Thursday, September 9, 2010

Down by the River Side

If the lyrics don’t get you, this place will. Soothing, serene…the well mapped greenery to calm your senses which are on over drive; the ‘lap-lap’ of the water to lull you into a suitable frame of mind and then the ‘ZAP!’ Isn’t that the way comic books express one’s emotions…the round eyes, the tongue hanging out…a little saliva dribbling down the chin. Picture this because that was exactly what happened to us one Friday afternoon while we were on our way to the airport.

‘I don’t like to be late?’ I yell at my better half…nothing ever ruffles him, ‘and you have promised to eat at that place…’why do you take on so many things on the same day?’ I grumble as I stuff last minutes accessories in my carry bag. I don’t know if anyone has ever received a ‘placid’ look in response…I did and it increased my stress levels three fold.

But the scenic view en route to the airport temporarily calmed my agitation and the soothing sound of the river as the road wound parallel to its course had a sedative effect…after the hectic morning my eyelids began to droop...till ‘there’s St. Jacinto island’ intruded into my drifting mind. There was the island and on the road was our lunch halt….Sheela Restaurant cum Bar…a restaurant that had stood the test of time running with an enviable distinction of being a ‘locals favorite’ for the past 25 years.

We walk up a flight of steps…nothing ostentatious about it, but the deck overlooked the scenic beauty of the river. We sat there entranced, captivated by the beauty eager to hear the story from the beginning.

Sylvester D’Souza, the proprietor’s son meets us. All around there is a buzz of activity…..waiters scurry around with ‘thali’s’ the local lunch favorite. ‘My father Nicolua D’Souza although he was a tailor by profession started this venture 25 years ago,’ he says with pride, ‘and the original food served was this very same ‘Thali’ then priced at Rs 3.50p.’ Today although it is still priced at a little more than ten times the amount it seemed to be a ‘hot’ favorite.

But we wanted to know a little more about the preparations from the kitchen. His mother Luize Marie is at the helm. ‘Our Raechade masala is famous,’ Sylvester explains, ’and also our other preparations. Even Mr Vijay Mallya would take a packing order of our stuffed crabs and prawn curry.’

And so while we waited for our order we marveled at the beauty and the proximity to the airport. ‘we would like people who are in a hurry to phone in their order,’ he says, ‘this establishment is time tested for its quality and standardization, so the a la carte preparations take place the moment the order is placed. Advance intimation would help.’

The starters arrive. Rawa fried prawns, Chonak Raechade Masala and fried Bombay Duck. Now I am no great fan of the Rawa encrusted preparations. You see some establishments coat them so heavily that the taste of the fish is lost. I take a tentative bite off the prawns. The green masala in which the prawns were marinated temptingly added to the flavor, the crunch of the rava glorified the freshness of the prawn…now here was a dish to fish for.

But there was more to come. I am a staunch lover of Bombay ducks…and for all you Bombay Duck fans. The soft flesh is ‘melting moments’. One can even slurp it down…slowly enticingly, because the marinade does wonders to this preparation. There was no distraction…Joe addressed himself to the Chonak Raechade while I like the proverbial miserly rat, kept the plate close to me as I relished every mouthful of that preparation.

‘She likes it,’ Joe says apologetically to Sylvester. Apology was needed because I ignored the poor man. I smiled sheepishly wondering if the ‘ZAP!’ expression was still showing. I wiped the side of my mouth delicately.

‘My father named this place after my sister,’ Sylvester says, ‘we were the first restaurant and many of our regular guests still visit us.’

‘It’s a pity that most people are in a hurry to get back to work,’ I remark watching the ‘thali’ workers depart. ‘It is heaven in the night,’ he states, ‘with the church lit and its reflection mirrored in the water.’ I look across visualizing the beauty of the place, entranced.

The main course arrives. ‘Ukde Shit’, Prawn curry and Beans Foogath. Have you ever heard the phrase…’as mother makes it..’ True…so very true. Mother Luize’s magic in her kitchen is unparalleled. ‘We do not put the milk in the prawn curry,’ says Sylvester, ‘it is pure coconut.’

And for us it was sheer Bliss. I am given to understand that there is a special chicken preparation made by his mother with a three masala flavor. ‘Excellent with drinks,’ he says, ‘so although we call it chilly chicken now, I am going to name the dish after her.’

And this young man with a stint at the Taj after a course in Hotel management has followed in his fathers footsteps and added a few of his own recipes like Stuffed squid and crab. This might be the 25th Anniversary of the restaurant, but don’t be surprised if it celebrates another twenty five more. All you have to do to check it out is to drive ‘Down by the River side.’

Sheela Restaurant cum Bar
Address: Opposite St Jacinto Island, Sancoale, Goa
Tel No: 0832 2555675
Recommendations: Seafood= Rawa fried prawns,
Fish with Raechade Masala (house speciality)

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