this dish out. Mapo apparently was the lady selling the Tofu in China…perhaps Joe was thinking of her kiss….but Joe has never met any Mapo in China. Must check it out later. Right now I agree with him wholeheartedly. The Tofu was soft, its marination in chilli bean sauce with shitake mushrooms, awesome. But Chef Rayomund had a few secrets up his sleeve. The XO sauce…no its not beyond being XXX rated, its his own recipe. Ginger chilly and dried scallops that’s what makes the sauce. Though it is not listed on the present menu, the regular guests like the dish so much that it is available on demand.

I am running out of space and I do hope this best part of my meal gets added. Oh I could go on and on- the menu lists hot Thai favorites like Geang Kiew Wan, the famous thai green curry or the Geang Deang the subtle flavoured red curry. Or the Aromatic duck or the Crispy lamb in honey chilli sauce. But I am not referring to the food in main course now, it’s the dessert.

The Thai chocolate cake another innovation for the restaurant. The rich brown chocolate cake made with coconut milk, full of roasted almonds and served with a scoop of icecream with molten chocolate sauce dripping over its side. Dripping like molten lava from a gushing volcano-only this time it is not hot…it’s a cool temptation. But baby that dish is sure HOT..literally speaking. We stagger out of the restaurant, a warm reassuring handshake from Chef Rayomund, its message stating ‘welcome to my world.’ If one had to translate it and sing to Englebert Humperdinks tune it could probably sound like....’Wan ho is my world.’

The Balcao Beckons

‘Lazy days are here again,’ I thought to myself as we sat in the verandah of this cozy restaurant overlooking the pool. Definitely classy, I thought looking around the restaurant. Wrought iron chandeliers hung on the wall highlighting the painted Goan caricatures, checked placemats on the table, crisp white napkins gleaming shining cultlery…definitely a place to entertain your outside clients. But leafing through the menu….oh so many pages of it….another thought struck me…hey this has all the old family favorites…..Indian, Goan, Continental, Oriental. This multi cuisine restaurant is a family restaurant too.

Balcao the restaurant at the Lazylagoon at Arpora…yes this is the place I am talking about. Trendy, classy and….I am going to give you the third adjective at the end of this column. Even the waiters uniforms are designed to suit the ambience. But we had come to sample the food. Chef Sanjoy Saha…his quiet shy smile is like an appetizer- is at the helm.

I look at the caricatures painted on the wall. Pedro and Caetan the ambling waiters, their slight paunches emphasizing a fact that guest left overs never reached the dustbins, were walking around their guests bearing glasses of wine on their salvers. Some heavily endowed women with their skinny husbands were seated at their tables…I look across the table at Joe. He caught my look and his quiet voice cut through my musings…we have a serious job on hand the tone implied.

Did I use the word lazy….wrong word, I thought as I came back to the present. The waiters here in the restaurant are warm, attentive and professional…after all the resort comes under the Sarovar chain.

The accompaniments arrive. Designer white bowls containing batons of vegetables, Sprouted moong and the old spicy favourites chilly, lime and Piyazzz. The tandoori items were due any moment. Out comes the Kebab platter-garnished to the ‘T’. The whole dish looked good enough to eat….Chicken Tikka, Malai kebabs, Seekh kebabs and Khaas Kebabs with the tangy mint chutney. An Indian bread basket of rolled Naans came with the dish. If one is vegetarian one could sample the stuffed paneer-paneer sandwiched between onions, tomato and capsicum.

But the chef was determined to prove that his smile was not the only appetizing thing around the restaurant. One must try the Masala fried prawns. That dish is to die for. The masla coats the prawns like a rubber glove to a hand…peeling off gently when in contact with the saliva, hence enriching the flavour of the prawns. I masticate gently-keeping a wary eye on that woman depicted on the wall….but when I was asked if I would like to have more…I defiantly decided to add two more of that crustacean delicacy on to my plate.

The plates were cleared and larger designer plates were placed in front. By golly…I had stuffed myself silly on those smaller plates…now what did the chef have in store for me? I did not have long to wait….a mini buffet of Goan and Indian specialties. Chicken cafreal, Pomfret Raechado followed by Dum Methi Murg, Mutton Roganjosh and Dal Sarovar. If one has to order the chef’s speciality I would definitely recommend his Dum Methi Murg…it really had a lot of Dum. And those sizzling hot butter Naans and onion kulchas…. What a combo. I licked up every gravy molecule of that preparation, no need for cutlery at this moment-the naan works wonders in sopping up that gravy like a sponge. And that onion kulcha… you can nibble at it…just by itself,it needs no accompaniment to complement its taste.

We sit back replete. By now Joe had passed out….now don’t get worried. It was not the heat or too much to drink....he felt just like that stuffed kulcha. He actually did not want to have any dessert. Now luckily for me the amiable smiling General Manager Shekhar Diwadkar understood my desires. ‘Have some of our Gulab jamun,’ he says, ‘we make it here.’

Gulab Jamun? I think but a dessert for me is like water in a dessert. And this parched individual was jubilant that she had said yes. Those sinful sweet roundels with shaved pistachio as a garnish is just out of this world, as the firecrackers exploded in my mind. And it was not even Diwali. ‘Yummy,’ I comment my mouth full. ‘Then you must also taste our Moneybags with icecream,’ Shekhar says. Did they hand out moneybags here? But in this dessert the wantons are filled with exotic dry fruits and coupled with ice cream……’The children would just like this,’ I say, optimistically putting myself in that category making sure to avoid eye contact with that voluptuous lady on the wall.

‘This is a perfect place for a family outing,’ says Shekhar pointing to the pool and the tables and chairs along the promenade which overlooks the water body. I could’nt agree more.

Yes that was the third word I was looking for Beckoning. As we got up from those comfortable cushions of the cane chairs we were encased in…I take a quick look at Pedro and Caetan on the wall. I could have sworn that they winked at me……..what was that word again? Beckoning…..yes, they were urging me to visit the Balcao again.

The Da Luigi Code

Many have tried to crack the Da Vinci Code, but it was a Harvard professor Robert Langdon with the gifted French cryptologist Sophie Neveu who finally succeeded. Now we were ready to break the Da Luigi Code this Sunday afternoon, not at the Louvre in Paris but at the Park Hyatt Goa resort and Spa, the time allotted from 12.30pm to 3.00pm.

We were led to the Da Luigi restaurant…..unlike Robert Langdon you have a choice of places to choose to encrypt this code…the Masala, Casa Sarita or the Café and presented with the Mona Lisa.

Only in this case it was not a painting but fawn hard backed encypted folio, in which lay the two page code….Counter selection, Cooked to order and on the Sweet side. Well that looked like a normal menu, but 70 dishes? Did we have to choose? Were all available? Can a normal human being eat so much? And if so where were the chaffing dishes with the hot food…and the desserts? Questions galore .

Fredrick the affable and polite maitre d’ offered us a variety of thirst quenchers … sparkling wine, fresh juices, soft beverages…one can take their pick. Well it was a hot afternoon, so we picked up those refreshers as we sat down to unravel the code.

To start with there is a counter selection…anti pasti laid down on the da luigi counter. If one counted on the paper 13 items listed…but looking at the spread there could easily work out to an additional 10-20. Well there were approx 30 dishes to start with…and that is considered to be the starter. Was there a mystery to unravel this culinary riddle?

Taking my hard backed folio I approach the House made country breads and pastries...5 preparations in all…and then to accompany that we could add on the Organic salads and dressings…..or the antipasti section which had sundried tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus and cherry tomatoes, olives. Cauliflower and mustard, parmesan crumb boiled eggs and crispy parsley, whole red onions with balsamic, cured shaved meats, eggplant wrapped in mozzarella and roasted tomatoes. Jokes apart, I have mentioned only four of the items listed there.

But let me not mention all these items…you see the code changes every Sunday. Right from the selection from the European cheese board….Gouda, Edam, Brie, Cheddar with baked crispy breads and dried fruit and nuts..I did take more than a few of those exotic ones when no one was looking...the Panazella which is an Italian style bread with shredded chicken, capers etc or the Japanese sushi….chef de cuisine Birender Barthwal has arranged every conceivable delicacy from the world on that little counter.

Now let me give you a brief about the chef affectionately know as ‘Papa’. He will kill you with his delicacies…as we later found out. He even has a Papas pasta section in the ‘Cooked to Order’ selection.

‘Do we have to order any one of these dishes,’ I asked looking at the second page. There was a choice of seven cuisines…Continental, Indian, pizza’s, Italian, Goan and Tandoori. And of course the eggs if one had missed breakfast. Out came his beaming smile. ‘You can have everything,’ he says. ‘Everything ? ’ I echo…there must be at least 25 items listed there. ‘Well each portion is just 70-80 gms a portion,’ he confides, ‘and moreover it is made just as you order…a la minute.’

I was flabbergasted, I had the pre -conceieved notion where brunches were buffets in hot chaffing dishes…and here the chef was asking me to order from a menu, and that too unlimited. ‘Many of our guests would like to sample food from all our outlets,’ he says, ‘so we give them a choice of all our restaurants in the Brunch.’

And so started the influx of delicacies. If I had known this I would have starved for a week. The Tuscan thin crust pizza…Papa’s own creation…mama mia, the flaky fish with wok tossed tomato rice…coriander butter oozing on top and the char grilled lemon crusted chicken with tomato feta salad…….to die for. And it did not stop there…the Indian platter with mughlai malai…that boneless chicken marinated in cream…they must have definitely used excess cream…it was so succulent, and the Phuldhari malai tikki. Words cannot express this extravaganza emerging piping hot from the kitchen. One must experience it. I will not dwell right now on the Goan or the other items, I would need another column for it…..all I can say was that Joe was enjoying his pork vindaloo….he felt it was finger licking good…and suited the action to his word.

I looked away…one does not behave like that in a 5 star environment…but the staff took it matter of factly…maybe this was the normal behavior of their guests I consoled myself. Talking to a few well known locals who were patronizing the place gave credit to my assumption.

The riddle that now presented itself was….did I have space for any more goodies? On The sweet side lay listed tantalizingly in front of me. My waterloo. Sixteen plus preparations listed…and my pouch could perhaps expand just a few centimeters. So with great regret, I took a nibble at the Traditional style sticky date cashew nut pudding with butterscotch sauce. And that nibble became a meal…truly scrumptious. I left behind the baby chocolate doughnuts, the choclate panna cotta, the strawberry pavlovas with true regret.

I am sure that the adventurers of the Da Vinci Code did not feel the way we felt. We had cracked the Da Luigi code to perfection. Do not eat a day before you go visiting there, take time to unravel the intricacies of each dish listed there so that you can plan your intake, talking to Papa is a must…his enthusiasm adds to the experience….and don’t criticize the author if you do not find this ‘sumptuous grayle’. A culinary adventure beckons you at the Southern end of Goa.

Kra…zzy 4 Karira

The Roshan’s are in the news…everyone is going ‘krazzy’ 4. But after our ‘cosy’ dining experience on Bunket Beds withs lots and lots of cushions we are going Krazzy 4 Karira’s.

Don’t get misled about those beds……you have a choice of a formal dining section, or sitting around the bar designed by bar consultant Nicholas Hawkins or just leaning back on those beds under the canopy of a lush green foliage and let Chef Evan Gwynne take over.

Evan…with his experiences at Nobu in London and then at the Olive in Mumbai…his expertise on the range is phenomenal. But before I go on to his culinary expertise let me introduce Shaana his wife and partner. Very much involved in all things creative Shaana is the contact for reservations…..the array of head spinning concoctions and the sweet finale.

Evan and Shaana…what a combo. Right from the time to walk down a shingle pathway…once you reach the Baga Riverside…climb a long fligh of steps, you might be fooled into believing you are entering a monestary as you see those wooden doors on either side…and then into a beautiful designed old world charm venue, under the canopy of trees.

Sipping on Mojito’s, I look across at the heavily laden jackfruit tree and then at the canopy of the plumeria tree which is festooned with lights. Across the restaurant the faint sheen of the river twinkles in the moonlight.

The menu is made up of 8:8:4. Maybe that is why the jingle of Kra…zzzy…4 was playing in my mind. Eight starters, eight Main course dishes and four desserts. Now before one thinks that the chef is displaying a limited variety let me brief you about his strategy. With a vast repertoire of cuisines under his belt…no do not take this literally…Evan’s physique made me want to jog up and down those steps again and again, but Shaana put my fears at rest…it is his constitution….lucky him. Well…despite his culinary knowledge he focuses primarily on Continental….dishes from France, Spain, Italy.

Take a look at the appetizers. A sure shot…..Grilled pancakes of proscutto which are minute pink rolls of buffalo mozzarella with rocket and port reduction….now before you take off like a rocket like we did, the rocket used is a green vegetable rich in iron. Then the awesome Breadcrumbed chicken stuffed with Gorgonzola with fresh greens and aoli. Hot….hot…hot…I am speaking of the temperature of the dish. A little nick into the breadcrumbed exterior and the cheese spurts out in rivulets. Just make sure that the chicken is close to your mouth…or else beside the cheese your partner might grab the dish. That was Joe….grrr…he loves temptation…..and chicks……sorry chicken. Another dish strongly recommended is the Fennel and parsley crabcakes, and the chef’s personal favourite…pan seared sardines served with crispy filo (caramelized onions) and sun dried tomatoes.

Don’t spend too much time on the appetizers there are the main course to feast on. Shaana comes along with a new concoction to sample…Triple sec floating on top of Bailey’s Irish cream in the shot glass…did I not talk about head spinning concoctions… was not only the triple sec that was floating, Joe was too. Luckily the main course arrived.

Well one can have a choice of any meat…….the grilled pork chops on the sweet potato puree and sautéed spinach, the asparagus and ricotta ravioli with sage butter and toasted pine nutsl… as the French say or Mama Mia when you are with the Raviloli. Truly Scrumptious!

Or you can try the Confit of snapper piperade, clams and capers. Chef Evan says that the red snapper is cooked slowly in olive oil on a slow fire while the sauce is being prepared. Harmonious….I thought as I chewed on the mini shellfish that accompanied the fish. No wonder these aquatic creatures live in perfect harmony under water.

We were sinking a few centimeters into those soft mattresses, replete and satisfied, but Shaana had other plans for us. She always has the last word…especially the sweet finale…and she makes those delicacies herself. Panacotta with strawberry carpaccio …dressed with balsamic reduction and crushed pink peppercorns. Well she uses those peppercorns which grow abundantly in that garden…and after a bite ff that delicious concoction,I felt energized to climb that tree myself….but that would leave Joe with the Dakr Chocolate Terrine with Pistachio spiked crème anglaise. Don’t get put off by the name…literally translated it means divine. And the lemon meringue nestled in a tuille basket…don’t get green with envy…the colour is lemon…the taste tangy and instead of a tart we have a specially prepared wafer basket to hold that mixture. How can I explain it…that is the problem…it is beyond definition….you need to sample it to know.

Righ now as I write this article all I can say with my mouth drooling with the memories…I am going Krazzy 4 Karira.

Mahi-mahi re…….The chant of the sea

Goa is known for its seafood, and every restaurant whether a shack or in a five star hotel promises its diners an unforgettable experience. So when we decided to ‘experience’ the delicacies at the ‘Morisco’, the sea food restaurant at the Fort Aguada we requested Parag and Vaishali Joshi to accompany us.

Vaishali Joshi is one of the few Goan women who has featured in the Femina magazine…the nimble dexterity in the kitchen and her love for good food would earn her the tern ‘foodie’ while Parag as Vaishali puts it….’ he just loves fish.’

So here we were seated in the restaurant leafing through the concise menu (which we were given to understand is changed frequently depending on the catch), the cool breeze blowing through our hair and the swish-swish of the waves as they beat on the sands. Vaishali’s bright red fresh strawberry Margaritha stood out against the soothing blue of the background, as the men sipped their wine…..Est,Est,Est.

Now here was a very innovative young chef who planned the meal for us right from the day’s menu…FrankCastleton. ‘So why do you have such a limited menu?’ I ask him. ‘We like to try out different cuisines based on our day’s catch,’ he vouches, ‘on some days it could be Moroccan, Italian, a Burmese Prawn Kow Suey and definitely Goan.’

The accompaniments…different styled breads with their spreads….no this is no poetry….arrive. I love these little tit bits which one only gets in these resorts….they pamper your taste buds. Miniature goan poie, crusty butter layered rolls that resemble mille fueille with pineapple salsa, roasted garlic yoghurt and papaya salsa. A tanatlising munch with small talk and drinks.

And so the starters arrive. Frank has explained to us that compared to poached and steamed fish, a little hot oil when in contact with the fish surface brings out the flavours of the sulphide compounds….water does not do the trick. So I left the choice to him.

Tempura fried tiger prawns which was wrapped around with spicy mayo with seaweed dust and Moroccan styled king prawns Karwari. look across the table at Vaishali and Joe as they take their first bite of the crispy prawn which is coated with the mayo…what a lovely idea….you don’t have to dip into the sauce…the sauce covers the preparation and still does not take away the crisp bite of the dish. The Karwari masala was another bonanza…’it’s the curry leaves that give the flavour,’ murmurs Vaishali. Parag nods, while Joe as usual stood firm to his motto…’I live to eat’, there was not a single crumb or gravy spot left…I guess the dishwashing will not have much to do.

The rich baritone of a serenader cut through my musing. A quartet was serenading on the next table. Our sorbets arrive. Flavoured ice water. Coconut, Blueberry, Melon and chilli and Pink Champagne. To clean the palate one would definitely recommend the melon or the blueberry…divine. And then to our table comes the Cotta family…... Minguel Cotta….what a voice…he sang a ‘fado’ solo…..even the waves stilled their swish, as his voice rose to encompass us all in the story…a young girl…a church……and as the last note died down, there was pin drop silence. I made a note to pick up his CD at the first opportunity I got. His notes were still chanting in my years…..what a performance in the true Goan spirit.

By now Frank had got the main course ready, and like any designer he was ready to exhibit his materials. Sea Bass, Red snapper and Mahi-mahi. We all know that the oean has a zillion living things…a literal treaure trove. And here were the preparations: Sea Bass with crusted Parmesan cheese, Moroccan red snapper with Khous Khous of millet and Mahi-mahi with Goan sausages. Did you know that the red snapper has short needle like teeth and has cousins called the mutton snapper and dog snapper which have upper canine teeth? No I did not see the teeth of this fish…the only reason that I mentioned this was that our upper and lower canines were moving with unerring precision…no small talk as we feasted on the fare. The sea bass was out of this world. The flavor was fantastic. Deep down in the dark recesses of my mind a thought popped…I heard that this fish feasted on Lobster, shrimps, squid…could this add to the flavor?

But what stumped all of us was the Mahi-mahi…This fish is a rarity, normally found only in Hawaii.The meaning of the word in Hawaai is ‘strong-strong’, in Persian ‘fish-fish’. I is also called a Dorado maverick…no I am not strating a zoology lesson. By luck this dolphin headed fish which is gold on the side and bright green and blue in colour (only in the water), finds its way to our coastline. The fleah is meaty…some varieties even have the flavor of chicken…and here Frank had given it a Goan touch…a combo with Goan sausages. ‘It’s good,’ Parag remarks, ‘I would never think of a combination of fish and Goan sausages.’ Full marks to Frank.

And now for the Sweet Finale. Hot chocolate pudding and the Morisco Dessert platter was the order for the end. Now let me tell you about that dessert platter. Enough for two.…and the variety? A coconut dome…soft and creamy, a wild berry cake….now I really going wild, a lichee torte, chocolate cake, Alphonso ice cream, Blueberry sorbet and kiwi and fresh strawberries adding colour to the plate. If you want more after a meal you can register for the Guiness world record.

Sitting back replete…it was quiet late…we did not even realize how time had passed, I asked the Joshi’s to give their viewpoint on the meal. ‘There is certainly nothing fishy about this gastronomical extravaganza’ Vaishali says above my discreet bellyful burp of the chant of the sea.

By George…the King of ‘old’ times

History always fascinated me. The stories of the Portuguese officials, their horses clip clopping on the mud tracks as they made their way on dusty tracks through the dense undergrowth from Mapusa to Porvorim, the local academicians spouting verbose as they sat solemnly over a glass of Vinho tinto in café’s in the late 1800’s …where are the remnants of those days, I wonder.

Enter a modest little Bar and Restaurant…..’George’, nestled at the foot of the Immaculate Conception Church in Panjim. One could lose it amidst the quaint busy little shops, but since it was recommended for its modest and authentic fare we were on the lookout having passed it frequently.

Eddie the young proprietor seated behind the cashiers desk, greets us as we enter. The little place is jam packed with tables….I was mentally visualizing the popular place ‘City kitchen’ in Mumbai which had carved a name for itself for authentic Goan food. It seems that ‘George’ does not lag far behind…because this little place was filled with customers-both local and foreigners.

‘The place was started by my father Joao Camilo Jorge, way back in 1936,’ Eddie says. ‘He used to cater mainly to the hostelites of the Lar and Lyceum College up on the hill as well as the local Panjimites and the Portuguese officials.’ As he spoke my mind drifted out to the days gone by…students carefree as they sipped on authentic caju feni and vinho tinto over crumb fried pork chops or beef croquettes, signing a little register as they staggered out in high spirits as they finished their meals. ‘They would only pay at the end of each month,’ Eddie states interrupting my reverie.

Although the menu boasts of a variety of cuisines, we honed in the Goan variety. After all Eddie’s mum still takes out the masala’s. As we skimmed through the menu, I sneaked a glance at the next table. Bad manners….my mother had always told me not to look at another person’s plate…but the slurping sound of pure delight was distracting. The man there was really enjoying the concoction from the bowl-no doubt about that. ‘What is he having?’ I ask Eddie sotto voice. That apparently was the home recipe…beef soup boiled with bone marrow and an assortment of finely chopped carrots, potatoes, beef pieces and macaroni.

‘That must be a meal by itself,’ I say. Eddie nods his assent. I remember that same broth being served in all Goan houses as a child the different alphabet macaroni floating in the broth. ‘Do you still use the alphabets,’ I ask Eddie a nostalgic look on my face. Eddie smiles.

Placing the order of beef croquette, mussel fry and pork chops, I look at the queue waiting at the cashier’s desk…some prominent Panjimites too. ‘Are they waiting to pay their bill?’ I ask him. Eddie shakes his head. ‘From 10.00 am onwards we have many people waiting to pick up some beef croquettes which are a regular morning snack,’ he says, ‘and after that many office goers send their drivers…or they may come themselves to pick up our fish curry rice.’

Taking a nibble of the beef croquettes I can believe what he says. Not at all dried up….juicy is the word I can think off. Besides Remo who frequents this place, Bina Ramani drops in for a meal whenever she is in town from Delhi on a holiday.

The pork chops, which are really crumb fried pork ribs come onto the table. It takes me back to the past when the steamer-the Konkan Sevak or the Konkan Shakti, would steam into the port and the weary travelers would pop into these eateries for a taste of the local fare. Oooh those good old times…but this place still delivers the goodies, even though 40 years have gone by. The finely chopped meat of the pork sorpotel, am I sounding like those can-can dancers, the chicken Xacutti, the sausage pulao…..yummy..Yum...yum. Besides a small helping of that pulao which I was allowed to taste, Joe had heaped everything onto his plate. But I agree with him, I would have done the same, if I had got to the dish first….the lemon yellow rice covering the spicy sausage meat took one into a different realm.

After that meal I would have expected Joe to stand on his chair and beat at his chest like ‘George of the jungle’. That smirk on his face resembled that of Brendan Fraizer to the core. Perhaps we could have started a new fashion with the other diners aping him too. The lively chatter, the warm bohemian was intoxicating…and that too without the caju feni and the vinho tinto. After all it was lunchtime. But come evening I am given to understand the place transforms….would the ghosts to the past generation agree? I am sure they would. George Bar and Restaurant still delivers-as the King of ‘old’ times.


Magic at their finger tips….no I am not talking about Harry Potter and his gang of wizards, nor am I referring to our own desi Alfie Alphonso and his friends…..the Taj Exotica seems to have recruited culinary genie’s at ‘Eugenia’, its coffeshop which serves Indian, Continental and surprise….Jain and Gujarathi specialities.

Now you might wonder why I call them genie’s. You see in the famous story of Alladin and his magic lamp the genie had many skills at his finger tips....and if you consider the young chef’s Dipankar and Shantanu…even their names seem to sound like those of the Arabian nights, we decided to test their skills.

And so yours truly, with an utter disregard to the workouts she does at David Furtado’s dance aerobics classes, decided to…as the younger generation says…’go for it.’ And believe me the smiling Dipankar was unfazed.

Here comes the starters we thought to ourselves as the waiters bring in the Palak aur channa ki shammi, deep fried spinach and lentil cutlets with cheese (Indian), Farm fresh prawns wrapped with Zucchini and citrus chilli compote (Continental), and Khanand Dhokla…as you rightly guessed a steamed gram flour dumpling with mustard seeds, green chillies and coriander….absolutlely Gujarathi.

We had no qualms of heaping the generous helpings onto our designer yellow plates with an emblem of two red chillies. Neither did we bother to look at each other as morsel after morsel vied with each other as our salivary glands worked overtime. The shammi kebabs, the tender pink prawns with the tangy citrus chilli compote was tongue tickling.…and the Dhokla? One might ask why should one eat a dhokla in a five star hotel? Well their Maharaj seems to have got the receipe absolutely right.

Now with starters like that, one might tend to believe that you might not have room for the Main course. Have you ever stopped to wonder why our muscles are so elastic especially at the waistline? There is definitely scope for expansion.

And with that genie Dipankar in his element one needs to let those muscles expand. No I am not talking about doing breathing exercises. That is for the afternoon there is another method for expansion.

The Continental food arrives first. Let me warn you guys…we were just tasting. Of late I have seen many of my friends throw meaningful glances at my midriff when I stop to talk to them. You see it is very obvious especially when you are supposed to maintain eye contact when you speak to each other. Red snapper in potato crust and red onion confit.

One thing I like about these young innovative chef’s is that they are always experimenting with food. While most restauranteurs would serve their fish….fried, baked or raw, oh yea ask the Japanese…..Dipankar has masked the fish with a potato crust and a rich red onion confit(jam) completes the ensemble.

The Tenderloin medallion with a potato bacon roesti flavoured with rosemary, shallots and mushrooms was soft and tender…melting in the mouth. Somehow they seemed to have got the right supplier for their red meats…or they have got their cooking technique right. Joe laughingly remarks that when I make the meats at home, they are jaw muscle massagers…you have to chew and chew and chew.

Young Dipankar had not finished with us. It seems he was determined to kill us with food. On comes the Indian fare. Nalli gosht ki salan, lasooni aloo, paneer lababdar, Makhai Tamatar palak, Kadai Pakodi with hot crispy naan, missi roti’s….aha..i can see green envy in some eyes…but remember how much I need to exercise to get rid of those surplus kilo’s. It’s not funny.

The Nalli gosht ki salan…as I chewed on those tender shanks…on the next table Sanjay Dutt was seated with Mayata, his wife–to-be…the ecstacy in my eyes would rival any newly wed couple, and the Dum ki Biryani…those tender pieces of lamb in saffron and cooked in the sealed clay pot, the aroma still plays tantalizingly in my nostrils as I write down this piece. We seat back replete…who could ask for more.

But we had not taken into account Genie No 2. Shantanu…the Pastry chef. Talking of buffet’s…he churned out a dessert buffet ignoring our pleas. To tell you the truth those pleas were half hearted on seeing the fare. Walnot fudge brownie with icecream, expresso granite on pistachio cream….the cream was white chocolate and pistachio custard, the baked cheese cake enriched with Bailey’s served with a red currant coulis and finally the pineapple cake with prune and brandy icecream, served with…can you beat it….a pineapple-chilli salsa.

I wonder if one can salsa in a chair…..I must ask David that, but those moves of mine with gooey chocolate dripping down from the walnut fudge brownie had a story to tell. I looked at those two genie’s grinning from ear to ear. They sure know how to recognize a satisfied guest. Readers if anyone can help me find a genie who will help me shed these kilo’s pronto before next Saturday please help. I guess only a genie can do the trick. a beautiful Sunday

How we look forward to that Sunday….it is supposed to be a day of rest. A day away from those pots and pans of the kitchen…and so when I heard of the Sunday brunch being offered at the Republic of Noodles, I jumped at the chance. ‘So what’s so great about these brunches?’ Joe growls. He really takes the day of rest ‘literally’…..the paper spread in front of him, legs stretched across the altair, glasses slipping across his nose as the effects of the Sunday beer takes effect…..any similarities at home? Why are men so ‘dim’ on ‘sun’…. I fume.

‘Unlimited Bloody Mary’s and Champagne,’ I wheedle. Somehow the spirits tend to pep the men’s motion. Is there any connection between the word ‘spirit’ and the ‘brain?’ After all someone coined the term ‘loco’….motion.’

So here we were driving to Candolim, the promise of a liquid diet working wonders to the promise of a good meal. The trickling water of the fountain soothed…the heat of the drive a forgotten thing. We sit under the canopy, the bamboo lace enclosure cosy and inviting. A vast array of dishes, both hot and cold stare back at us…..temptingly. Joe decides to start with the Bloody Mary. You see, he believes in doing things right…a starter with the starter…and the aerated grape juice with the rest. Well the rest can be quite long, I think to myself looking at the wide array of items being proferred on the menu.

The menu, I am given to understand changes every Sunday, but the Oriental Pizza is a fixed item. Well don’t think of Rakhee Sawant when I use the word ‘item’, but I will share with you a secret. I was tempted to gryate around the restaurant like her, cause the choice of toppings…you can choose two out of the three offered…the Prawn with Indonesian Chilly sambhal and the Chicken with bell pepper, Roasted Chilly paste was to die for. Well one can also have a choice of the vegetarian fare… the grilled Mushrooms and Bell pepper, the Tofu with Tomato chilly Sambhal or the Corn and green peppercorns with basil.

Next comes the Salad Bar…although I did not spend much time on that….for the calorie conscious they have fresh Asian Vegetables and Greens with Assorted Dressing- Vietnamese Lemongrass, Thai Lemon Chilly, Sesame Soya, Indonesian Peanut .

But now comes the ‘pot-stickers’, something I love to feast on. Maybe that was one of the reasons the word ‘dim’ on ‘sun ’ was playing around my mind. The dimsums…a choice of steamed or pan-fried stuffed with Chicken, Prawn, or Vegetable. Let me tell you something about the Dim sums. Literally meaning "to touch your heart," dim sum consists of a variety of dumplings, steamed dishes and other goodies. They are similar to hors d'oeuvres, the hot and cold delicacies served at French restaurants. And here they were on a green banana leaf in their little cane baskets…I take a small nibble…..delicious.

Originally a Cantonese custom, the dim sum is inextricably linked to the Chinese tradition of "yum cha" or drinking tea. Apparently at one time it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food: a famous 3rd century Imperial physician claimed this would lead to excessive weight gain. As tea's ability to aid in digestion and cleanse the palate became known, tea house proprietors began adding a variety of snacks, and the tradition of dim sum was born. But somehow Joe found that the Champagne was a good substitute to the Chinese tea….and this was not the time to think of weight gain…the assorted satays with peanut sauce had arrived. Chicken, Prawn, Vegetable….but that was not all…..there were Duck rolls, Honey glazed spare ribs, grilled Beef tenderloin.

‘I need some more Champagne to digest all this,’ Joe states as he orders a Mimosa….champagne with Orange juice. I guess he must be dreaming of geishas serving him next, I thought waspishly…he really was in his seventh heaven. But culinary speaking…so was I.

It seemed that I had no room for more…RON kills you with food…..especially the Sunday spread. But there was more to come. The Buffet. ….Burmese Chicken curry, Lamb Rendang Curry, Stir-fried Exotic Vegetables, Braised tofu with Mushroom with hot Steamed Rice or fried rice…you take your pick…but please leave some place for the stir-fried Noodles.

The hot toffee banana, the toffee apple with cool, cool ice cream is like the icing on the cake. The crunchy coating of caramel vie’s with the creamy softness of the ice cream in the mouth. Even Joe….his normally serene Sunday disrupted has a smile playing around his lips. Good food and oodles of spirits has pepped him up. The rest of the day will be a piece of cake, he is used to agree to whatever I ask for. I leave the restaurant humming …my…my…my…it’s a beautiful Sunday.

Mother knows Best

I read in the newspapers a few days back about children in Anjuna joining their parents in family run businesses with no focus on ‘values and ethics.’ And so it was with a little trepidation that we ventured into a restaurant at Bogmalo which was family run.

The name fascinated me…the reason if we were to open a place of our own, it would definitely be called ‘Joets’…maybe with an extra ‘T’ for taste not because yours truly spells her name with a ‘tt’. We meet Selvy one of the partners in this venture when we enter the spic and span blue ambience overlooking the deep blue sea and the crisp white sands. Am I talking about Hawaii.…no siree. This is ‘Joets’ in Vasco, a place started way back in 1979, by his father Jose and his mother Ethelvina…and still going strong with the help of his brother Nelo, sister-in-law Lynn and Joe the fulcrum of the kitchen.

I look across the white sands, a few boats parked on the waterfront and the open expanse leading to the sea. As we order our drinks, my mind goes back to an article written in the Hindustan Times by a visiting food writer who laments the fact that most shacks by the beach in North Goa have lost the art of making good Goan food. But Selvy proudly confirms the fact that the Goan seafood is the pride of this coast, his mother still being at the helm of the kitchen, personally taking out the masalas for the food preparations.

‘My mother and father started this place,’ he states. ‘My father was a simple fisherman. He used to catch the fish, based on the orders got in the morning and my mother used to cook the food. We used to help in the service…..we still do, even my sisters when they come back here, help clear the tables.’

I raise my eyebrows at this admission, cause I am given t understand that over this period, the family have acquired a well run establishment called ‘Coconut Creek’ which does well even without marketing.

‘So what did your mother make today,’ Joe asks. I guess his cocktail ‘Joet’s Bogler’ had by now firmly settled in his empty stomach. He was smiling vacantly at the nearby tables. I nudge him under the table asking him in an undertone whether he knew those three pretty ladies sitting on the next table but he just smiles and shrugs off my enquiry. His mind must be totally ‘boggled’ I assume in no mood to create a scene. Husbands… they somehow learn the knack of evading penetrating questions.

‘Try the seafood,’ Selvy urges. ‘I would definitely recommend the Stuffed Crab and the masala fried prawns.’ While we wait for the starters I ask Selvy who was the brains behind this venture. ‘Mum,’ was his spontaneous response, ‘she showed tremendous business acumen even in those days.’

The starters arrive. I was impressed. I have been to many restaurants on the beach in North Goa. Many of them are not at all concerned with the finer details of food presentation. I call them ‘food factories.’ In…eat…and out. People waiting in line to see when you get up. The view of the beach with its dirt and milling throngs, especially at lunch time would definitely need a strong dose of ‘good housekeeping.’

The designer cutlery, the white designer crockery…the open view of surf, sand and sky…no bodies even the half baked variety, with retro music playing in the background, definitely spoke a woman’s touch. Even the food was attractively laid out….with garnishes of carrots and tomatoes cut into florets.

I dig my fork into the stuffed crab. I must say the portion is big. Four shells filled with crab meat, crunchy onions and Reichado sauce….grated cheese on top. And the prawns? Right down to the crunchy heads in the shells the masala had seeped into the preparation. Luckily the starters had arrived. Joe was fully preoccupied. And it was not only the food. The whole ambience seeps into your very being…you are lulled into a state of bliss.

Selvy had recommended the Red snapper and the prawn curry Rice. The whole fish was presented on a glass plate…but the fish was filetted right through, butterfly shape, the red masala and spicy crust masking it. We cut through the fish…cut is a wrong word. This family really knows fish. The soft meat with the moist crusty masala…was there a wrong choice of words ‘moist and crusty?’ No way! The masla was fried on the top but was moist immediately below retaining the juicy flavor of the fish. Mum Ethelvina knows the knack…delicious. And the prawn curry/rice? Served in square designer white plates, it was not only a square meal, but the extract of the coconut in the curry did wonders to the consistency. Could I use the word creamy. One does not normally associate that word with Goan food…but the curry coated each grain of rice, adding the flavoring to our overworked juices in the mouth.

We sat back replete. A beautiful way to let the fishing village environment seep in. We look back soulfully as we walk back to the car, the hot white sands crunching below our shoes. The peace and quiet envelopes us….just what the stressful world of today recommends. Ethelvina D’Cruz-in terms of ambience, peace, quiet and good seafood, I agree with Selvy and the saying..…Mother knows best.

A Reverie…A Dream unfolds

‘Dre…am…Dream, Dream..’ the words of the popular 60’s song played on at the back of my mind. Well, I am not going poetic…that is what Akriti and Virendra promises one….A Reverie is where those who want to celebrate the true pleasures of life come together.
What is so unique about this restaurant that has the ‘creme a la crème’ of the country dine there every season? A restaurant that is voted by national dailies like the Asian Age as ‘a gastronomical orgy’, by the Indian Express as ‘everything served is almost steeped in the essence of love.’ Well Joe was looking at me with a very peculiar expression as I was reading it out….believe me these national dailies seemed to be going ballistic

Well there is another feather in their cap…this year they have been judged as the 3rd Best stand alone restaurant in India, on par with the Indigo in Mumbai which was visited by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt…and the 7th best restaurant when you take into account the starred hotels and the stand alone restaurant, by the Times food guide. So what’s s great about the food, I wonder? ‘It is the secret of Molecular Gastronomy,’ Virendra confesses, ‘Akriti does a lot of research on food.’ Point well taken. In today’s market it’s not only the skill of making good food, but also the passion exhibited to research novel ideas to delight the customer. Akriti has created meals that have placed her among the top 10 Young Best chef’s in India, in the Taste and Travel magazine.

So what is ‘Molecular Gastronomy’? Simply put… ‘it is the chemical combination of what goes well with which dish.’ Old hat, I thought to myself…we all know that French beans, carrots and baked potatoes go well with a good steak. But how wrong was I proved to be. Akriti is doing a lot of work with a laboratory in Singapore which studies the art of using certain materials to extract or break down, and hence enhance the texture of food. In the Scottish Salmon, Akriti uses two extracts from the aloe raisin of the actual ingredient…chlorophyll and fennel extracts. She uses nitrous oxide to bring down and change the texture of food in some dishes with different extracts and textures.

The starters on the menu are simply listed as Cheese tasting and Prawn tasting etc. Believe me those words are deceptive. The Prawn tasting is an oval platter of three well decorated islands of food. King prawns with Wasabi mayonnaise and shredded sushi nori….salad of papaya, cucumber and shrimp with black bean ‘mirin’ glaze….seafood consomme with ‘dashi’. Well this platter had the flavor of the Japanese continent. The wasabi, sushi nori, the mirin….all explained in the little booklet that is attached to the menu. An education for me. You see you know what is going into the food. I gingerly open the sticks which are tied up wig-wam style to sample the prawns….you see even in the eating there is a science. The prawns go down first, followed by the salad and lastly the consommé… ‘to cleanse the palate for the next course,’ explains Akriti.

So what is so different about the Cheese tasting? I wonder. Mini Insalata Caprese, with cherry tomato and basil oil…Middle eastern ‘Labaneh style’ yoghurt cheese…Gorgonzola mousse. This is distinctly Mediterranean and she has blended the flavor of the different cheese so well…the gorgonzola, the labineh being the middle eastern soft tangy yoghurt cheese, everything minute to the bite...cheese, tomato with the flavored basil olive oil. I could go on and on about the starters. The Poultry tasting....chicken liver pate with cognac, salad leaves with smoked chicken, quail eggs with fig onion relish…definitely Continental. Were these dishes good… siree…they were mind boggling excellent.

For the main course, Joe decided to have the Chilean Sea Bass. Now mind you…they go to the airport every morning to pick up their imported foodstuff….Australian Duck…variety on the menu. I decided to have the Filet Steak. The dishes arrive…we look forward in anticipation. The chandeliers hanging from the palm trees highlight the artisitic presentation. The filet steak with its onion jam and ratatouille is in a red wine reduction with peppercorns and fresh rosemary extract. T is accompanied by Italian porcini mushroom cream sauce or a blue cream sauce…you take your pick Believe me I tried both…they were delicious. Joe’s Chilean Sea Bass had a triangle of roasted corn cream mash with a baked vegetable spring roll on top. The onion, coriander and lime salsa was served in a ceramic soup spoon. Was he doing a salsa? Tongue, lips and molars moved in perfect harmony. A dreamy look in his vacant eyes. Believe me, salsa can also be enjoyed Joe’s way.

Did we have place for desserts? When a different menu is presented…you cannot say no. Akriti has a different menu for everything. Coffee, Hazelnut and caramel composition, and Chocolate composition... those were what we ordered. Beethoven…Mozart…and now Akriti…the desserts had musical chimes echoing everywhere. The first had a madras coffee and butterscotch brulee, a warm puff pastry with Nutella cream and Italian expresso icecream with caramel hazelnut crunch…and the latter, a warm sticky fudge chocolate tart with white chocolate, Dark chocolate mouse with silver leaf and Belgian chocolate icecream with mild fresh Rosemary infusion. How did Beethoven put his notes together…maybe Akriti put her ingredients together…..if I go into detail about the smooth creamy textures vying with the crunchy flavors that titillated my palate, you all will go green with envy.

And so my friends Dream….Dream…Dream, or you can let it unfold in Candolim, at ‘A Reverie’….a place where Heaven can wait.

The ‘Chinese’ Hibiscus

This is definitely not an article on the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Bunga Raya or "Chinese hibiscus") which is the national flower of Malaysia. The article is on the ‘Cantonese’ Hibiscus a small café by the river, situated at the Baga Creek which is slowly making a name for itself as a Chinese restaurant.

How did we come to hear about it? Ask Christine and Mark Pinto Rosario. Their experience, as they described it…was so heavenly…that they firmly recommend we try out each and every dish listed on the menu. And so here we were seated, the moonlight playing tricks on our senses, as we sat listening to Clifford Liu one of the partners in this enterprise.

But before we get to the dishes, first generation Cantonese cooking as explained by Clifford, there is something one needs to know about Chinese cuisine other than the chilli vinegar and the soya sauce that we so lavishly put into the dish the moment it appears on the table.

There is a big difference about the diets between Northern and Southern China, that is, the dishes made by Northern Chefs are in heavier taste and those are comparably light in Southern Chefs recipes, sometimes we say it is tasty as sweet and fresh in Southern Chinese food. In the Northern and Western Provinces of China like Lingxia, Hebei, Sichuan , Shenxi, and Yunnan, the diets are made hot and spicy.

What category of food does Clifford Liu prepare? The Food and Beverage expert who has worked with the Mandarin restaurant in Bombay and then with the Great Wall at the Leela’s and finally commissioning the Olive Restaurant…a haunt of the Bollywood set.
Well he has got an ace or two up his sleeve…he does not recommend the spicy variety. You see as per ancient Chinese belief, spicy food was cooked in the Northern and Western provinces because of the humid cold weather and high altitude. Chinese people believe that to perspire is a good method for preventing diseases caused by humidity and cold. Well, we Goan’s would definitely not want to perspire much…its far too hot, so while he does keep a few dishes to titillate those who would like to have their sweat glands work overtime, his food is milder…a la Cantonese.

The starters arrive. Spare ribs in BBQ sauce and mushroom in pepper salt. Did you know that as far back as 4000BC the Chinese were eating pork, since it was native to the country. I do not know if Mr Liu’s ancestors had taught him the importance of the balance of the lean meat to the fat…but he got it just right. The spare ribs were delicious.

The soups came next. Lung fung soup…a mixed cream seafood soup in egg cream with a hint of coriander greens and green chillies. By habit my hand reached out for the chilli vinegar. ‘Don’t,’ advises Clifford, ‘try it without adding the sauce.’ I do so. Delicious! But if your palate would like a hint of that spicy flavor…go ahead. ‘Try our clear chicken and tofu soup,’ he recommends. I make a face. I have this distinct misconception of clear soups being hospital food. As per ancient Chinese history the Buddhists, around the Sung Dynasty 100 AD, got Tofu or Bean curd onto the Chinese table. Forget about the Sung Dynasty. Clifford imports his is soft, creamy and a perfect complement to the spinach. It left a singing sensation in my mind…and no it was not the lovely one man band out there.

‘I will let you into a secret,’ he says, ‘in a thick soup the starch digests faster, so you feel hungry fast. I always recommend a clear soup.’

Well during the Han Dynasty 100AD, Chinese people began to make their wheat and rice into long noodles. Well the Homestyle Pan fried Noodles with chicken, the Steamed fish ‘white snapper’ in light soya sauce, and the chicken in a ginger sauce accompanied by Wok tossed Chinese greens using ‘pakchoi’ leaves and steamed rice made in 2008 AD, by the second generation Chinese and his partners Hayden and Mahesh, can be competition to the Ming, Han or Sung Dynasty. The ‘pakchoi’ leaves are crisp to the bite…a local farmer grows it for them, while the white snapper……do they fish in that creek? The meat was soft and flaky, the dish definitely to be recommended for sure.

And last but not least the dessert. When Clifford heard that I had worked at the Golden Dragon in Mumbai, and one of my worst nightmares was immersing hot caramelized toffee banana into ice water in front of the guest…and that too with chop sticks, he decided to relive old memories, but this time I was the guest. It is not very easy to get the sugar caramelize at that consistency and that golden brown color, believe me if the chef is not good your dentures could stick to each other. But the Toffee Banana at the Hibiscus was …Great. The banana soft on the inside, the caramel crunchy on the outside. Their Blueberry cheese cakes are also worth a mention…as this Garden Café is also open in between meals.

The five Hibiscus bushes stir in the evening breeze, the water of the creek laps gently against the embankment…..the secret of good food is now unfolded at the café by the river.

The Maestro’s Awesome Magic (MAM)…lives on

We raise a toast on the fiftieth restaurant covered in this gastronomic column. And what would be a better one, than a tribute paid to Minguel Arcanjo Mascarenhas, India’s first Executive Chef…and a Goan Maestro…who enthralled the world with his food. Royalty, celebrities, politicians, businessmen, MAM or Masci as he was affectionately called enthralled everyone.…placing India on the map (way back from 1939) with regards to his culinary delights.

So here we were seated in the restaurant called Miguel Arcanjo, the second and third generations of Masci’s, Joe and Nolan, visibly moved.… as they awaited the tempting fare. It is always difficult to talk about food, especially when it is cooked at home…believe me that is what Minguel Arcanjo is to joining us on this sojourn were two well renowned ‘foodies’ Arun and Zeenat Harnal with their lovely daughter Natanya all the way from London and the affable General Manager Allwyn Drego to help us in this regards.

Chef Melroy decided the menu. For starters…Shrimp glazed with honey and garlic, accompanied by crisp designer bread rolls served with chicken liver butter spread. The tangy pink delectable morsels had one begging for more. ‘Uumm,’ murmurs Arun Harnal. This dapper soft spoken gentleman is the General Manager of the Bombay Brasserie…London’s most famous restaurant. The world’s biggest Hollywood stars flock there to eat at ‘Britain’s most glitzy curry house’.

Silence reigned as the starters were finished. Now for the main course. Double lamb chops with rosemary butter, white bean and mushroom ragout, Snapper oven baked with Tomato and onion confit, Pomfret Portuguese with Basil salad, Duck roasted with garlic chip potatoes and red cherry sauce, crab cake with pepper brunoise and white wine sauce, Potato Gnocchi with roasted garlic and sun dried tomato. I can see you feeling stuffed just reading the names…can you imagine what we felt just looking at those designer meals being placed in front of us?

‘This lamb is heavenly,’ says Zeenat breaking the silence, ‘the best lamb chops I have eaten in a long while’. We all look up. Zeenat Harnal nee Noon, after all knows food. A Director on the board of Noon Products Limited since 1988, a business started by her father Sir Ghulam Noon…knighted by the Queen and also known as the chicken tikka tycoon by Forbes Magazine. And so it was. Soft, succulent and melting in one’s mouth….the gravy of rosemary butter complimenting the flavor.

But that was not all. The roasted duck…..I was always under the misconception that duck meat was tough and stringy. The cherry sauce with the garlic chip potatoes was divine. And the Red snapper….you could have me snapping for more. But in the presence of such dignified people one had to behave. The fish just flaked in the mouth…cooked just right…in fact the whole meal was one that would have made the Goan Maestro proud. I had seen an article of food writer and critic Rashmi Uday Singh on the restaurant, she had enjoyed her experience there…. Chef Melroy seemed to be replicating Minguel Arcanjo’s magic.

The two generations of Mascarenhas’s visibly preened at this lavish praise. But the meal
was still not over. We had reached the Sweet Finale. Tiramisu, made of Mascarpone cheese, coffee and kahlua liqueur, on a biscuit flavoured with Marsala wine…are we drunk already? Go slow….because it was followed by a warm hazelnut fudge cake with cappuccino ice cream. Hot and cold. Yes siree. What a delicious combo. The layers of rich chocolate….I looked across the table at Allwyn, Arun and Zeenat…Gosh what would I do for such a constitution. They were able to spoon in that rich dessert without even thinking of tomorrow. Well in my case tomorrow never comes, so I joined in the spooning of those excellent desserts into the ever obliging cavity of my mouth.

Did we feel great after the experience? Oh yes! It was good to see the legacy of Miguel Arcanjo being laid out for all to see. I am given to understand that many dignitaries, who visit our State, dine there. The story of his life…..MAM….The Maestro’s Awesome Magic or Minguel Arcanjo Mascarenhas, the pride that a Goan youth fostered for his State and Country in the day’s gone by, in terms of quality and taste still lives on.

Raj Rao and…… Ron

No folks. This is not a title of a Bollywood movie, but if King Khan has made a hit with Om Shanti Om, so has Raj Rao with Republic of Noodles(RON). We happened to meet with Big Daddy aka Raj Rao, at his ‘Star Republic’. His logo also vouches for that. A big black star against a red background wrapped around with noodles.

‘So what is the concept of noodles,’ I ask Sukriti Singh, who is responsible for public relations smiles and answers, ‘the Republic Of Noodles is an experience like none other. We serve South East Asian fare from Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and Burma.’

‘Along with this we also serve authentic noodles,’ pitches in Raj a naughty smile playing around his face. One thing I must warn you about is that he always has a quip for every statement….sets the mood, you see. One can believe that he was the General Manager of Ananda, in the Himalayas that has been voted as the world’s number one spa by Conde Naste magazine for three consecutive years. He has the demeanor that puts one at ease. ‘Well,’ he continues, ‘we serve stir-fries and clay pot dishes with curries from the various regions that are not typical of what you might find in other restaurants.’

Well was that an idle boast? The starters arrive… Barbequed Honey Glazed Pork Spare Ribs with honey sauce, Cambodian Style Grilled prawns with coconut curry sauce, Giant Goan Chilli(green Capsicum) stuffed with Thai Chicken Kraprao…no, no the Rao was not added to the must be his naughty humour again, Grilled mushrooms with Oriental marinade. I could go on and on. I have just named four of the seventeen starters listed there. Does the big list daunt the Chef Yu Hing, who has worked along with Professor Kobkaew Njanpith, who has been the head chef of Thailand’s Royal Palace. No way. I would run after those honky pigs to savor those spare ribs, and the Cambodian style prawns? To die for. But despite the size of the menu…I will get down to the noodles and the Teppanyaki and the Claypot dishes later…..Chef Yu Hing runs a live interactive food theatre. And he has the lead role there.

And now here comes the main course. If you had seventeen starters to choose from, you have around thirty-five to forty main course dishes to sample…and after your first experience I am sure you have enough to sample for a week. Just check with Mr and Mrs Lyndon Alves. They were seated on the table next to us, and confessed to this being their favorite haunt.

But now coming to the fare. How much can one eat? So on came the Jungle Curry of chicken with Vegetables and green peppercorn from North East Thailand, the Javanese Duck curry with potatoes and onions, Coconut and turmeric curry of red snapper from South Thailand, the Char Kway Teow Malaysian style stir fried seafood with flat rice noodles…..well this is apparently street food in Malaysia, just like we have our pau bhaji and bhel puri. We also tried a fusion dish of chef Yu-Hing. Glass noodles with our very own Balchao sauce. Boy was he creative. He has even combined Mayonnaise with Wasabi..that dynamite Japanese accompaniment, to create a sauce which is unique and tasty. ‘One word of caution,’ he states as the glass noodles reach the table, ‘this dish has to be eaten hot or else the noodles will stick to each other.’

Do I need to tell you about the preparations? Yes I forgot to mention that Raj Rao was also the Food & Beverage Manager of the Oberoi group of hotels where he created and launched 360, India highest revenue generating restaurant at the Oberoi in New Delhi. The research gone into the food was fantastic, perhaps when he worked with the World’s finest hotels like The Four Seasons and the Ritz Carlton where he was on the Ritz Carlton Corporate Task Force for Food & Beverage…. his primary role was to do all the pre-opening and post-opening functions in setting up F&B outlets in various Ritz Carlton Hotels. And coming back to the food taste…..AWESOME.

Among the Clay pot dishes were Western Sumatran Lamb curry, Fiery Sri Lankan Fish curry with red tomatoes, Indonesian Fish Gulai Curry Padang special and under the Teppanyaki stir-fries..Thai style Drunken Prawns, Singapore chilli king crab with bell pepper, Vietnamese Scampi with roasted chiil…… One must admit, that these are not common dishes one could sample in any restaurant…they were the type of food as Raj aptly put it ‘we serve stir-fries and clay pot dishes with curries from the various regions that are not typical of what you might find in other restaurants.’

Well if you need a breather after all that food, you can have Asian influenced gelatos and sorbets. Yours truly always has space available for that. I will let you into a little secret. Elasticized waistlines are the best. There is always room for expansion. So down went the Belgian chocolate, the Baileys Irish Cream and the Chocolate hazelnut crunch gelatos. For the more adventurous there is the Indonesian banana fritters or the sweetened sticky rice cakes with pumpkin custard. Well, warned you before…Raj Rao…and RON does things in style.

Fishy Tales

‘To market…to market…to buy a big fish ’. We Goan’s love our fish, feni and fun. And here is a place to cater just for you. Well…maybe the feni is out of place, white wine would be more appropriate…but you can have it if you want. The place… ‘Simply Fish’, at the Goa Marriott Resort.

We stroll past the poolside….. did that water seem so inviting? I could imagine the velvety, inviting flow of blue…Oh! What a sensation. ‘I can imagine what the mermaids must be feeling,’ Joe vouches as we sit by the riverside, the blue funneled candles on the tables casting mysterious shadows around.

‘I was thinking of fish…not mermaids,’ I retort. Luckily we had Manuela the vivacious and friendly PR representative of the hotel sitting with us, or else those mysterious shadows would be hiding a black eye which he would be nursing shortly.

Enter Chef Shubendu. We look at the vast array of fish tastefully placed in baskets….Sea Bass, Red Snapper, Pomfret, Prawns, Lobster, Squid. ‘We recommend that our guests take their pick….depending how much they want to eat…we start at 200 gms,’ he states. Well that seemed fair. You pick up your main course…. prawns, lobster, fish or squid….the purchase is weighed, and then you are charged accordingly. Just like any marketplace. And to top it all, the accompaniments are served free.

So here we were awaiting the first course……Lobster Cappuccino. From the baker’s basket olive foccacia with celery pesto, home made mustard and slow baked garlic is placed on the table. The starter arrives. On a mini train like dish around two feet long made of four compartments. One compartment holds a steaming cup of the Lobster Cappuccino, the other pine butter, on the third nestled some lobster butter, the fourth…a slice of bread with a lobster preparation and black olives. I take a small bite of the savory bread and a sip of that steaming cappuccino. Divine. Thank god for that. Joe’s mind was now focused on the food and not mermaids.

Next the grilled prawns with lettuce in honey stung vinegar. The dressing was good. Honey stung vinegar. Sweetheart, I look at my better half, the message very clear, when your honey stings you with her vinaigrette barb, you had better go into raptures the way you are now. But joke’s apart. The tangy accompaniment was a perfect foil to the lemon butter sauce that we had sprinkled over the prawns.

Well Chef Shubendu was determined to smother us with food. The Lobster Thermidor.…it was a good thing that it did not have too much of the cream sauce that kills the flavor of the meat was a treat and the Grilled Snapper with celery pesto…the fish just melts in your mouth. This chef has got the right touch.

But we were in for an even bigger surprise. Chef Shubendu Kadam had been selected to represent his hotel when they had a Goan food festival in Jakarta. And he has also catered to the likes of Dr Manmohan Singh and other Asian dignitaries at the ASEAN meet in the Philippines.

Well many people state that the best way to eat fish is when it is grilled…no sauces to takes away the flavor. Chef Shubendu is determined to prove us wrong. Bipasha Basu just loves his peri-peri masala’s. And so out came Joe’s request, even though we were pretty full. Was he still thinking of mermaids or Bips?

The squid peri-peri was all that one could hope for. The rich orange-red tangy masala coated the squid, the way a glove clings to the skin. And it did the same thing to my palate the moment I took a small bite. The vinegar just seemed to bring out the flavor. Just like nagging wives…don’t they perk up the laid back male?

But now back to Fish. The black Pomfret in green masala....remember if you order it, there is no bone……the rich masala is stuffed in, so cut the darne right through.

I complimented Chef Shubendu after the meal…he was right to look like the cat who had got the canary…sorry fish. After all, the reputation of any restaurant depends on the skills of the chef.

And last but not least…if you are determined to try out some of my Fishy tales, please do not forget to call in advance for the most delicious Pista Rabbadi Kulfi, that the Halwai churns out. With a treat like that, I can always forgive Joe as he walks to the car forgetting that he has left his Honey stung vinegar behind…or maybe he had heard the mermaids call.

For Goodness ‘Sake’

When Abba the show came to town, we had Joe stomping around to old favorites like ‘Mama Mia’ and ‘Dancing Queen’, which caused me to implore time again, ‘for goodness sake Joe, act your age.’ Did you think it had any effect? No way…and here we were at the Radisson White Sands Resort to try out their new Pan Asian Restaurant, and here he was again…this time the Russians, a full troupe of them swaying to the music. ‘For Goodness Sake, Joe…we have to go to ‘Sake’.

The pronunciation this time is ‘Saa…key’, the restaurant named after the famous ‘Rice wine’, which serves cuisines from Singapore, Bali, Japan, Thailand, China…and as Chef Binesh proudly says, ‘our Restaurant is a cooking theatre….we provide a Continent on a platter.’

The restaurant tastefully done has three live counters where one can sit to sample exotic Japanese delights like Sushi, Sashimi, Teppanyaki and Yakitori. For someone who is still not comfortable with the thought of eating ‘raw’ food…you see when we talk of Japanese, that immediate thought comes into one’s mind, I looked askance at this young and interactive chef with apprehension.

He smiles conspiratorially and says, ‘ leave it to me.’ And so we did. How did Teppanyaki cuisine come into being, I wondered, as we wait for the starters? It was the Mongolian warriors who in the past, would use their shields over brick fires to cook chopped vegetables as they traveled for miles conquering their enemies. ‘Thank God something is being cooked,’ I think to myself. Joe frowns. I know what that means. As someone who is supposed to write about food, one should be open to anything. Well in for a penny, might get a pound. I can see those smirks as I write this. No my friends, it is not the ample pounds that I tend to acquire every time some enterprising chef displays his culinary skills.

The starters arrive, Fried Sushi Roll and crunchy tempura. That seemed fine the Tempura was crispy and as the name crunchy. We polished off the plate to the recommendation of ‘mixing a little radish paste with the ginger paste’ and add a little Wasabi (my translation green dynamite) with soya sauce, as the accompaniment. ‘The prawns were delicious,’ Joe remarks. I do not think it was the Russian dancers that diluted his taste buds. I look at the menu…’we just had eel,’ I squeal. That is a jolt for individuals like me with a fixed mindset. Given a choice there was no way I would order eel…but the preparation was delicious. I run my eye down the different sushi available. One has a choice of Californian signature rolls like Caterpillar…cucumber and avocado, spider…crispy soft shell crab, crunchy…that is what we had….crispy eel tempura.

‘Now its time to sample the Teppanyaki style of preparation,’ says Chef Binesh. So we all sit around the gleaming hot plate grill to see our food being prepared. I have seen barmen en trance the customers with their flexibility in motion, I have seen chefs spin Roomali roti’s in the air…but here was a chef dexterously tossing the seasoning, using his spatula to drum a stacato as he turned the red snapper and tossed the Zucchini with the soya bean and the Terriyaki sauce…poetry in motion. And the preparation…..divine.

We savor every minute morsel....the fish soft and flaky, the seasoning awesome. If the Mongols had a knack for this type of cooking, no wonder they trudged miles on end without complaint. So would I. On the menu, one could sample a Teppanyaki set menu…your choice is Beach, Sand or Wind. Simply translated…you have a choice of Vegetarian, meats or seafood. Well Chef Binesh had managed to take the wind out of my sails.

It was now time to sample some more favorites on the menu. There was the Chicken Hot Basil a Thai preparation, Lamb brittles...Chinese style, and Kaow phad..Crab fried Rice. I look helplessly at the food so tantalizingly placed before us. But that lamb brittles…my old Chinese favorite with the fried rice, was a perfect ending. I promised myself that I would shake a leg with those Russian dancers before we left.

‘How much can one eat?’ I complain looking at Chef Vimal and Chef Binesh. ‘We offer all this and more with sparkling wine and juices every Sunday for brunch,’ they confide. More?....I look at them in horror. Does one have the capacity to eat more? Well they offer a choice of soups…Thai and Chinese, Chinese or Japanese…you take your pick, meat, seafood, vegetables, Rice, noodles, salads, desserts from 12 pm to 3.00 pm and then one can take his well deserved siesta.

Chef Vimal has this to say….. ‘If you like to eat to your hearts content, you have come to the right place.’ I have only this to add. If you want to follow his advice for the Sunday brunch…for Goodness Sake, don’t eat the night before.

Truly Gujarathi…Truly Scrumptious

This is what happens when we party so often,’ I complain, looking at Joe with reproach. ‘Don’t blame me,’ he states emphatically, ‘it’s the season…..moreover it seems that everyone in Goa seems to be either born or married during these months. We do not have so many parties after carnival or during the monsoons.’ ‘But that is a full month away,’ I moaned. ‘Do not worry,’ says the sage in my life, ‘all the rishi’s proclaim a healthy vegetarian diet, let’s try it.’

So here we were seated in ‘Shravan-truly Gujarathi’, as the hoarding states. I look askance at my better half…….Gujarathi? I had visions of sugar and pure ghee dripping off the items. Was this the way to shed those extra calories ?

‘This is the misconception many people have about Gujarathi food,’ states Neetu Khanderia, the young proprietress of the establishment near Hotel Keni in Panjim, ‘most Gujarathi food is cooked in jaggery, and off course the pure ghee which we coat our Indian breads with is purely optional.’

So with this comforting thought, I sat back to enjoy the numerous preparations that were being dished out by the waiters. ‘Why Shravan?’ I asked Neetu, as I watched the generous helpings of an Aloo rassa, Baingan, channa and two preparations of dal (one sweet, one savoury), come on the Thali. ‘That is the month that we all have pure vegetarian food,’ she states, ‘so in this way we ensure that people know we serve authentic vegetarian food.’

The waiters by now had Bajri roti, phulkas spread with pure ghee (I look furtively in Joe’s direction…he is not looking, but what the heck, his own phulkas are loaded with ghee), two savory farsans, methi gotta and khandvi and the glass of Chaas to ease it down.

‘Enough, enough,’ I protest looking around at the waiters giving uncounted generous helpings of food to nearby diners, ‘I do not want to feel stuffed.’ ‘No chance of that,’ smiles Neetu, ‘when we opened up our place we decided to give value for home cooked food. Some unsavoury establishments add soda bicarbonate in the food so that one feels full after the first helping…they tend to save that way, despite their promise of unlimited helpings.’

I look at her open mouthed…can people stoop so low to make a few extra bucks, I wondered. I sample the first helping tentatively…delicious…four vegetables, two dals, two farsans…unlimited. Plus the breads and the rice…the waiter approaches for the second helping…do I feel stuffed? No way! And believe me neither does Joe. And there is the vermicelli kheer to add to the ‘calories’. Diners around the attractively decorated Gujarathi basement, and believe me, all were not locals…NRI’s and foreigners to boot, were having their thali’s replenished…..all at under Rs 100/-per person.

Do we have the same thali in the evening?’ I ask her. ‘O no, she vouches, ‘we have completely different vegetables. We moreover serve Khichdi and biscuit Bakhri’ ‘Biscuit Bhakri?’ I had never tasted that preparation. She sends a message across and out comes minute crispy whole wheat flour delicacies. I say delicacy, (although it is the accompaniment served in the evening meals with two vegetables) because this crispy, slightly sweet preparation made of what flour, milk (no water is added), ghee and sugar, is something to savor. And the puranpolis, which are served on request, I take a nibble of the flat bread (it will be sacrilegious to call it a chapatti), the ghee a thin layer of ecstatic delight coating the surface… Scrumptious …truly scrumptious.

‘Sundays are our busiest days…family days,’ she confesses. I raise my eyebrows. ‘Every alternate Sunday we serve Undhiya and jalebi’s’ ‘Have you tried Undhiya?’ Neetu asks. I shake my head regrettably. ‘It is not very common,’ she explains, ‘as most of those vegetables are sourced out from Mumbai. A mince of valore (family of the French bean, papdi, baby brinjals, baby potatoes, banana, green chillies and garlic with a muthia (dumpling) are stuffed into the brinjal or potato. It goes very well with crispy jalebi’s,’ she adds. I have visions of swirling rings of crispy fried jalebi’s and soft stuffed brinjals melting in my palate.

Did anyone say that vegetarian has no dum? Did anyone say that Gujarathi food is fattening…believe me I stood on my weighing scale after that meal…and no I did not fix the needle to stay in one place. My experience at Shravan was truly scrumptious.

Which House? The Beach House.

With the American Presidential Race hotting up, all eyes are focused on the White House. Especially, now that there is a woman in the race. I look scathingly at my better half sprawled on the easy chair reading the newspaper. What has happened to the New Year’s resolution? I wonder. ‘It will be nice to have a woman at the White House…in charge,’ I comment. ‘Which House?’ says he absent mindedly. I know now that he is not paying attention. How does one compete with a newspaper, I wonder? I am sure many women must be facing this problem. I remember my mother’s favorite maxim…the best way to a man’s ear is through his stomach….was it heart or ear…I have no idea, but it did the trick. ‘The Beach House,’ I mutter in a sotto voice. He put the paper down.

So here we were at the Taj Holiday Village talking to Chef Urbano Rego, the Corporate Chef (Goan Cuisine) of the Taj. This shy unassuming man has catered for nobility (Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinborough), Presidents (Gerald Ford, George Bush Sr.), Middle east Royalty (King Hussein, Shah of Iran), has been invited by the Good Food and Wine Show at Cape Town to display his culinary skill, and at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore promoted Goan food catering to 250 covers for lunch and dinner. What was so different about the Goan food he dished out compared to all the varieties of Goan food I had eaten, I wondered.

‘I will prepare food which was dished out at the Good Food and Wine show,’ he says, ‘world renowned chefs were invited there and I had to prepare seven different dishes a day.’ I looked at him askance, sure that we would be given the old favorites like Sorpotel, Vindaloo, Xacutti etc. After all those dishes are world famous. I air my views aloud. Joe silently kicks me under the table. Being the son of a world famous chef, he knows how temperamental chefs are. I glare at him…he seems to be worried about his food, while I was on the lookout for something different. Just imagine dishing out to my readers the same Caldin, Balchao and Amotik. But Chef Rego smiles. I guess when you are used to handling the demands of the Page 3 crowd over the New Year celebrations, this bickering seems a trifle. ‘Don’t worry,’ he assures me, ‘this is Goan food with a difference.’

The starters arrive. A Portuguese Goan fusion dish…Camarao Picuante and the Beach House Crab. The Camarao looked different…no cubes or rings…they were cut into mini florets. They looked like small sea anemones, orange in colour, with small specks of dotted red. I take a tentative bite…uum delicious. This simple preparation with onions, olive oil and chilly flakes (that accounts for the red dots) was mind -blowing, especially when it is accompanied with the piping hot mini Balchao Naan. Aha! Got you, did’nt I. The spicy Goan masala in a crisp Naan. What a combo. And the Crab! The Caranguajos! Rego’s special. No white sauce or a Raechado masala. ‘I use all Goan ingredients in the preparation,’ he confesses. Did I get a whiff of toddy vinegar? I look at Joe for verification, but he is blissfully unaware of my look. This time it was not the newspaper, it was the food. Does this happen with other married couples too? I wonder. Just you wait Mr Mascarenhas…just you wait. Damn, I was sounding more like Eliza Doolittle in My fair Lady.

Luckily for him, the main course had arrived. Fashion designers stand aside, this was a feast for the senses…all the olfactory senses. The simple white plates were elegantly decorated with cucumber skin ribbons, showcasing the Prawns in coriander, Fish Cornettes and the spinach and methi accompaniment. This dish, I am given to understand is the favorite of Vijay Mallya….spinach, methi, corn, coconut and fried cashewnuts, I take a bite. The King of Good times knows the good things in life.

But coming back to the main course . The delicately orange tinted Prawns in coriander, its flavor of cashew paste and coconut, the coriander flavor adding subtle nuances to my palate. This is a dish to die for. But don’t think of following my advice….the fish. Ahhhh! The Fish Cornettes, thin slices of red snapper stuffed with prawn mince in a spicy Reichade sauce. UUmmm! Surreal. I have had Fish Reichade on numerous occasions, but this designer chef has experimented with combinations, to give us a dish which blends the prawns, fish and the spicy sauce…what a lethal combo.

Believe me’ this time I had no place for the dessert. No it was not my New Year Resolution. I can see eyebrows raised. Joe’s eyebrows had gone up a few centimeters. If you know the difference between a tailor and a fashion designer, you will get my drift. What each individual does with a piece of fabric, Chef Urbano Rego does with food ingredients. The menu of course displays the usual Goan favorites, but for the ones who would like to have the unique flavors of Goa displayed in a designer way…do not even bother to ask ‘whose house?’ The old traditional fare is re- invented…like old wine in a new bottle….the flavors of Goa are reborn…at the Beach House.

O’ Cozinheiro – Chef at work

After watching in awe Wendell Rodricks slinky models sashaying down the ramp at the Mariotts, I took stock of my own vital statistics and shook my head in despair. ‘No more food,’ I moaned, ‘I will never be able to wear outfits like that.’

‘But it is season time,’ Joe protested, ‘I know you are upset, thinking that I was looking at those models. Cross my heart, it was the outfits that I was admiring.’ I looked at him stonily. Why do men always protest so much, especially when they have crossed fifty? My son would never ever say, ‘Mum I was not looking at that girl.’ Luckily they have reconciliation for the glib talkers during this season.

So when my niece Rasna, who is an ace in making desserts(she seems to have got her grandfather Masci’s hand), told us about O’ Cozinheiro and about the vast array of delicacies available there, I stood my ground. Another Goan restaurant ? No way. ‘Then don’t say that I took someone else along,’ Joe threatens, ‘we have a job to do.’ I could sense those salivary glands working overtime.

So off we go to Taleigao, to a quaint old house that resembles the Taverna’s of old. We enter a narrow doorway, walk past the hall with its glass shelves holding small curios. This area has tables placed refectory style, (believe me on certain days there is no place to seat a fly) and then through a small passageway into an open courtyard dotted with palms under the overhead moon.

Well with a place like this I would expect the proprietor to be a septuagenarian. Joe Martins walked in. He could not be a day over thirty, at least his boyish looks vouched for that. His warm smile encompassed us. ‘Why O’Cozinheiro?’ I ask. This lady always likes the I’s to be dotted and the t’s crossed. There must be a reason for the name. Joe was apparently on a Spanish ship in the US for five years, after which he decided to open base in Goa…by the way O’Cozinheiro means ‘the Chef’ in Portuguese.

Well Joe (my Joe) is in no mood for idle chatter. The starters arrive. Gabioe(fish roe) each slice was about 3-4 inches in diameter, Stuffed crab, prawns in butter garlic sauce, squid masala, Rawa fried mussels…the works. The reason I am mentioning all this is not to make your mouths water. The crabs…Ahhh! I savored ever bit of tiny morsel that I nibbled on. His recipe could have you begging for more. The squid, soft and tender, not like rubber bands that are usually dished out in some restaurants, its spice titillating my palate as I began a slow mastication of the fish. The fish roe...Joe (not my Joe), I better call him Chef Joe, showed us the size of that roe of the Perch(Chonak). About a foot long and approx five inches in diameter. How did he manage to get that one? I wondered.

With those starters you can imagine the main course. There was magic in Chef’s Joe’s hands. The Pork Sorpotel , The Crab Xec-Xec, the baby pigling Cabidela and the Saanas. The gravy of the crab was thick, what is the term used in Hindu terminology? Dob Dobit and scrumptious. But it was the Pigling Cabidela that was mind boggling. The thick dark brown gravy with the warm crusty Goan bread that was served with it …how can I describe it…heavenly. I could hear the refrain of halleluiah…halleluiah, I do not think that that was a Christmas carol group, it was me in ecstasy. I looked across the table at Joe. He did not even bother to look at my plate. He was cleaning his own of any drop of that gravy with his bread, Saanas anything he could lay his hands on. So what did it matter that Chef Joe had told us about pigs blood being carefully added as it was being cooked. All I can say was that dish was bloody good.

And for dessert…try Chef’s Joe Martins hand made Coconut Ice-cream. A word of advice, you can add a dash of Malibu rum from the bar menu for the dizzy flavor. I look down superstitiously at my midriff as we leave the restaurant. Somehow or the other, that area always packs the punch. Well, Wendell’s models are now a distant dream. With food like this, who wants to be thin? Or maybe I should put that thought for review in my New Years Resolution…definitely not now.

The East meets West experience

‘East is East and West is West…and never the twain shall meet.’ Perhaps that saying was appropriate in the years of yore, but today fashion, music and even food has crossed the barriers, to create a new experience for the consumer.

So the name ‘East meets West ’ caught our fancy as we drove past the busy Tito’s junction on Baga Road. A well lit driveway, (yes on that crowded road the restaurant has thoughtfully provided a limited parking venue), and then we were into a haven for fine dining. Fine Dining in Baga ? Yes, I can see those raised eyebrows. But Jenny May has got her combination right….Continental and Indian food served in the precise Table d’hote manner to give you a fantastic experience.

The big courtyard is reminiscent of the days when one was invited to the local aristocrat’s manor for a meal. Tables set between tastefully decorated foliage, a small stage in the middle of the floor. The area is big…200 people can be seated comfortably. To one side is the well stocked bar, believe me it’s worth a drink. We sat nursing a Pimms No 1 and a Harvey Wallbanger….old favorites of our time. Have the youth of today drenched with Margaritas and Tequila or Vodka shots ever nursed these drinks? All I can say is that they are missing something. The ice tinkled in the tall glasses as I sipped on the Pimms, anticipating the strawberry and watermelon bits and the sweet lime wedge as they teased my upper lip on every sip taken.

The attractively laid table, with the comfortable (and I mean comfortable) wrought iron chairs was a pleasure to be seated on. The full cover for a three course meal stood mute testimony of what was to come. We had decided that Continental was the flavor of the evening, although we are informed that an Indian cook does full justice to the authenticity of that cuisine.

We order a cold Prawn and avocado salad and a hot Prawn Cassoulet. The starters arrive. When I speak of precise, believe me it is a fact. The cold prawn salad is served cold…and the prawn in cheese sauce gratinated in an oyster shaped dish on an underliner bearing the name of the restaurant is served piping hot…. and delicious. Uum. I mean it. The starters are sensational.

Jenny had warned us that if anyone came to her restaurant which she runs with her partner Vish, one should come for the experience... to dine at a leisurely pace. So don’t just drop in to gobble a dish and hop onto another area. So we decided to relax and soak in the atmosphere. The band played old retro numbers which compelled one to hop onto the dance floor to shake a leg. By the way it is also a good way to digest ones meal. We did just that.

When the band took a break, we embarked on our second course…the main course. Joe decided to have the Kingfish in Banana leaf BBQ, while I decided to go for something more substantial…..the dancing really helps in digestion, so it was the Tournedos Rossini with glazed mushroom sauce served medium rare for me.

The tables nearby were filling rapidly. I am given to understand that she does a full seating every night and weekends are a blast. Looking around I can well believe that.

The fish was heavenly, attractively placed with the baked potato on the embossed plates, the steak soft and juicy. By the way one can have a choice of that potato preparation…fries or jacket.

But let me tell you about that fish. I know that most cuisines use the banana leaf for the fish preparation…even in our Goan cuisine. Patra ni Machi is another well known preparation. But one would only experience it during feasts or special occasions. East meets West has it regularly on its menu. So if you are there look out for it. Besides that one can order the King Prawn Kebab or the lamb kebab (this is marinated in wine and dotted with pepper and tomatoes).

And now for the Sweet Sensation…..I am talking tongue in cheek. You see every Thursday the band, Sweet Sensation plays retro music. Are they good? Both are terrific! I am also referring to the Banofi Pie placed in front of me. Pastry, caramel, banana and fresh cream…from bottom up. Jenny makes her own desserts and this is her secret recipe. I have not had a dessert like this in the whole of Goa. She should patent this recipe. And the Panacotta…..not for the calorie conscious….fresh cream with a strawberry coulis.

We finally left the restaurant well after eleven, after spending a full three hours there. Did we feel the time? No siree. At the East meets West, one gets the whole experience…music, food and fashion…you don’t believe me, just look at how the tourists dress… to kill. What an experience! Joe will definitely vouch for that.

Underneath the Mango Tree

The quiet of the night spelled excitement and mystery as we drove down the small by lane in Candolim to Corinnes. This was Lucio Miranda’s dream project, and along with his wife they conceptualized ‘Corinnes- a taste of Goa.’ After 34 years of flying, (Lucio would constantly point up in the sky when asked where Corinne was), she decided to put her skill of cooking to use, and now has opened a 32 covers restaurant.

We opened the menu, its vast array of familiar sounding names stared out at us. Fish Amotik, Prawn Balchao, Chicken Xacutti…..Joe’s salivary glands began working overtime. He just loves his Goan food. ‘What would you recommend,’ he asks taking away my opening line. I glared at him….I always believed in the maxim, ladies first.

Goan masala fried Prawns and the Prawn Rissois were the recommendations to start with followed by Fish Caldin, and Prawn curry rice. The starters arrive. The King Prawns in their shell were big…covering the plate with the tangy red sauce. The Rissois crispy on the outside, smooth and creamy inside…what a combo.

‘Why have you served the prawns with the head?’ I ask, looking at the heads decorating the plate. With precision, I had managed to take off the flesh from the shell, with the fork and knife. I was very pleased with myself. ‘You have to chew on the prawns head,’ Corinne says with her naughty smile, ‘the flavor is in there.’

Chew on the heads. I had always been taught to shell the prawns, treating that as wastage, and here she was telling me to chew the head. I normally do that to my better half. I gingerly take one coated with the rich gravy and take it to my mouth. Somehow the gravy had seeped into the shell, the rich flavors complementing the crunch of my molars on the crustacean shell. If you have not tried it before, I would definitely recommend you do so. The feeling and the taste is absolutely divine. No fork and spoon was now required. One shell after another, the gravy dripping over my fingers. It was finger licking good.

The main course had now arrived. The prawn curry was accompanied by Kishmur/rice and Corinnes own Tendli pickle. By the way, she makes her own pickle…her bottled Prawn Balchao is super fantabulous. But that is another story. The Fish Caldin…that recipe has just the right mix. I do not know how many extracts she takes out of the coconut to get the coconut milk or whether her coconuts are the specially spiced ones. (I read in a magazine that they intercrop spices in between coconut plantations somewhere in Ratnagiri, would that change the flavor?) Anyway, Corinne’s Caldin has got that unique and subtle blend of flavors.

The portions are big. ‘Yes, I believe in giving value for money,’ she says. Now well replete we await the dessert. There is a choice of Moira Banana pancake, Coconut soufflé…but it was that piece of chocolate fudge that sent me into raptures. You must have guessed. I am a ‘choco-freak’. But even Joe agreed with me.

Seated in this courtyard under a large mango tree, the paper lanterns bobbing in the breeze, my stomach now replete with those generous helpings, I began to wax poetic much to Joe’s dismay. He was looking forward to a good quiet relaxing night and was in no mood for anything else.

‘Honey,’ I breathed pointing at the suspended moon, ‘it’s so nice and quiet and romantic…’ The look in his eye agreed to the former. ‘Yes’ he agreed, ‘away from the noise and bustle, it’s so serene. Don’t you spoil it.’

‘But may I not sum it up for our readers?’ I wheedled. The Capricorn goat is no match for the Scorpion lady especially with that glint in her eye. He surrendered. And so as we walked out I began singing to myself…
Underneath the Mango tree, yes honey
Its Corinnes…where one can reach for the moon…..
Under this mango tree, it’s value for money
Use your fingers, there’s no need for your fork or spoon.