Friday, April 30, 2010

Fortune favors the ‘foodies’

We happened to get in touch with a chef who we had not seen for many years…and like all foodies the topic focused on food. ‘Well Goa has many ‘good food’ outlets,’ I comments sagely, ‘you name the cuisine, we have it.’ ‘But one thing I remember from my trip to Delhi is the North West Frontier cuisine,’ Joe remarks, ‘that is one thing that would be a bonus here.’

Chef Inder…for that was his name, smiles mysteriously and asks us to come over to this hotel-the Fortune Select Regina at Candolim. Now we had seen the elegantly lit façade of this spanking new property and we were intrigued at the thought of visiting it. Part of the ITC chain of hotels – the Fortune Select brand, I spent the night dreaming of the famous Bukhara restaurant in Delhi. Everyone must have heard of is even listed in Wikipedia quote ‘The Bukhara restaurant is designed with stone walls, wooden pillars and cushion-covered stools at mock log-top tables. It has an open display kitchen, where meat and vegetables hang from swordlike kebab spears. The restaurant serves cuisine from the North-West frontier of Pakistan prepared in a clay ‘tandoor’ oven with a special emphasis on kebabs. In a bid to encourage diners to savor the restaurant’s kebabs with their hands, cutlery is withheld and aprons are provided.’

‘Are you aware that their world famous Dal Bukhara is said to be cooked for days to get the perfect taste and consistency.’ I ask Joe as we drive across scenic fields to reach there, ‘celebrities are known to get that stuff packed in bottles and consume it for days after- I heard that Kareena Kapoor does so…’ My better half gives a grunt. He is not interested in what celebrities do…he is looking forward to his own experience.

We enter an elegant foyer and move towards the poolside area where tantalizing aromas assail our nostrils. It is the area outside their Orchid restaurant, a classy stylish room. Now this area is where the Bar-be-que is normally held every evening. However these kebabs could be had in the restaurant too. Attentive staff move forward to cater to our needs…a chilled cocktail for Joe, condensation on its side, ice tinkling as the straw moves with the breeze.
The accompaniments are put on the table…’Dhaba chutney’ I am informed - A novel idea of coriander base and spicy tomato chutney. And then starts the ‘kebab bonanza’…I say bonanza because it was raining kebabs…..

First the ‘Mutton Goulati kebab’, now this delectable Awadhi delicacy is something that could have even the Shah-en-shahs of yore begging for more. Soft and melting…the flavour oozes into your senses, your salivary juices churning overtime to meet the demand…cause you will be spooning more of that preparation into your oral cavity. ‘who is behind this creation,’ I croak finally…and we were just on the first preparation of the evening. Inder smiles as he remarks that the two chefs Sandeep Kumar and Hafeez Ahmad Qureshi had worked in Kebab Factory and Bukhara.. Aha! I reached for the second platter…did I not say fit for the Kings, intricately designed and presented….Murg ke pasande. Now I believe it is all in the name…I will add the word ‘Bhuna’. Because of the marinade. Of course the secrets will all remain with the chef but this ‘chic’ has curd, cheese, cream, cardomon. Shahjeera, saffron…and marinated twice, before being put in the tandoor. The 'kadak' tandoori rotis that the waiter brought to the table as the ‘accompaniment’ were crisp and the 'kulchas' were mouthwatering melt in the mouth types but the innovative Ulta Tawa ka Paratha had us scrambling for more. While we were still grappling with the ‘taste enhancing chutneys’ the Chowk ki tikki (vegetable kebabs stuffed with green peas) and the Paneer Dudhiya Seekh (paneer Rolls) made its presence felt.

Now if anyone had this wrong notion that North West Frontier food preparations were exclusively for the non vegetarians they have not come in touch with these innovative chefs. If Chowk ki Tikki was stuffed with graan peas, the Subz Shikampuri Kebeb had cheese dripping with every bite. Oh…La…la. And if innovations were the ‘focus’ of the night their Dahi ke kebab (hung curd which is deep fried) is something to be tried. Move over you celebrities…you have not tried the Spice Dal….that is the signature Dal of this place, like the bukhara Dal is to Delhi….it is a royal treat and an authentic slow cooked delicacy. Served piping hot it was the tadka that makes for a gastronomic flavour that can only be experienced and not described.

I look across at Joe who had been silent throughout the meal, only exercising his jawbones…did he miss the ‘Bukhara experience.’ Perhaps we asked the question out loud. As the desserts reached the table,,Rose flavoured Rasagullas, Kalakhand…yes there is an assortment of continental desserts too, but I was too stuffed to try it his comment of ‘Fortune is what really makes the entire exercise a treat for hungry foodies,’ was the ‘bulls-eye’ response..

Address: Fortune Select Regina 376, Fort Aguada Road Candolim Bardez
Phone - +91 832 3988444

Highly Recommended: Kebabs and Dal

It’s a Studio of Spice

Well one has heard of a ‘film’ studio, a ‘photography’ studio but has one heard of a ‘spice’ studio? Here is a new concept in town….a studio filled with spices where Chef Amit Bhardwaraj works on his storyboard, casts, edits, mixes and then shoots it hot. I am talking about food…and food with a difference and its all happening at Spice Studio at the Alila Diwa Goa.

Let’s talk about the storyboard. This season he has worked on his storyline along the coastal belt of India… his casting couch along the coast of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerela and even Tamil Nadu. Says he ‘we went on an in-depth culinary search studying the different ingredients used in the preparations of meals in these regions.’ Fine so what’s new?

I am coming to the editing. Let’s take his preparation of Kombdi Masala. Everyone has tasted this Malvani delicacy which is a superb curry to have with wadas. Says Amit, ‘we went to Sindhudurg in Maharashtra and studied the different ingredients that went into the Kombdi Masala and decided to do it with a difference. There is a modification in the ingredients used. The percentage of coconut and chilies used has been changed, no star anise is used and we have used a combination of bedgi and sankreshti chilies. Moreover we suggest that instead of having a Wada, the bakhri (roti) would accompany it beautifully.’ Wow! So what other editing has he and his team worked on? Take the mutton sukha. For me it states Malvani cuisine..In fact better still Kolhapuri. But chef has done a lot of editing in this recipe too. The ingredients are a mix of Malvani with Kundapuri style (Mangalore) nuances.

So we come to the mixing. Says Amit ‘artisans create their best magic – it is a canvas on which our team paints.’ His chefs create their magic. And so we sat on the verandah with overhead fans purring away waiting for the magicians to display their skill. The waiter brings in the pickle tray…3 varieties. Raw mango with a mustard tadka, Tendli with Goan nuances and thinly sliced carrot with a spicy red masala..Kerela flavor.

We sampled a little of every pickle licking our fingers as the mustard played havoc with the salivary juices. Perhaps that was the ‘tickler’ like the magician saying ‘gilly-gilly’. Ours senses were perked as the ‘pepper boti’ reached the table. Did we need to have the mint chutney to accompany this dish? No way. The Kerela style marination on the succulent boneless pieces was superb….I had eaten many ‘kebabs’, but normally in the North Indian style of preparations… did the South Indians make kebabs? ‘We like to paint the preparation to give our diners a different experience,’ says he. A fish preparation with a deep red masala comes onto the table. It is a Chinese Pomfret with (no not a Raechado, but more Maharastrian in its flavor) the fish is fresh, the masala something which adds credence to the fact that before the boundaries of states were created, preparations were tried and tested in kitchens. The naans that accompanied the starters were stuffed with ‘gorgonzola’ and coriander. Now there seemed some method in this madness…an Italian cheese and Indian spice? It worked. Absolutely novel.

But these ‘magicians’ were still aiming to removing some more tricks from their bag. A mackerel salad. Now before you think about our Bangras tossed in onion and tomatoes…here is something different. Thin fillets of mackerel cooked o perfection and tossed in rocket leaves, pomegranate, sliced onion…’I believe that the oil that comes out from the mackerel works wonders with the rocket leaves,’ says Amit. He is right. A little bit of that fish with the crunchy rocket leaves and I take off to the moon. Chef Amit believes that this combination is much better than serving the fish separately and then some veggies with it. ‘We believe in balancing the meal so that one dish is fully wholesome and complimentary in nutrition,’ he says.

The chicken Chettinadu with its thick gravy was reminiscent of ‘spice’ at its best…but I must let you in on something ‘awesome’. Now we all know about the black gram ‘usal’ which the Maharastrians normally prepare, Amit and his team had combined it with bay scallops. Those lightly grilled delicately spiced mouth sized pieces of seafood with the spiced black lentils…… ‘it combines beautifully,’ Amit remarks looking at my expression.’ And he is right.

We still had to sample the home cooked favorites of vanghi bhat and moong dal. He had added a little gravy to the dal instead of the normal dry variety that I normally was used to. ‘The gravy is to complement the bhat,’ he states, although the bhat by itself could be eaten alone. ‘Bhat’ lovers…it’s there for the picking.

And every studio ‘shoots’ the clip. Now I am not talking about the ‘chefs’ screaming ‘shoot’ with Amit watching on the sidelines. The restaurant is open for dinner only…but this Director has got his ‘act’ together. Just outside the kitchen is a long cooking school table. He teaches his guests how to cook specific dishes. ‘If we do get an advance reservation we could set up the school around 4.00pm..and the wind up with the group having dinner with a few of the dishes they have learned to make,’ he says. A Novel idea indeed. Not only does he create his script but involves his diners in the ‘shoot’ too.

So after a ‘bountiful nutritious’ meal of coastal delights, we left the artisans in their ‘spice studio’ vowing to return to try out some different coastal fare. They have spices stocked for it all, so spice up your life and have a blast.

Address: Alila Diwa Goa
48/10 Village Marjorda
Adao Waddo, Salsette

Tel no 0832 2746800

Recommendation: Pepper boti, Bay scallops with black lentils, Mackerel salad