Sunday, May 18, 2008

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.