Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lemon Tree…Oh so pretty

Why is it that every time a place appeals to my artistic senses, I recollect songs?....blame it on that old Shakespearean bard. ‘If music be the food of love; play on’ quotes he…and when I love the food, the music plays on. This time it was good old Trini Lopez. But jokes apart, the lemon tree hotel, part of the Amarante Beach resort, situated at Candolim has a fresh and ‘young’ restaurant called ‘Citrus’.

You might wonder what the old dinosaurs are doing in a place like that…..the service staff..not a single one over the age of thirty, the young executives sporting a little pig tail at the back of their heads…something like what Amitabh Bachan was sporting in ‘Cheeni Kum’.

We met with the young dynamic chef Craig Menezes from Divar and Zahir Hussain, the restaurant Guest Service Executive, in the arty, fresh restaurant overlooking the blue ceramic tiled swimming pool. Wrought iron furniture, fun placemats…I am given to understand that there are 7000 of such mats circulated around the group…I look at the message printed on the one in front of me ‘Forget all the health food…I need all the preservatives I can get.’ Uum..that’s a new one; throughout the week I am on that crazy diet…maybe my body does need those preservatives.

I look at Craig, his warm proactive stance makes me realize that there is no preservatives in his food. He worked on the Queen Elizabeth II, for six years…and now he is here to put his skills to test in one of the restaurant5s in Goa.

‘What would you recommened in a place like this,’ I ask him. ‘Our breakfasts,’ was his prompt reply. Breakfasts? I wonder. I know that having late breakfasts in cities at a starred coffe shop is the ‘in thing’ in cities…but here?

‘What do you offer?’ I ask. Somehow I always felt that breakfasts if one is considering the buffet variety should be only had at the five starred plus hotels…or else stick to the smaller venues for a ‘pau bhaji’ or an ‘omlette pau.’

‘Many people come it for our breakfasts which are open from 7.30am to 1.00 am on weekdays at till 11.30 am on weekends,’ he explains. I listen as he lists down the varieties offered on the buffet…two live counters…one south Indian…one your choice of egg preparation trolley. On the display he has a choice of juices, a cold meat platter, cereals, choice of breads with preserves…plus eight hot items in the chaffing dishes. And to round it up steaming hot tea/coffee.

‘Wow…that sounds great,’ I breathed….what a lovely way for women on a shopping trip to entertain themselves or in between a sight seeing tour up north. And it is economically priced too.

I look at the pool table in one corner of the restaurant. ‘That is free for our guests who patronize our restaurant,’ explains Zahir…’and we have a kiddies center in case they come with small kids.’

But it was lunchtime, and we were in a mood for a feast. Maybe it was the effect of the incessant rain drumming on the tiles roof…you see the moment you step in..from the decorated shields to the murals…one feels you are in Portugal. ‘Amarante, in Portuguese means soldier,’ explains Zahir, ‘so you must try our Amarante Punch…with the add-on.’ He smiles.

I look at the menu…the Amarante Punch is a fruit mocktail…if you go through the emnu, you will see a lot of citric fruit added to the dishes…but the Add on? Zahir had added a dark rum, floating under the gaily coloured umbrella of the glass…and boy…did it pack a punch. You should have seen Joe’s face.

Craig came to the rescue. ‘Try an assortment of our dishes,’ he cajoled, ‘we make good South Indian, Continental and Goan food….but I would definitely recommend the continental.’ What more would you expect from a chef who has sailed the high seas in the luxury line …the QEII.

And so came the Coastal Route…a salad of Prawns, squid and citrus fruit..with the Andalusian Gazpacho sauce served separate. One thing I noticed is that whether you order a fresh lime soda or a dish…the extra sauces/mixes are always served separate. ‘Most of our guests would like the seasonings to their tatse,’ explains Zahir, ‘that is why we serve it separate.’ Good thinking! And added a little more sauce to the salad.

The next treat was the Chicken and Vegetable Momo’s served in the dim sum basket with hot garlic sauce and pickled ginger. Silence reigned as we tucked in ravenously…but Craig did not leave us to do justice…the exquisitely decorated Chicken Kathi Kebab rolls with mint chutney materialized. Boy…how I missed this treat. I would queue outside a Frankie stall in Mumbai to savour this preparation…and it was here on the table.

‘I had no time to look at any of the other adages…but one on the wall in a photo framed tee shirt caught my eye. ‘We always hold hands…and if I let go she shops.’ Gentlemen, I know this happens during a shopping spree, but if you let go of your wife or girlfriends hand in this restaurant, she will definitely spend. Especially the Pan fried Tiger Prawns with Risotto Milanaise…served with that tangy lemon butter sauce separate.

‘Desserts,’ asks Craig…no…no…I shake my head…Joe looks at me disbelievingly. But Craig seems to read my inner most desires….a sizzling sound…the fragrance fills the restaurant…a brownie on a slice of pineapple with a scoop of vanilla on top, and a Mssissippi mud cake with a blueberry garnish…even here they retain the ‘Citrus’ touch.

So whether you are in Amitabh’s age bracket or a yupee looking out for a good time..just remember good old Trini Lopez, yes he was the idol way back in the 60’s, his words…and the fruit of the lemon is impossible to eat. I disagree totally with those lyrics..especially with this lemon tree…the Citrus… you will be craving just to eat.

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