Now here we were seated in the restaurant with Luis D’Souza whose family had started this venture. The wooden slatted floor with the suspended old mud pots and baskets as lanterns took me back to another era. The late 80’s or was it the early 90’s-where popular party areas like the Haystack created the ambience of rural Goa. Well it was refreshing to find this décor for a change, unlike the mirrors and chrome which is not really a part of Goa’s heritage.
But talking about refreshing….Joe already had a glass of Coco Fling in his hand. The ice tinkled against the side of the glass, the mint leaves swished with the movement of the liquid, and the look on Joe’s face was pure bliss. This could happen to anyone, when you are in touch with your very own homemade brew-cashew feni with lime.
A slatted wooden board proclaims the day’s specials. This is of course in addition to the regular menu on the table. ‘My cook upgrades the board every morning after a visit to the market,’ Luis states. I look at the items listed there….calamari, sea bass, perch, red snapper, crabs….a seafood bonanza.
‘So what is special on the menu,’ I ask, looking around the restaurant. Well it is lunchtime on a working day and a rainy one at that, one would not expect to see many diners in a specialty restaurant, but two of the tables were occupied by foreigners, one with a lady…she looked cosmopolitan, so perhaps from Bengaluru or Mumbai…I do hope I got the spelling right. You see with so much change in world today one must constantly update one’s knowledge…it keeps those grey cells working. Well coming back to the diners…a family from the South-one can make out from the accent, the father was telling Hedrich the person in charge that they had dined here last night and had really enjoyed the food, and last but not least two of our very own Goan ladies who decided to have a quick meal before leaving for Divar.
It looked like Venite’s had a little of everything for every palate. Luis was now answering my question. ‘Our focus is primarily on sea food, although we could serve you any meat,’ he says, ‘and our preparations are done in Goan, Portuguese or Continental.’
The Stuffed Crab is recommended. ‘We do not allow the sauce to overpower the meat,’ Luis states. ‘How is the stir fried shrimps in Goan salsa?’ I ask. Somehow the name caught my fancy. ‘Try it,’ was his advice.
The starters arrive...and with it the local bread with garlic butter. Let me tell you about those prawns…red and spicy-a complete contrast to our mood on this rainy day. The recipe was Luis’s mothers’. Goan chillies, Goan vinegar, Goan shallots…it is difficult to get them these days so he tries a close family resemblance. And the Goan red masala, it puts you in the mood to salsa……delicious and aptly named. Now while we were at this point of discussion with our mouth’s drooling with the fiery spice, Luis talks about another resemblance. He goes into the back area and comes out with the book…’Masci-The Man behind the legend.’ ‘Can you believe this,’ he tells Joe, ‘my father resembled your very own father in looks. Anyway I bought this book for reference.’ It seems that Luis is really interested in food, unlike most restaurateurs who look at it as purely a business venture.
But let me talk about the crab. Luis had warned us that the crab size was big, so we decided to split-one into two. The crab in the orange shells looked good enough to eat…the kitchen had decorated the plate with a salad comprising of olives, mushrooms, tomatoes and lettuce, with a dash of the vinaigrette dressing. I spooned a morsel into my mouth…yes the taste was definitely crabmeat with that slight hint of parsley, olive oil and a touch of béchamel and wine. The reason that I say ‘a touch’ of béchamel was that despite the fact that the crab was baked…the sauce did not kill the taste of the meat. Those slivers of crab meat sent shivers of appreciation down my spine. It would be a difficult task to state which of the two starters were better. They both vied for the number one position despite the fact that they were prepared in different styles.
And now for the main course... I look at the board that had tantalizingly listed all those seafood items. And settled for a red snapper. Was it possible that even on a rainy day the restaurant could boast of such a vast array of seafood? There was no harm in trying.
As we waited for the main course, I looked at the little balconies where a small table for two nestled. I use the word ‘nestled’ because if one is seated there, you could be playing toey-toey or as age catches you Kneey-kneey with your partner. I put this idea across to Joe. The look on his face was not very encouraging…and believe it or not once upon a time in his hey days, the toey-toey game was his motive when he took me out on a date. That time holding hands was taboo. I guess after twenty five odd years of marriage, that thought is long forgotten. I ask Hedrich if those little tables still had an appeal today. ‘Oh yes,’ was his answer, ‘in the evenings couples like to sit out there with a drink before they come in for a meal.’ I am glad that romance still lingers in the air, although with some it dwindles with age…I give Joe a sour look.
And then the main course arrives. The long oval platter was attractively decorated-I was transported back to the 90’s. Baked beans, Vegetables, French fries, green peas...those colors of red, orange, golden and green just added to the open fillet topped with a creamy cheese sauce cooked in wine. No Mcdonald type of French fries….the thick baton of crispy potatoes, just like Mama makes them.
What more can I say, fish was fresh…oh so very fresh…no doubt about it. The recipe that has come down through the ages has stamped a niche in the traditional art of cooking which is slowly vanishing off the face of Goa. If you let your eyes run down the menu card including the dessert….Moira bananas in rum caramel, Seasonal Mango Melba etc, it does not take long to realize that Luis with the grandeur of the age old house is determined to keep the traditional remnants of Goa intact. But he need not worry…as I have said before with reference to food- When-it’s tasty, all roads lead to Venite’s.