Friday, May 27, 2011

Everybody’s Talking

Everybody is talking about a new place in town. ‘Town?’ I ask. The original Headquarters of Goa –The HQ in Vasco. Well for those who find it difficult to follow, let me explain. Around the year 1683 when the Maratha king Sambhaji marched towards Goa with his army, the Portuguese planned to shift their headquartes from Old Goa to Vasco. Now a few centuries later we do have The HQ in Vasco. Would it take care of the needs of the people?

‘Ori has fulfilled a need of a high quality Pan Asian restaurant in Vasco with specialities like Sushi, Dim sums, and Nasi Goreng which are delectable and authentic,’ says Vaishali Joshi. ‘The crispiest wantons in town,’ says R Ashok. ‘The food is good,’ says Kiran Shirsat.

They were talking about Ori…short form for Oriental at The HQ-the new hotel in Vasco. So we decided to check it out. Let’s talk about the menu. Extensive reserch done by Chef SK Raj and his team I realise. Forget about these Far East tours advertised for the summer. The chef has a ‘great repetoire’ quoting Vaishali, of Eastern delicacies…China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan. Where does one start?
At the very beginning…the starters also termed as small plates. ‘To tease the palate’ chef Raj explains. So we started with the sushi plate-the smoked salmon sushi. I watched Joe tentatively dip his sushi in the mix of wasabi and soya which I had prepared. Allowed him first because I had inadvertently added an extra dose of wasabi. Take care of that stuff it’s dynamite. But my wily hubby made his own combo leaving me to take my own medicine. But the taste of that sushi? Chef Tika had done it to perfection. The plate was wiped off in a jiffy.

But the menu has been cleverly planned…even for the ‘traditionlists.’ The Far East Mixed Non Vegetarian starters for two- the platter contains an assortment of old favorites. Calamari squid crispy fried, Tempura Prawns with the wasabi mayo, Chicken Dim sums and Chicken Satay. Like I said ‘old favorites.’ I look around the classy restaurant- napkin rings, glass underplates, comfortable seating..’Perfect for business meetings and entertainment,’ says General ManagerTanvir Singh, I could not agree with him more. But when the starters arrived and were polished off within a jiffy..well there was no one ‘talking’ at the table. There is a similar platter for the vegetarians too.

Now after having an assortment from China, Thailand and Japan I was determined to try out something from Singapore. The Fishermans Soup. Goans would love it. This creamy yellow soup has all the ingredients which we ‘die’ for. King prawns, squid, mussels, rock fish, slivers of crab in that spiced coconut milk. We slurped through that preparation longing for more till we were told that there was much more to follow.

The salad-this time from the Phillipines. Not very comfortable with this cuisine I looked at the smoked fish and peppers tossed in nam pla and a hint of sugar. Well the Filipinos know how to mix a bowl. A definite recommendation from us.
The ‘Mains’ were on its way. Chef Tika had planned an assortment. Gong Bao from China (wok fried chicken with dry chiilies, soy sauce and chillies) with Jasmine flavoured Rice. Now it is important to choose the ‘combo’ right. There is such a variety…you could get the flavor wrong. The mix was heavenly and a special recommendation for those who do not like too much ‘spice’ in their life. I looked across at hubby…enjoying the fare. The only extra spice he could stomach…well not much because he has got me. But the next preparation of Gang Phed Gong..the Thai red prawn curry with Phad Thai noodles from Thailand is ‘spiced’. Now another option with this curry is plain steamed rice…but these flat rice noodles are popular to the core. The Nasi Goreng from Indonesia could be considered as a meal by itself. Wok fried rice tossed in tamarind and egg and served with chicken satay….oohh! and belive me there is a lot more to check, but how much can one eat.

Now I am not a real lover of Thai desserts…especially the sticky rice preparations types. But the chefs have innovations galore. Even to the Chinese Date pancakes. Here he has created a minced nut wanton with ice cream, a Coin Mang from Thailand which is cointreau caramelised nuts with Mango ice cream, and Vodka lychees with ice cream. It will have you screaming with ecstacy.

I scream….you scream….everybody is talking about this new place in town!

The HQ- SwatantraPath,
P.O.Box 31
Vasco Goa 403802
Tel no: 0832 2500015/18


It’s an O...O...Ohh!! All throughout. O Hotel...O Asian...and the third ‘O’ with the ‘h’..’h’...’h’...let me tell you about that experience.

Candolim, the mecca of good food during season, now remains ‘wanting’. The reason being that most of the stand alone restaurants have closed shop citing ‘off season’. And yours truly was looking out for variety..say a good Burmese Khowsuey. By a stroke of luck we happened to meet with chef Pritam Executive Sous Chef of O Hotel. ‘Come over to Harajuku,’ he invites, ‘perhaps you could try out our Pan Asian delicacies.’

Now Harajuku literally translated means ‘fashion street’ in Japanese. So what would the fashion statement be there I wondered. We walked into the trendy lobby and looked in awe at the four large white pots stationed at the entrance. And the white canopies over gravelled stone and ‘sink-in’ sofas. ‘High-expectations’ was the reason for my first ‘O’. Yes with a look like this...standardized as with the other restaurants of the chain it is ‘fine dining’ to the core.

Chef Pritam offered us a taste of dshes from his menu. China...Thailand...Burma...Sri Lanka.synonymous with those four white pots....I thought to myself as we waited for the starters to arrive. ‘we have our recipes standardised across the chain,’ Chef Pritam states as the Chicken in RCP sauce arrives on the table. RCP I queried. I have heard of oyster, sweet and sour, hot garlic, schezwan, black bean for most chinese preaparations...but RCP? Its Roasted Chilli Paste I am informed. I take a tentative bite of the preparation...the sauce might be ‘innovative’ but the taste is traditional. Onion, pimento...the pieces of chicken were delicately flavoured...not too spicy...just right.

We decided not to eat too much as the Khowsuey promised(which is a full meal by itself) had still to come. So what is a Khowsuey? It is a traditional Burmese dish… essentially a one-dish meal comprising of noodles in a soup of curried vegetables in coconut milk, served with a variety of contrasting accompaniments. Each diner can individually mix the rich array of accompaniments to create their own original taste sensation. The ingredients that make the difference are fried garlic, coriander, lemon juice, fried onions and chillies. And as the waiter brought in the ingredients I realized that this kitchen had provided much more…besides those mentioned above. Potato crisps (salli), fried basil, fried crunchy peanuts, spring onions besides the fried variety…..

I worked on my mix. Definitely the fried onion, garlic, red chillies, lime and spring onions. I took a generous helping of that noodle and coconut milk curry with mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and gave it a good mix. Then went in the crunchy peants and garnish of coriander and crisps. And took a big helping…Heavenly…my second ‘h’.. Those crunchies with the slurpy curried noodles and the fred onion and garlic…I closed my eyes in ecstacy. Mmmm! Definitely recommended. If you see little kids on TV ads slurping their noodles till the last wriggle….well we were in competition.

But Chef Pritam was determined to kill us with kindness. The wriggle was still in his mind and this time with a flat variety. The Phad Thai… of Thailands National dishes. Now those who have been doing some reading on the subject would be aware that this dish has been known in various forms over centuries- it was thought to have been brought to Thailand by Vietnamese traders, but was only made popular in the 1930”s by the prime minister Luang as part of his campaign of reducing rice consumption. Whatever was his motive…..I looked at the preparation that was placed in front of us. Stir fried rice noodles with tamarind juice, red chilli pepper, tofu and crushed peanuts, coriander and lime. I wriggled in ecstacy…..simply great.

But the war was still not over. There was no cease fire in sight. Chef’s ammo was in full blast…the Sri Lankan Prawn curry with steamed rice. ‘No’, I protested verbally, but the Tiger in me roared as the aroma of the prawn assailed my nostrils. I took a small helping and then another and then another. Words cannot explain. That curry is one for the foodies. Onions, Tomatoes, Capsicum, garlic…no it is the methodology. No ordinary curry. If you have not had a whiff of this before..a definite recommendation.

It was a meal to remember. While I am not a ‘lover’ of Thai desserts..the Sago in sweetened coconut milk flavoured with lichees is refreshing on a hot day. But This Chef has a few aces up his sleeve. Onto the table came his special. Pannacota with pistachio on a bed of saffron….Holistic…another ’h’ attached to the chefs repertoire.

If those four white jars contained any treasures from Alladin’s Treasure trove these are definitely some of the treasures I would recommend they store.O…O…Ohhh!!!

O Hotel
Candolim, Bardez Goa
Tel no: 0832 3047000

Pick of the Season

What would be your ‘pick’ at a particular time of the year? Now this term could be used by designers, colors and many creative ‘norms’ that one could decide upon. But in this case I am talking about ‘l Orange’…, not a color but a restaurant that is well established to blow away the heat and rain in what is termed as ‘off season’ in our tiny state.

So we decided to let our hair down and enjoy a night off in this sweltering heat. The restaurant is cozy, with a small sizzling grill right at the entrance. We walked in to a rich voice singing ‘Killing me softly…’ ‘It’s retro night,’ says Ashwin Lobo the proprietor of the place. He is the man behind the ‘food’…. We were joined shortly with his smiling partner Joe Dias...his specialty? The ‘mixes’ that go into his famous drinks! What a combo. ‘So what is it going to be this time?’ My Joe asks Partner Joe. Trust him to focus on starters. ‘A change from the last time,’ smiles partner Joe. I must take care not to get the wires crossed. ‘Sunset? Lady Monroe?’ was the query. The names sounded sizzling like the BBQ grill. I decided to check out the drinks menu to find out what ‘sizzled’ in these concoctions.

Now while we were in the ‘sizzling’ mode Ashwin briefed us about his ‘off season’, perhaps ‘season’ for us locals with everything returning back to normalcy to enjoy ourselves. ‘This is the time where we have an elaborate BBQ menu besides our old Goan favorite one,’ he states. I looked back at the potatoes dressed in their silver jackets and the rich red beetroot salad all tossed up and ready to be served as accompaniments with the grill. ‘Those accompaniments change everyday,’ Ashwin explains as we set about deciding on the starters.

‘Partner Joe’ brings about a tall glass of ‘chilled’ Orange Sunset. No punning on the word. The golden orange frosted drink seemed just right for a summer evening. My Joe takes a refreshing sip and nods his approval, that melodious voice…I am told that the singer is Richard..and he was singing ‘the House of the Rising Sun. The restaurant was filling up, local families and the singer got a huge round of applause as his last note died down.

And the starters had arrived. Waiters dressed in funky, trendy uniforms had placed the Honey ginger prawns (prawns cooked with an Oriental fusion touch) and spiced chicken wings peri peri. Now this dish needs no introduction. Remember I told you that Ashwin has a vast ‘repertoire’ of Goan preparations up his sleeve. ‘Learned them from my mother,’ he confesses as we ‘dig’ into those delicacies. For the ‘local’ flavor he has a ‘simply out of this world’ preparation of roast pigling chilli fry. Out of this world because I have yet to see many establishments feature this on their regular menu. Yum…Yum…Yum.

But the ‘piece de resistance’…the BBQ which we had ordered was now approaching the table. BBQ chicken and Baby Rack ribs (the underbelly) was our order. Of course there is a wide variety of seafood...the fisherman’s catch of the day (snapper, prawns, calamari, pomfret…) you take your pick available too.

The BBQ chicken was a thick wedge of boneless chicken steak served with that promised jacket potato and beetroot salad. The hot potato had a dressing of herb butter, while the sauce served with the steak was a rich garlic mayo. The beetroot salad had its own tangy vinaigrette dressing. Now you can imagine the combo of flavors your taste buds are subjected to. ‘My mouth goes boom…bang a bang....boom bang a bang…’ was that another retro number? NO! My mind was echoing the feelings of delight. And the Baby rack rib? If you are a true lover of pork fat…which I am…remember the story of Jack Sprat and his wife? I eat no ‘lean’. Yummy…yummy …yummy I got love in my tummy…simply delicious.

Partner Joe had brought in another one of his ‘special’ concoctions. They seemed to be going well with the food, because ‘my Joe’ was in a state of bliss. Guess the music and the drinks besides the food adds ‘zest’ (no pun on the Orange), to the evening. I mentioned this to Ashwin who agreed. ‘We have Wednesdays with Jazz and Blues, Fridays is dance night...salsa and rock, while Sundays is the ‘retro’ evening.’

But he had not stopped killing us with his food. Meat ball in the ‘home mode’ recipe … with sausage pulao…. Those minced balls in that green gravy…mind blowing. ‘It’s just the jirem miren mix,’ he says modestly.

Can one eat more? There was the dessert still to come and Ashwin had recommended the brownie with ice cream. A definite plus to end the meal…but for those who like to linger on through the night, Partner Joe has a special mix…’a perfect breakfast because it contains all four adult food groups…fat, sugar, caffeine and alcohol.. says the menu.’ And if you think it is a breakfast item you got to be joking. It is Irish Coffee for people who want to relax and chill , till it is time to take 40 winks before breakfast.

There is no pick when it comes to a choice of ‘Oranges and Apples’. L’Orange is definitely the choice to make.

Celebration Time

‘Time for celebration,’ Joe chortles looking forward to pampering his taste buds after a stringent 40 days of ‘off meat.’ So come lunchtime we were on our way to find a ‘pampering hole.’ Little did my ‘better half’ realise that most ‘up market’ restaurants were open for only dinner. ‘Lets try Resort Rio,’ I state, ‘we have not been there awhile.’

‘Elephants are vegetarian? Aren’t they?,’ I ask sweetly looking at the mammoth standing at the entrance. ‘So what has that got to do with our celebration today’ he asks. ‘Because dear sweetheart,’ I quip, ‘we are visiting Jalsa their vegetarian restaurant which means celebration.’ The look on my ‘staunch’ non vegetarian hubby’s face was priceless. But luckily the appearance of GM Terrance Nunes and Sunil Mattai stopped any further comment.

We decided to go to the ‘Pickled Mango’ the coffee shop for a pre lunch drink.

‘Try their Aphrodite’s kiss,’ I cajole hoping to get him into a better frame of mind. The dark rum, fresh fruits blended with orange juice and fresh lime sounded inviting. But no takers! ‘Let’s not cause Ripples…’ I say punning on another drink mentioned on the menu. Cashew feni with white rum, fresh lime and sugar syrup would definitely ‘perk’ him up. But a Mohito was his ‘spirit’ for the day.

We were joined by the owners Anoop Shah and his wife, who had put this wonderful edifice together. Elephants snorted out fountains of water in the pool where holiday makers were busy ‘beating’ the heat. ‘Our vegetarian restaurant, Jalsa is one where there is minimal oil used,’ says Mr Shah. I perk up at the thought.

So after the drink we go to this delightful ‘Indian’ restaurant that serves a Thali…and a different one for lunch and dinner and every day of the week. ‘It has its own separate kitchen,’ explains Sunil, ‘and if required, we cater ‘no onion…no garlic’ food too.’ So what was on the menu today? This restaurant boasts of a variety of Kerala, Gujarati and North Indian vegetarian specialities. Today, he had focused on a combination of Rajasthani, Gujarathi and North Indian preparations.

The starter arrived. Dal Bhati. Now this is a unique ‘aam admi’ preparation of Rajasthan is a meal by itself. A wheat katchori with ajwain broken into a bowl of dal. It was different…something down to earth and homely. And looking at the variety being offered, I decided to peck on the preparation. ‘Our food is unlimited,’ says Sunil. The Thalis were placed in front of us….with the Chaas. As we waited for the piping hot food to emerge from the kitchen, I realised that there were not many ‘pure vegetarian’ restaurants along this belt.

And then the bombardment started. I use the term bombardment because I realise that there is a limit to ones capacity to eat. Surti puffs…they resemble a spring roll and stuffed with green peas….i moved over to the accompaniment tray and took a liberal helping of green and tamarind chutney….delicious. I took another. The Bhindi Masala…no oil to be seen. Firm to the bite. The Paneer Makhanwala….with the phulkas …soft melting moments. Both the panneer and the phulka. Then from Gujarat…the white mutter, aloo tamatar khatta, Gujarathi dal, Gujarathi kadi (Yuummm). And then the crowning glory…Aam ras with hot crispy poories. Well there was steamed rice and vegetable pulao to eat too.

Fruit custard and ice cream was the dessert of the day. The restaurant had filled up by the time we were on the dessert. Indians love to eat late. And I had no idea that Goa attracted so many vegetarians on the ‘tourist’ belt.

Joe for once looked happy. He confessed that he had eaten four phulkas, besides the poories for the lunch. But celebrations were not yet over. As we left the restaurant I happened to glance into the ‘pastry shop’. Chocolate Toblerone was displayed. No saying no to the offer of this mousse. Chef Kapil Kumar had a rich mouth watering temptation in store. I begged for the recipe so that you would know what I mean. After all it was ‘Celebration Time’. Wasn’t it?

Resort Rio,
Tambudki, Arpora-GOA
Tel: 0832 2267300