Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Take 5…. this season

Christmas season has it’s own charm…visiting relatives and parties galore. Just the time restauranteurs must ensure that they are ‘upto their fives’ to give a good show. But sadly enough friends about town had many complaints from some of the top restaurants operating this season….could it be lack of consistency or ‘perceptions’ about the place…I wonder.

Perhaps it could be ‘perceptions’ and ‘expectations’ that play a major role I realised as talk veered to a ‘happening place’ in Baga. ‘Isn’t that a sort of a club?’ I queired, ‘more for the yuppies to hang out?’ I then realised that my ‘perceptions’ based on the name (it was Kama Sutra before and now it is Take 5) that had clouded my ‘expectations’ about the place.

We were now seated in a trendy place, dominated in the center by a four sided bar, deepseated armchairs(you know the type one can sink into)..lounge style and table seating all around a small stage. Yes there is music Jazz, Retro, Rock some days of the week…but let me tell you that ‘food’ is the focus…new Age European, Asian… that is infused in areas to take it away from the traditional run-of-the-mill form...’comfort food’.

Aha! Got you there did I not. Even we are learning. When we take Catering College professionals and put them together we get places that create new dimensions in food. The place? Take 5 Dining and Bar. At the front is Sachin Roche with partners Abhishek Honovar and Viraj Suwarna..and in the kitchen is Food Consultant James of Butter and Jamie’s fame ably assisted by Chef Prakash Parab.

So here we were with the ‘starters’ placed in front….Cajun fried shrimps, Tempura fried prawns-a fusion of Cajun/Oriental James explains. And around it was the ‘Tuna Crostini’s’ and the ‘Tomato and Basil Bruscettas’. We dipped the batter fried Tempura into a sauce…a mayo with wasabi and lemon grass…Boy what a twist. Super..deelicious’…let me tell you why…Wasabi is Japanese, Lemion grass Thai/Oriental and mayonnaise Continental. ‘Fab Fusion.’ Oh By the way I borrowed that term. They got that band playing there once a week. But that is what I mean…that fusion combo was Fabulous. And the Cajun spiced prawns…crisply coated with special chilli herbed crumble and garlic aioli……la. how do the Mexicans say it ‘Ola Senorita..senor-mu..cha..cha.’ Yup..that’s it. Joe had got the sauce dripping over his muchos, you see he was tickled pink with the taste.

But there was more to come. The Caesars Salad. Did I see wrinkled faces? Belive me it was a treat. Right down to the chilled, crisp, wrinkled cos lettuce marinated in mayo, anchovy paste and tuna oil dressing…and with that ‘twist to tradition’ topped with grilled chicken breasts. Now I am definitely not a ‘bhajjiwalli’ except when I have to go o those diets once in a blue moon…but even the Pharoahs would sail down the River Nile to feast on this dish. Now why did I think of the Pharoahs…those guys don’t move for anything, everything has to come to them. Ah yes, Sachin was telling me that they have an awesome band-and Iranian band called the Pharoahs once a week, and they could have you sailing to the stars. Or maybe it would be the salad…the new age preparation, a twist in the traditinal tale.

But I have to get back on course…the main course. Mexican and Oriental…you see those spices are more suited to the Indian taste. Lemon, red chilli chicken and Oriental Basil Beef. The presentation was par excellence...did I not tell you that the professionals were running the show? But it is the taste that counts too. The chicken was marinated in ‘cajun’ spice. ‘What is it?’ I whispered to James. ‘Paprika, cumin, corriander powder.. most of the spices that are ‘comfort’ to the Indian palate,’ he says. We take a little rice, add the ‘cajun curry’ to it, a little of the crispy salad accompaniment and a sliver of the breast of the chicken. All that Jazzzzz…sorry that night it was Jazzy George playing…and if you have ever heard the drums rolling for the number ‘Take 5’ – that sound was reverberating in my head….pum…pum…trrrr..a…trr. the ‘pum was the rice and the chicken..the trrr’ the cajun sauce with the salad-what a combo…to die for. Before the beat of the drummer had ended we had polished off the dish. But let me keep some space for the Basil Beef-cause once the drums had finished rolling of the ‘Take 5’ number, the music starts playing. Stir fried basil, lemon grass, birds eye I was not keeping a ‘birds eye’ on Joe…there was enough for both. Those spicy Thai chillies are called by that name. Wow..what an experience we had sweat streaming down our foreheads…because the taste was ‘super….call.. ii…fantaslistic’ A dish to remember.

But the fusion does not end here, cause on my favorite page of the menu was another fusion dish. Now with the Goan touch. Banana Haven. Rum and sugar flavored bananas on a luscious banana cake with vanilla icecream. Believe me when I say the description does not give credit to the dih. Those dollops of caramelised bananas wrapped with creamy icecream and a spoonful of that banana flavoured cake….even Joe could not resist. It was a ‘take 5’ spoons for every one of mine till I had to glare at him so that he slowed down.

Yes my ‘Elvis in second skin’ he plays there every Friday, the young professionals Sachin and James have given the coastal belt on Baga something to talk about. A second skin of new age comfort food over traditional fare for the ‘foodies’ of Goa.

Address: Take 5 Lounge Bar & Restaurant,
Sautta Vaddo, Baga Beach Road, Calangute, Goa 403 516.
Proprietors: Sachin Roche, Abhishek Honovar and Viraj Suwarna.
Telephone number: 0832 2277937, 9881722549.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sunday Blend of Roast and Jazz

Well guys, we only live once. And it is about time we experience the good things of life. Well that is my philosophy in the recent months…money be damned, calories? Aha! Maybe to be considered later. Imbibe and be merry. And so we were this Sunday rolling down the CHOGM road to the Fort, for a Sunday blend of roast and jazz.

Joe looked at me askance. He knew how much sweat and toil I experience after every article I write…no…no, not in the writing, but on the treadmill.It is my penance for every tasty morsel I savor. You see my doctor at every check up looks at me with soulful eyes and says…’any change?’ I guess he must have given up by now. So here I was humming…’my, my, my beautiful Sunday…’

Brunch by the Sea at Latitude. That very statement spells excitement. We walk down the corridor to be greated with music…Haydn on the keyboards. That put extra pep in my step. Up ahead the azure blue of the sea where one could sit on the terrace or the cool bliss of soaking in the blue tranquility of the restaurant ..well one could sit at any Latitude depending on your mood. So we walked into the restaurant to be greeted- besides the smiling face of the staff- by a display of attractively presented food that seemed to strech for miles. Now if you feel I am kidding let me get on with my written verbose.

Joe took full advantage of the offer- a glass of sparkling wine, slush machine, frozen Margaritas or unlimited juices(orange, apple, beetroot, carrot) lazily churning around in their dispensers. Now the menu changes every Sunday, but what I had that day should be enough for four Sunday’s at a stretch…a monthly quota, as I reassuringly explained to Joe. The sizzling sounds of the grill with the nose tickling aromas aroused our senses. We made a bee line for the place. Bajan chicken, pork chops with caramelised Banana and bacon, and chilli herb encrusted fish. Now let me tell you about a methodology involved in enjoying the buffet. The strength is that you can have an unlimited helping of the dishes that tickle your palate with no one complaining about the amount heaped on your plate, the limitation? The variety put out on display can confuse and visually fill up your stomach so you do not feel like eating more.

Rule 1-concentrate on one thing at a time-The Grill. The succulent pork chops with its wrap around bacon..Oh! La! La! And with caramelised bananas as the add on. We Goans have always enjoyed Caramelised Bananas as a tea snack, but we have never added it on to the Pork chops. Some chef in that kitchen has found the perfect mix I thought looking guilitly at the number of bones left on my plate. But the waiter tactfully cleared away my plate requesting me to help myself to more. Another favorite was the Chilli herb crusted fish. Now I have indulged in crumbfried, batterfried..but this coating left us begging for more. Mustard, garlic, chilli flakes and Parmesan cheese with a few more herbs encrusted that Modso…soft and flaky inside, crispy and crusty spice on the outside. I have run out of words to describe this feeling- stupendous. We sat back to let this digest, hoping the Magician would conjure some magic for the food to move down faster. You see we had counted over 20 items on the salad counter, not counting the BBQ ham sitting on the platter sunbathing, its bronzed appeal beckoning one and all to take a bite.

If I have to name all the dishes I would need the whole page to do let me mention just a few. The Internation cheese counter with its cold meats. I made a bee line for that. Emmenthal, Brie, Cheddar, Gouda, combined with Hungarian salami, Spanish cured ham, smoked turkey, smoked salmon..bowls of olives and the breads. Sardough, walnut, rye..the bakery chefs creativity had run riot, not only in this section. Peeping onto the other side the tempting array of 8-10 desserts had me moving in that direction. Joe put a restraining hand on my arm. ‘Remember,’ he whispers, ‘one thing at a time.’

I felt like an inflated balloon and it did not help seeing the Magician’s wife blowing up cartoon ballons for the kidoos. And to keep the kids happy there was a separate kiddies buffet with all their favorites at a special price..pizzas, pom-poms, macaroni with cheese. Gosh how I wiish I was a kid again. My old childhood favorites nestled under those dishes.

I did a few mental pull ups before addressing the hot counter. The chefs behind were busy at work filling in small portions as the guests came there. So if you are thinking of big food containers-forget it. It was like having an a la carte spread. Goan, Continental, Indian…15 preparations to choose from. A word of advice. Rule No 2 If you plan to go there, please do not eat for a week. I nibbled my way through the Phaldari kebab (a minced fruit kebab with garam masala), the Kache gosht ki biryani and the white wine grilled peppers with brocolli. Efinitel no more, cause I saw the chocolate island-the fountain pouring its liquid over tempting lollipops of marshmellow and fruit…ever seen a child with his nose stuck against a glass pane looking at the goodies beyond? That was me. ‘Behave,’ Joe hissed, ‘you have a reputation to consider’.

Reputation be damned. I had made Joe stand for the photograph as the tempting array would have made me want to slip a few in my mouth if I was too close….but once at the counter it was greedy mayhem. Zesty chocolate gooey cake, sour cherry crumble cake, rum and rasin tart, banana cocnut Hawaain bread pudding…did I say 8 desserts? I had not counted the Indian varieties or the chocolate island. I stood there letting my lollipops gather the chocolate coating, my tongue running over saliva coated lips during that time.

Rule No 3. Nobody can kick you out. Go early and stay on till the buffet winds up. That is what we did. The music, entertainment and food made this Sunday a refresing experience to cope with the week ahead.

Fun at the Tinto

Remember those days of yore…, fun and frolic? It is here back again. Two enterprising Goans have put together a venture to give you a taste of Goa before the millenium Sebastiao’s Tinto next to Kingfisher Villa in Candolim. There is a saying… ’curiosity killed the cat,’ but in this case the cat got to lick the cream. And is still doing so as I write this.

It all started with the Advertisement…a small cartoon in the newspaper. ‘Hey Joe, this looks like you,’ I chortle looking at the dapper little man, a sort of golf cap on his head, a shopping basket in his hand and an umbrella. Of course sans the pot belly. Now if any of you have seen Joe on the streets of Panjim with that trademark cap and his bright red satchel will know what I mean. ‘He is cute,’ Joe smiles, ‘and today they have Samba de Goa..let’s check it out.’

And so here we were in the brightly bedecked courtyard meeting with Remy and Vency the duo in this enterprise. ‘I’m Vency,’ one of them smiles, ‘easy to remember ‘when-u-see-me-Vency.’ Now here was a man who loves to entertain as I realised as the evening progressed. The band ‘India’ was belting out popular numbers as we sat on the table around the red cemented dance floor. Colorful caricatures and balloons added to the air of festivity…during this Christmas season we had a carnival in progress. ‘It’s the full works every Wednesday,’ states Remy, ‘parade, balloon sculpting, face painting and a surprise item.’ Joe perks up. Besides food, he loves those suprises.

Chef Paul with years of culinary experience offers us an insight into the menu. What are the specialities? Goan and Continental we are informed. So we sit back watching the children rollick around with their face painted, sculpted balloons on their head, a couple jiving on the floor as the band upped the tempo…and the food arrived.

Chef had recommended Shark Amotik and Crab Xacutti with Pulao. Now I had eaten a Crab Xec-xec, masala, red gravy…..but never a Xacutti. Mentally programmed to accept a chicken or a mutton Xacutti I wondered what we were in for. We heaped a little of the Amotik and Xacutti onto our plate. But before we could start Vency had announced the arrival of Salma. I guess that was the surprise item cause for a moment Joe lost interest in his plate as the gyrations began. Now this is definitely not Joe’s movement in the chair though the chair did creak at times. The sensuous movement of the metallic blue body clad figure with the hoola's had the guests applauding enthusiastically. I nudged Joe pointing to the food at his plate. He nodded absentmindedly, went through the motion of putting the food to his mouth and then stopped. His eyes closed as the spices began to invade his senses, as they did mine too. Whatever the chef had put together in that Amot tik had us scrambling for more. Sweat began to bead around Joe’s upper lip and it was not because Salma had begun her ritual of eating fire. It was the mouthwatering experience of that dish, (maybe Salma could have contributed too,) that gave him that glazed expression.

Now coming to the Crab. The green coarsely ground masala was a perfect contrast to the orange pink shell nestled there. I took a big bite to crunch at the hard shell and the green masala now made its presence felt. Did I say that crab with the Xacutti masala was a mismatch? Now I beg to differ. The soft flesh of the tender meat and the coarsely ground coconut based masala was to die for…and the yellow Pulao? Very rarely found in restaurant’s today. Just like mother makes it at home, down to the fried onion strips that garnished it.

The tom cat was purring with contentment and as I waited for my old favorite, Caramel custard, the toddy tapper smiled benevolently from the mural above. He seemed to say ‘hey those are my coconuts that made the masala.’ A twin brother of Sebastiao had a polka dot dress lady doing the quick step. The friendly waiters, Bosco at the helm smiled at the guests as they scurried about the place. It took me back to the days of ‘Haystack’ in the early 80’s.

Perhaps there would be a family visit this season, despite the ongoing tensions. Remy and Vency have provided Jazz Tuesdays, Samba de Goa Wednesdays and ‘Jam up’ Saturdays. ‘Muscicians come here to jam-up on this night,’ Vency explains, ‘in fact last Saturday we had someone on the banjo and another musician playing two flutes simultaneously on either side of his mouth.’ ‘And to add to that,’ Remy states, ‘locals will get a surprise addition at the end of their meal.’ Now that sounds interesting…a parting gift. Well Kingfisher Villa had better look out…cause just next door one can have more fun at the Tinto.

Address: Next to Kingfisher Villa, GHOGM Road, Candolim Bardez, GOA

Contact: Mr Remy 98501 83260

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Pan Asian Itch

Well one has heard of the ‘seven year itch’, the ‘itch’ one experiences over the age of 40…you see when men get naughty. But a Pan Asian itch? No my friends we are not in Bangkok…but very much in Goa, at a place down in the valley, which had Joe ‘itching’ for more.

So how do I describe how it came across? Was it the pretty hostesss? *I do not think so, cause this time he insisted on my photograph being taken. Was it the ‘Deep Purple” hues? Yes the restaurant was decorated in rich hues of purple and Joe always was one for ‘hard rock.’ But knowing my man, I do not think that was the reason. Was it the cocktail called the ‘Pan Asian itch’ that he was nursing throughout the meal? I wonder. But let me complete my narrative and then you can be the judge.

We were seated in the valley, in the Vainguinnin Beach Resort at the Pan Asian restaurant. The food consultant who is managing the place is Clifford who has worked at the Leela Kempinski (the Great Wall) in Mumbai, Henry Thams, Mandarin and the opening team of the famous hangout of the Bollywood stars…Olive. Now with so much of experience in his hands we waited in anticipation of what was in store for us.

Well everything starts with a teaser….no I am not talking about Joe’s cocktail. On the menu they call it hors d’oeuvres…in English translation-appetiser. Clifford had recommended the Sui Loong Pao (steamed dumplings Shanghai style), the Me Grob (crispy vermicelli with sweet, sour and spicy dressing-we had added prawns) and the Neua Phak Chee (crispy beef with a spicy Thai dressing). Now they say that an appetiser titillates…I have seen my dog Mojo(well his nature is more of Joe hence the name) sitting with his tongue hanging out when he has been told to ‘stay’. Well if I had clicked a picture of Joe at that moment….you see I needed to click a picture of the food, hence the command…he would definitely have resembled Mojo. Besides the taste appeal which comes third, (it is visual and smell first), Clifford had presented the dishes tastefully. And just as the flashbulb clcked, in a flash Joe’s plate was heaped with all those delicacies presented there. Now the Me Grob-I have a very simple name for it, ‘Thai Bhel puri’…was crispy, tangy, a feast for the salivary glands, those sauces really activate the juices within. But my personal favorite was the crispy beef…forget words ‘phak chee’. You see if I tell a local bhayya that the dish is called ‘phak chee’ he would think I am making sounds of disgust. Heavenly…yes the choir in church during this season have been singing the ‘hallel-lu-iah’…this was a dish that can move the earth with its heavenly refrain.

But we were not given time to dwell on the appetisers, or even the pretty hostess was moving around. Clifford had recommeneded the ‘favorites’. Now it is not right to use that word. For all Chef’s each and every dish is a personal favorite…but it was not possible to try out all the food. So with a little wheedling we asked for a dish from different regions to try.

The Indonesian speciality-Prawn Sambal Goreng, the Fillipino Escabeche,, the Chinese Mandarin Fish, the Thai Red Noy Kai…c’mon guys, don’t get envious, it is not humanly possible for us to eat all this food. But these are a few of the popular dishes listed on the menu…and many many more….you know those favorite red and green curries? For us-we decided to be adventurous and try out the Escabeche and the Prawn Sambal Goreng. Now the traditional Sambal Goreng is made of beef, beef liver, beef lungs and prawns. The cooking process is similar to the Rendang (Rendang is made from beef, chicken or mutton slowly cooked in coconut milk and spices for several hours until almost all the liquid is gone, leaving the meat coated in the spicy condiments. The cooking process changes from boiling to frying as the liquid evaporates. The slow cooking process allows the meat to absorb all the spices and to become tender) except this dish does not use curry but lots of chilli instead. It is best eaten with Ketupat or compressed rice. Now if you have seen the cooking process of the dish, let me explain the eating-sorry devouring process that it went through. The prawns were slowly cooked in saliva(in Joe’s case facial movements of ecstacy accompanying the movement), for several minutes till the last flavour of the dish was extracted, and the liquid absolutely gone, the process changed to shredded and ground pieces till it becomes absolutely tender for digestion. Gosh I must be getting ‘Barmy’. Was Joe’s itch contagious? Simply put that dish is ‘superb’…what a mouthful. And the Escabeche? The Escabeche is an acidic Spanish marinade used for seasoning and preserving fish and poultry. This dish is associated with Spanish cuisine although the name is Arabic and vinegar and citrus fruits are used extensively in its preparation. The fish is cooked seperately and so is the pickled seasoning-mixed together and then cooled. Well lecture over…lets talk about the taste. The tantalising flavour of the fruit acids complemented the fish to perfection. My tongue, so conditioned to heavy masalas and curries…played with the delicate seasonings. The flavour of the fish was not fact it was strengthened with the pickled dressing. Given time I am sure that this dish could become my favorite…no plain grilled fish with a lemon butter dressing for me..the Escabeche is definitely more promising.

I have not been one for Asian desserts…of course old favorites like Honeyed Noodles and Banana Toffee with icecream are listed there with the date wantons. Belive me those crispy fellas are one to die for. But if you are one to be adventuous..and believe me that night I was…(did I say it was Joe’s itch?) try the Tub Tim Grob. Thai water chestnuts suspended and crispy in strawberry flavoured coconut milk. Cool…refreshing…am I sounding like the ‘sprite’ advertisement? But that was the feeling…but it did not dampen Joe’s ‘ahh-hum’ itch. Normally one does not visit a restaurant for sometime after the first encounter. But the love of my life seemed to be drooling. And believe me it was not for me. ‘Oddy,’ he says, ‘when are we coming back for more?’