February 12, 2009

A Taste of Home - Part II

And so... on to Delhi. Before we get to the food, I just want to mention that the traffic situation seems to have improved a little bit from a year ago. Last year, it seemed like every time I stepped out of my house I was stuck in a traffic jam. This year, except for one nasty jam on Press Enclave Road in which I spent something like 300 hours, the traffic seemed to be moving for the most part. (And that one jam was exacerbated by the fact that the person I was with was trying really hard to pretend that she wouldn't rather be anywhere but there. Which made it all the more awkward and uncomfortable. Another story – let's move on.)

I had lunch at Sartoria at the Priya Complex in Vasant Vihar. They did a good Caesar salad and the chicken soup that I had was pretty substantial and well made. And my friend seemed to be pretty happy with her pasta, which came in an American sized portion in a huge platter. However, in what would become a recurring theme of my Delhi trip, the dessert was a disaster – what was billed as a blueberry cheesecake was instead congealed paneer with what had to be the equivalent of Hershey's syrup.

To make amends we went to the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at the Select City Walk Mall ('least that's what I think it was called) and tried their 'mousse-style' cheesecake. Word to the wise – don't.

Maybe living in a city which gave the world Junior's and Roxy's has made me a cheesecake snob but I make no apologies for that. After all, it's called a 'New York style' cheesecake, ain't it?

I also had lunch another day with the same friend at a place called Azzurro at the PVR Complex in Saket. It's supposed to be a Mediterranean restaurant and it is run by a chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu. When we got there for lunch around 1 PM, admittedly on a weekday, it was completely empty which to me is always a bit of a warning sign. Maybe it gets really busy for dinner – I sure hope it does. She had a mushroom risotto and I had a fillet of sole with lemon butter sauce. The fish itself was pretty good (although I have my doubts as to whether it was actually sole) – light, flaky and full of flavor. From all accounts the risotto was pretty good too (once again in a gigantic serving – what's up with these super-sized portions in Delhi?!). What wasn't so good was the side of mashed potatoes served with the fish. It is described on the menu as a fondant, which is actually a sugar, water and gelatin paste used for icings on cakes and stuff. Well, the kindest thing I can say about the 'potato fondant' was that they nailed the  paste part – dense, heavy and almost totally devoid of taste. When a Cordon Bleu chef can't get mashed potatoes right (especially after pretentiously calling it fondant), then it's probably a portent of things to come. Sure enough, the dessert – a strawberry cheesecake this time – was another disaster. The chef clearly loves his fondant though, 'cause there is a chocolate one on the menu as well.

The lesson as always: when in India, stay away from the cheesecake! Stick with rasmalai or rasgullah or something. Would I heed this lesson? Of course not! And good thing too because otherwise I would never  have rediscovered Big Chill.

Back when I still lived in Delhi, Big Chill was a newly opened ice-cream, coffee and dessert place in East of Kailash. It had already begun to make waves and was giving Nirula's, the then reigning ice-cream and dessert place a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. Well, all these years later, Big Chill has expanded to three stores in Delhi (although the original one in EoK has apparently closed), one of which is in Khan Market and where I, over the course of the next couple of weeks, became a regular. They make a blueberry cheesecake which was far and away the best cheesecake I would eat on my trip and which, I am reasonably assured, is in fact the best cheesecake in Delhi. The cheesecake at Big Chill is wonderfully  light and airy, the blueberry topping is just so and it even has an authentic graham cracker crust. Over the next two weeks, I ended up buying 10 slices and not only were they consistently good but my Dad said that they reminded him of his last visit to New York.

In fact, Khan Market has quite the collection of nifty, hole-in-the-wall gems. I got kababs one day from Khan Chacha's Kababs which were absolutely brilliant (and for how good they are, pretty damn cheap). There is the old reliable Café Turtle of course where I took my dentist and her husband, both visiting from the US, for tea. They gave high marks to the falafel and hummus at Café Turtle and they're originally from Israel so I figure they should know a thing or two about falafel and hummus. It seems that Café Turtle has also become a franchise and have stores in other parts of Delhi. More power to them, I say!

We had lunch, my family and I, at the Host in Connaught Place and I don't know why or how we ended up there. I mean, I've lived in Delhi for over 25 years and I had never been to the Host. Not once. And, as far as I know, my parents had never been to the Host either. The only reason I can think of is that it was late in the day and we were too lazy and tired to walk the additional 100 yards to Berco's. Anyway, we went to the Host and the food was the worst I ate on this trip. The portions were meager, the butter chicken was an abomination – dry and cloyingly sweet, and the tandoori rotis were more burnt than not. But... they had Kalyani Black Label beer! The only place I ever found it. I couldn't find it in Mumbai (it is apparently only a northern Indian brand) and most places I went to in Delhi didn't have it either. So props to the Host for at least getting that one thing right.

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