Sunday, May 18, 2008

Simply Delicious

Utterly heavenly! No advertisement for the butter…but for a cuisine, the very first of its kind in Goa…from a small area in Tamil Nadu….’Vanakam’ to Chettinad food. For the foodies…they will remember the magnificent restaurant of the Taj Connemara in Chennai called the Raintree. In a predominantly Brahmin culture, this little area ‘Chettinad’ with its focus on key ingredients like peppercorn, star anise, curry leaves and fennel seeds has brought out the best in Non- Vegetarian food.

How did we discover the place? You must remember James and Sumera of the I-95 fame…well the duo has branched out into another venture, this time right where the action is…..we have heard of Tito’s, Ronil’s, on the Baga stretch…. and now its Simply South.

Yes that is the name…James, and this restaurant with its orange motifs on the wall, the large wooden beds with their rich red cushions, one can sit cross legged on it should you desire to do so. They are substitutes for the ‘Divan manjal’ the seat for the king, as in the South. Of course, for the heavy hearted who find it too difficult to cross their legs….the traditional tables and chairs are there for their benefit.

We sat with James the young proprietor of the place, the waiters with their tradition white and gold costumes flitting around the place. ‘Try our Tamarind Margaritha and our Southern Star,’ he urges. We look at the menu, ‘I’ll give it a pass,’ I said…after all my focus is on the finale, not the beginnings, ‘I’ll have both,’ says my better half, ‘just a little bit of each, both sound so delightful.’ I raise my eyebrow in mock horror, how can a Watermelon Daiquiri flavored with star anise and a Margarita flavored with Tamarind taste good. ‘I think you have left your brains at home,’ I whisper to him in a sotto voice.

Luckily our host only caught some part of the sentence. ‘We make excellent brain and mutton dishes,’ he says, ‘in fact I purchase a full carcass of the goat so that we use the right meat for the right preparations.’

‘So what do you recommend,’ I ask him looking at the ‘sundakkhai…vattahai..Kathrikai’ names listed on the menu. Luckily the English descriptions were right under them. ‘I would recommend the Moozhai Varuval….the fried goat brain,’ says James, ‘ and by the way the ‘zhai’ in Tamil is produced as ‘la’’. ‘I think you will enjoy it,’ Joe vouches, ‘after all don’t you eat my brains most of the time?’ I did not bother to reply, maybe the aftermath of the drinks (he seemed to have enjoyed them), did not prepare him for the aftermath that would follow.

‘We also get quail from Bangalore,’ he says, ‘but our seafood especially the crabs and the prawns are something to try.’

Was that a salesman’s pitch, I wonder. The menu states that the food should be eaten with the fingers, but cutlery is given should one request for it. Large copper thalis with a banana leaf were placed in front of us. The fried goat brain is served…I smack my lips as the crumbly mouthful disintegrates in my mouth. Divine. And then follows the ‘Yerra Karrupilai’ sautéed shrimps in curry leaves. The aftertaste of that preparation leaves you longing for more.

I look at the open counter at the entrance. The chef is busy taking Appams…while in the glassed kitchen, the cooks are busy tossing and turning the ingredients for the diners. ‘My cooks are brought in from Karaikuddi near Madurai,’ James states.

The main course now reaches the table. The traditional Kozchi Varuthal Kozhumbu, the traditional lip smacking chicken curry, and the Attukaal Kozumbhu, the lamb leg stew. Little tiffins of steaming hot Iddiappams, served with coconut milk, Aappams and Idli’s are brought to the table. Words cannot describe the experience. I have eaten Idli’s in some places in the city..believe me, one can compare those preparations to tennis balls. The Idli’s were soft, the Iddiappams also known as string hoppers, would have us hopping around in delight if there were no other diners around. I am given to understand that they make an excellent Nandu masala (Crab masala) and a special Paratha called Kothu Parotta. A Kudipi is used to shred the paratha on the tawa and it is then mixed with the meat of your choice.

Oh and the vegetarians need not worry…a full menu from Sundkkhai Vathai Kozumbu, and Kathrikai Masala….don’t ask for explanations, you have to go there to try it out. Abso unique.

Fully sated..believe me the Kesari dessert reminded me of the time when the old Irani Hotels in Bombay used to serve Sheera on Sunday’s. Rich in nuts and dry fruits.I purse my lips with pleasure as I review the name board hung outside the restaurant. ‘What are you doing,’ asks my better half. ‘Remembering the name,’ I retort. And when you say the name ‘James,’ say it simply by smacking your lips together on the ‘m’…Sim(smack)ply Delicious.

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