February 14, 2009

A Taste of Home - Part III

And finally, going from worst to best - here are the three best meals I had in Delhi on this trip:

Flavors in Defence Colony: This one was a tough call. Back in the day, the owner of Flavors, one Mr. Tarsillo Nataloni, treated the brother rather nastily and we decided we would never go back. Fast forward about 10 years - a friend and I are looking for a place for lunch with outdoor seating and her first choice, Blanco in Khan Market is reserved for a private event. She suggests Flavors and I reluctantly agree. Good thing too. She had the risotto (what is it with women and risottos by the way? Is this some new Delhi trend that has completely passed me by?), I had a linguine Amatriciana and we shared an antipasti platter. Her risotto looked really good and she said that it tasted even better. The antipasti platter was really really good. I don't know if the salumi on it was imported or home-made (it wasn't priced as if it were imported and if it was home-made, my respect for ol' Nat just increased tenfold - as a salumist that is, not as a person). The Amatriciana was of course limited by the fact that Nat was using (per force, I'm sure) bacon instead of guanciale and linguine instead of bucatini but I had anticipated that and, within those limitations, it just about hit the spot. The sauce was appropriately chunky harkening to its rustic Roman origin, the sweetness of the onions and the fierceness of the red pepper flakes complemented each other beautifully and the linguine, which was perfectly al dente, wasn't drowned in the sauce. For a garnish, there was a drizzle of olive oil and shredded Romano cheese. All I can say is this - Mr. Nataloni could probably run a restaurant in Little Italy. I mean, he's already got the disposition to match!

Karim Hotel on Matia Mahal: Well, actually it's on Gali Kababian, if you want to get all technical about it, but Matia Mahal will do fine I think. Pretty much every non-herbivore foodie in Delhi knows where Karim's is. Everything that needs to be said about Karim's has already been said so there's little more that I can add. We used to go to Karim's fairly often when I was in college, to get their famous Nihari for breakfast and the place seems to have expanded since then. It's also a lot spiffier - less of the dhaba feel. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. What I can say with certainty is that their Tandoori Raan - an entire roasted goat leg, carved at the table (or not, if you prefer to use your fingers. And we did) is all that. And they probably make the best mutton qorma in the city. 'Nuff said.

Chez Mom's: My mother makes, by an order of magnitude, the very best mutton pulao in the whole wide world, bar none (yes, I'm looking at you Chef Imtiaz Qureshi). I don't know how she does it - I haven't been able to replicate her dish despite scrupulously following her recipe - but she does it, time after time after time. Her hit ratio has to be in the high 90s. If you control for the fact that she is a brilliant cook generally (she has a repertoire that would allow her to go three meals a day for a year without having to repeat herself), one reason for her extraordinary virtuosity with the pulao has to lie with her growing up in Faizabad and Lucknow (from where, incidentally, Imtiaz Qureshi also hails). Her pulao is a thing of beauty - each grain of rice is separate and seems like it was individually coated with the juices from the meat. The spices are perfectly balanced. The meat itself is falling of the bone tender. It's topped with the most perfectly fried crispy onions. She usually serves a raita to go with it - let the record show that I have never, ever eaten that raita. My standing request to her is that on these annual trips to India, my first meal and my last meal at home be her mutton pulao. Thus far, she's indulged me. I just hope that I continue to stay on her 'good' list.

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