Monday, February 21, 2011

Fine Dining…Tapas style

So what does the term ‘tapas’ mean? Well the word is derived from the Spanish word ‘tapar’ to cover. Legend has it that the tapas tradition began when King Alfonso X of Castille recovered from an illness drinking wine and eating small dishes between meals. On regaining his health his royal decree stated that no tavern would be allowed to serve wine to customers unless accompanied by a small snack ‘tapas’.

It was with this legend in mind that we decided to visit a new restaurant named ‘Manga’…where the concept of fine Oriental dining-Tapas style was the order of the day. The classy entrance of laterite stone, candlelight and right in the center a majestic mango tree…from which the restaurant derives its name, an initiative of the de Souza Group of Hotels. We met with Anne Hayden-the force behind this concept.
Now we Goans love to eat wholesome hearty meals, so would this ‘concept’ fill the ‘need’ of dining well? Would we be satisfied with a ‘nibble’ or two Tapas style? I looked across at Joe. Here was my ‘guinea pig’…Goan to the core.

Bret Wheeler, the South African Barman was at his best…there was a whole list of delightful cocktails besides the regular wine and spirit list. ‘Try our Long white cloud,‘ says Anne Hayden, ‘it literally is a translation from Aotearoahas- a Maori word.’ I look at the ingredients….kiwi and triple sec. but hang on a sec, I see another interesting combination ‘Pineapple and cardamom Daiquiri. ‘We use plenty of fresh herbs and spices in the mixed drinks,’ murmurs Anne as she led us to the table.
Joe was in his element, a chilli Mojito at hand while I browsed through the menu. Anne had promised us an Oriental New Taste….Thai, Indonesian, Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese…a mix of the traditional and fusion.

I looked at the attractive paper lanterns with the flickering candlelight, the ornate, ethnic chandeliers overheard…mystic and promise…I sat back expectantly. The waiter brought in the house compliments…crumb fried mushrooms with two titillate the taste buds.

To start with one had a choice of two soups, the traditional Tom Yam Soup and the Tom Kah Gha soup. Joe was off the start line….’for me the Tom Yam soup with prawns,’ well they come with prawns don’t they…I looked at him sourly…it was my favorite soup, till I realized that the menu gave one a vegetarian choice too. I reluctantly settled for what I considered was second best, the Tom Kah Gha soup…chicken and lemon grass in a coconut base. I took a sip of my soup….the chef’s had captured every nuance of the creamy coconut with the lemon grass flavor, the chicken chunks adding its own zing. Great! I looked across at Joe who had kept his Mojito aside as he applied himself to the soup. Jack Sprat and his wife…the bowls were licked clean.
Now miniature plates were put in front of us…we were ready for the ‘Tapas’ style feast. Crunchy Tofu with crispy Basil...Japanese style. Now let me share a secret of the menu. You can order either a small or a large portion, depending on the size of the group or how much you would want to eat. I took a dip…sorry I dipped the Tofu into the choice of Wasabi Mayo, Coriander dip and Anne’s unique preparation of lime chilli jam. Now I can understand the choice...I loved the spicy Wasabi mayo, Joe the coriander dip…something for everyone’s palate. The next dish was approaching in a cane covered dim-sum basket. Another Japanese preparation common in Japanese households…Japanese Beef Gyonze(dumplings). Now these steamed crescent shaped preparations with its minced meat when dipped in the Ponzu dripping sauce. The word ‘pon’ arrived in the Japanese element from the Dutch word which is the same as the English word punch, while su in Japanese means vinegar. So there is seaweed, rice vinegar and the juice of a citrus fruit. Delicious…..
Our ‘Tapas’ was still on…the Tangy Tofu and Mango salad. Now this is a must. How can one sit under a mango tree and be oblivious to the fruit. But the dressing with the chilli flakes, herbs and mango tartness….unbelievable.

There were many other preparations to be tried out, but we were onto the ‘mains’. But before this, another complementary…to cleanse the palate. ‘a sago shot’…watermelon, coconut milk and sago in shot glasses. Pampering…..for the next spread.
Kothamalli…this Malaysian delicacy with strong Indian antecedents…minced prawn and cucumber on cucumber medallions….a connoisseurs delight. Ah! Yes, put me in that bracket, I truly enjoyed that flavor. Subtle and mysterious..…teasing moments. But the grilled red snapper doused in rice wine as a marinade and lightly grilled was bearing upon us. With its combo of sauteed Bok, choi and carrots…one could not help but grin like Bugs Bunny.

But can one ever complete a meal without some good rice and curry. Well the Thai favorites of Massaman and your choice of Red, Yellow, Green. We feasted on the Green curry and the Massaman in Tapas style…with lemon grass rice and steamed rice.
But before I wind up, let me tell you another aspect of ‘Tapas’. In Sanskrit it means striving for Nirvana or even striving for perfection in a particular field. The Desserts….Banana and date pancake in the caramelized custard sauce, the coconut panacotta and the crowning glory…the Toblerone dessert cocktail. Where do I I talk about the panacotta with its strawberry, mint, ginger and lemongrass flavor or the hot pancake or the sip of divine bailey, kahlua, hersheys choc, cream and shave choc ‘interventions’? I had reached ‘Nirvana’ and it happens when you dine at Manga……Tapas style.

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