Tuesday, October 18, 2011

When Asians Met Pesto

The real pesto is a classic Italian sauce made with pine-nuts, garlic, basil, parmigiano regiano and a little cream can be used to blend into a smooth mixture. So, I was having fun with pesto and decided to give it an Asian twist. I have used all the ingredients that are commonly found in Asian markets and grocery stores. It was a fun experiment, tastes surprisingly unique and delicious.

Asian Peanut Pesto – for 1 cup

Peanuts, peeled ¼ cup
Garlic, peeled 4 cloves
Basil a handful (You can use sweet basil or Holy Basil [Tulsi leaves])
Processed Cheese, grated (preferably Parmesan cheese) ½ cup
Coconut Milk ½ cup

Add the peanuts, garlic, basil, cheese and coconut milk in a blender jar. Blend all the ingredients together. Make a smooth paste.
You can use peanut pesto with grilled or boiled potato/ Boil pasta to al dente, drain out the excess water and mix in the pesto/ Use it in soups or sandwiches.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Creamy Creamy Kukkad! Keep it Coming

Name: Pratap's The Dhaba
Location: Link Plaza, Oshiwara
Contact: 022 – 263222323
Date of Visit: 1st October, 2011 [Dinner]

Yummm..mmy. Go to this Dhaba and try out their Chawla’s Special chicken. You will not want to stop eating and probably not need a finger bowl as well, if like me you end up licking your fingers clean. When I think about it, the taste of that creamy chicken gravy is still lingering in my imagination. I would love to try my hand at making it one day, but don’t worry I don’t think I will be able to unleash the mystery behind this Chawla’s special recipe. I think I will have to bribe the chef for that.

I have just one word, strange. They have tried really hard to bring the Punjab ka Gaon and Dhaba feel in the chaos of Mumbai city. The owners’ attempt makes the place look strange in a lot of ways. They have these statue figures in a village like setting which makes it look different but not appealing. The seating is traditional, with woven cots and bolsters and lanterns to light up the outside seating area. The inside seating area is regular and a little cramped up.

Value For Money
In this side of the city, with good food, decent ambience, the food was very reasonable. This is a fairly inexpensive and a very affordable place. I noticed a lot of families and groups with little children, also seated around us.

The menu, just like the ambience, is strange. It is a wooden board shaped like a flag, it is meant to be user friendly, but its not. It is really difficult to handle this menu. The list of items is short and precise. The menu does not include similar looking items, with the same taste and curry but different names. It is very direct and simple.

We ordered both Chef’s specials along with butter Naan. The Chawla’s special chicken in a creamy white sauce was awesome. The creamy, white gravy was full of flavour and had a distinct combination of spices that gave it a very unique and memorable flavour. Being creamy, it did not have the slightest tinge of sweetness in flavour. The other special on the list Kukkad Bawarchi Di Pasand, was not really so special. It was good but not great and certainly not comparable with the Chawla’s special curry.

 It was a masaledar brown gravy chicken but I can say it got overshadowed by the sheer perfection of the other chawla's special. The makhani dal was really creamy, and cream was all I could taste really, so yes, it tasted good but I think it was more the magic of the cream than the chef. I would prefer dal with a little less cream, so that I can get the flavour of spices in it and the texture of the dal. The accompaniments served along were very interesting, an onion punched in the centre sprinkled with some chaat masala and some pickled garlic and green chillies. The Phirni was nice, but there was no real fragrance or flavour in it to make it stand out in any way. 

The restaurant was really busy and the servers did pay attention to our table. There were times when we struggled to get their attention but over all they were courteous and attentive. They did underestimate our appetite a little, he told us that six naans would be sufficient for five of us seated at the table. I think we ordered about ten naans in all, if not more. I guess we really loved their chicken curry.

That Thing About This place
The Chawla’s Special chicken, you must try it out.

Ambience: 7/10 Good
Value For Money: 8/10 Very Good
Menu: 7/10 Good
Food: 8.5/10 Very Good
Service: 8/10 Very Good
That Thing About this Place: 8/10 Very Good
Good Ambience + Very Good Value for Money+ Good Menu+ Very Good Food + Very Good Service+ Very Good That Thing About This place= Good
Rating: 8 on Ten

Can You See That Hole In My Pocket? Oh No, It Is Only Visible To The Chef Then.

Name: The Earth Plate, Sahara Star
Location: The Earth plate, Domestic Airport, Santacruz
Contact: 022 – 39895000
Date of Visit: 28th September, 2011 [Dinner]

I don’t mind having a chicken sandwich which is only okay for a hundred odd bucks at a café around the corner but if you are going to charge me over six hundred bucks for a chicken sandwich at a fancy restaurant, then that sandwich better be terrific. ‘Only okay’ Sandwich is not good enough. I know you are thinking that the location of Sahara Star is just perfect, a decent place so close to the airport. The ambience compensates for the ordinary taste of the sandwich and the gorgonzola cheese pasta that I ordered, but food matters, after all that is what I am really paying for.  My wallet won’t let me forget about it which means my tongue should remember it too. I will go again to this place because it is decent place to meet someone visiting from out of town for a couple of hours and the ambience is alright.

In comparison with other restaurants of its kind, the style is chic and contemporary. The setting of this place is not planned well. I believe that whoever placed the tables did not consider the spacing between the tables. To go over to my place on the sofa, I had to be careful not to fall into the lap of the man sitting on the next table. The tables were placed really close together and it was hard to have a private conversation with my father, who was visiting on that day. Most of the diners in the restaurant seemed like business folks. I was seated in a section opposite the non vegetarian buffet spread. This section was separate from the main seating area and comparatively more private. 

Value For Money
Most of the other food joints located close to the domestic airport are highly over priced. The coffee shop of Sahara Star is way better in terms of service, ambience and value for money. I have visited this restaurant on weekdays and weekends and it is always full. Other restaurants in this category have a more considerate staff, better tasting food and ambience. The only unique selling point of Sahara Star is its fantastic location and monopoly to a certain extent, being among the only good hotels in the vicinity of domestic airport.

The ala carte menu is not very extravagant. It has a short list of items. They tend to promote their buffet more. That is quite suitable, considering that most of the guests are business folks and might not always have the luxury to wait for an ala carte order to be prepared. The buffet had a range of items and cuisines to choose from. It looked good but not very extravagant. A few Indian dishes, some oriental and fewer continental main course dishes. The salads and appetiser selection had a wide variety to choose from.


Disappointing, is the only way I can describe the food in Sahara Star. I have eaten sandwiches while working in some of the Mumbai five star hotels and they always have something really special about the way they prepare those sandwiches, there is that secret ingredient that gives a simple chicken sandwich the X factor. That X factor which makes that sandwich worth the money. The chicken sandwich in Namak was worse than in many of the city’s ordinary stand alone cafés.

Imagine potato pasta in a creamy blue cheese sauce, do you see the picture in your head? Doesn’t the description just seduce you? I was already imagining the robust taste of gorgonzola, creamy and flavourful like silk, rolling in my mouth with the soft potato pasta. Well, the pasta wasn’t soft, the sauce not silky and for the flavour, I would be able to tell had the Chef remembered to add salt in his preparation. I have tasted gorgonzola cheese innumerable times and believe me, that was not it. I appreciate subtle flavours, and I agree that cheesy dishes do not often need salt. But call the Chef and make him taste this, do you think this pasta has any flavour? I mean, this dish made me really angry. Do you take your customers for a fool to offer them this? Just because you have a fancy set up, you won’t care about what you serve, is that it? I really think that the chefs and staff of Sahara Star should taste their ‘subtle’ flavours and the meals that other hotels in the same category serve and see the difference for themselves.

I don’t know whether the staff members of this place are complacent or just plain rude. I believe that the restaurant is too full, all the time, so, they don’t care what the customers think of their behaviour. It seems to me like they are doing us a favour by taking the order. They don’t even bare a smile on their face to greet the customer. I mean that the treatment of the staff could actually ruin your mood, so steer clear. They are always too full and therefore too busy to serve you. It is a struggle to get the attention of the staff in The Earth Plate. It is a simple rule with a restaurants service staff, if you don’t listen, you are no good.

That Thing About This Place
There is nothing about this place, practically speaking, in terms of food, ambience or service. If there is one thing why this coffee shop does well, is only because of their location. Clearly, the staff of Sahara Star thinks that they can afford to be mediocre.

Ambience: 6.5/10 Good
Value For Money: 7/10 Good
Menu: 7/10 Good
Food: 6/10 Good
Service: 6.5/10 Good
That Thing About this Place: 7/10 Good
Good Ambience + Good Value for Money+ Good Menu+ Good Food + Good Service+ That Thing About This place= Good
Rating: 6 on Ten