Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: Times City Gourmet Week 2014 #GW2014 at Levo, Andheri W, Mumbai.

My life has always been an irony. As a kid, I was quite amused at the prospect of wearing spectacles. No matter how much my parents tried to convince me otherwise, and stubborn that I am, I looked into the telly so closely, it would probably put Sherlock Holmes with his magnifying glass to shame. No extra points for guessing that I did end up with a pair of spectacles after years of trying, and hated it almost immediately. I grew up to be a good looking teenaged girl, but chose to call myself fat and lower my self esteem while I spiraled down into an emotional eating phase and actually did end up getting fat. I had Rapunzel- like long tresses which I chose to go chop-chop on, just because I was being rebellious. Hated that too, so decided to bleach my hair... By now I am sure you agree with me. I hated food and cooking before, and here I am, writing a food blog and conducting baking classes, so while I am trying to eat right and shed the excess flab off, it is only fitting for my inbox to be full of invitations to the best restaurants for the best events. I caved in.

Picture Courtesy : Levo Facebook Page
It has been raining Gourmet Weeks in Mumbai off late. Just two weeks ago was the Tastes of Europe restaurant week where top restaurants around the city participated in creating a menu to celebrate the produce of Europe being brought into India, starting with Mumbai. Last year I visited the erstwhile Otto Infinto (now changed to Cafe Infinito) and had a fantastic 5 course dinner. The fond memories made me extra excited about receiving an invitation to attend the Gourmet Week again this year. I chose to go to the newly opened Levo in Andheri West, for 2 reasons - First that the menu looked great on paper and seemed affordable, and secondly I really wanted this to be a good experience, for Andheri does not have a good place which serves gourmet cuisine consistently, with that amount of space which can cater to parties and huge crowds.

Here is a snapshot of the menu that was created by Levo for the Times City Gourmet Week 2014.

The Menu
We started off with a glass of wine each, and I went for the usual, Fratelli Chenin Blanc. I can never get enough of this wine. My plus one decided to go for a glass of Shiraz.

Cheers!

First Course was the Amuse Bouche, which were Goat Cheese Lollipops, studded with soup sticks and served with a Balsamic reduction. A perfect start to our meal and did exactly what it was supposed to do - beg us leaving for more and set the tone for the meal to come.

I had the Poached Pear and Arugula salad with a Red Wine Vinaigrette. The Arugula was not of the freshest kind, you know where you have a distinct bite to the leaves, when they have been sitting in the fridge for too long. Sadly enough, that was not the worst part of the dish. Poached Pears are sweet in themselves so the Red Wine Vinaigrette only made it sweeter. I wished there was some more Feta Cheese to offset the cloying sweetness.

Arugula and Poached Pear Salad

The Sambuca Prawn Salad did not taste like Sambuca at all. The portion was quite small. While it wasn't bad, I would not go back and order this.

Sambuca Prawn Salad

The next course was the Pizza course. Personal Pizzas were served to us, I went for the one with Prawn and Salmon, while my plus one went for the Pepperoni and Lamb Pizza. The crust was crisp and thin. Here's the thing with places like these which offer Pizza on their menu - I feel they should really celebrate the Pizza. If a restaurant boasts of authentic flavours, and were priced at a steeper range, it is only natural for anyone to expect a Pizza that goes the extra mile, and by extra mile I do not mean exotic ingredients. I mean simple ingredients done impeccably. Exotic ingredients are just an added advantage. While we did not LOVE the Pizzas, we did not hate them either.

Far Left: Salmon and Prawn Pizza and Near Right: Pepperoni and Lamb Pizza
The next course was the Main Course. I chose the Ricotta Gnocchi with Peri Peri Sauce. The Gnocchi was pillowy and melt-in-the-mouth, and while I say that it was one of the best Gnocchi I have had in Mumbai, the downside is that the dish was completely ruined by the Peri Peri sauce. Peri Peri in my knowledge is an African based sauce which on paper seemed perfect to go with the cheesy Gnocchi. The overtly creamy gravy tasted like... nothing. It had no taste at all. At this point I was welling up inside, because I really wanted this to go well. I wanted to flaunt a good eating place in my area.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Peri Peri Sauce

My plus one chose the Braised Lamb Navarin with Forked Mashed Potato and thankfully this was a saving grace. The meat was tender and the sauce was perfectly seasoned. When I read forked mashed Potatoes on the menu I just felt it was an excuse for poorly mashed Potatoes but I was so wrong. It all worked harmoniously well. The half eaten Gnocchi from my plate was finished off by scraping away the sauce and rolling it in whatever was left over from the lamb to make it bearable.

Braised Lamb Navarin with Forked Mashed Potatoes

Looking at our reactions, the server came over and asked for feedback. He apologized for the Gnocchi dish and offered to replace it with the Lamb. Lovely gesture, but I did not go for it. I had to save some space for dessert.


Here is the other problem I had with Levo. You do not host a restaurant week if you don't have the supplies. 2 dishes that I was most excited about were unavailable. The Rawas and the Mississipi Pie. They offered us a Creme Brûlée instead of the Mississipi Pie.

Desserts.
 The Creme Brûlée was redeeming, but I don't know why there was a berry compote along with it. The Tiramisu had a chocolate sponge and a layer of whipped cream on it. You be the judge.

 I could not help but notice the amount of effort a boy seated on the next table was putting into cutting through his steak. I asked the family about their meal and they told me that the steak they had ordered for was rare and what came to the table was way over well done. Not just that, the Penne Jambalaya that they had was too spicy. I was watching them reach for water and calling out for more. I noticed a man in chef whites doing the rounds and addressing the tables but I have no idea why he chose to stand aside and send his server to ask us if everything was okay. As disappointed as I am with my meal, I seriously hope that the cooking staff at Levo was having a bad day. They really need to fix their food and they need to fix it fast. I hope Times City also goes over the menus at all the restaurants participating and makes sure that they are well stocked. When diners are out with a set meal with limited options, it would be nice if they were available too. I wish I had gone to some other restaurant, but I think I'm gonna wait till the next Gourmet Week!

The TimesCity Gourmet Week is on from 15th September 2014 to 21st September 2014. You can make reservations here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recipe: Couscous with Browned Garlic, Watermelon Seeds and Raisins.


I have been trying to jump on the healthy eating brigade since forever. The more I try to experiment, the more I love it. Call me typical, but I seem to stick to my goals better when I am documenting them. It makes me feel oddly answerable, and makes me work harder to keep up my work. 

I went out with the BFF for the 'Chef' movie. It was a mistake to enter the movie hall while we were hungry. I think my stomach started to hurt with the empty swallows and the drool worthy dishes and just the fact that I could not have them hurt me even more, and this was only 20 minutes into the movie. I can never forget how almost an entire movie hall rushed out on the verge of starting out a stampede, to the food vendors outside just so they could eat something, because it is impossible to watch the movie without food. We ended up eating a lot of unhealthy stuff, but I decided to make up for it next day for lunch. Why can't healthy food be awesome? It surely can. Here is how:

Couscous with Browned Garlic, Watermelon Seeds and Raisins.
Serves 1
Recipe: Self (and a little bit of 'Chef')

Ingredients:

1/3 Cup Couscous, uncooked
3/4 Cup Water
4 finely sliced Garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Chili Flakes
15 Raisins
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 chopped Tomato
Salt to taste
A squeeze of Lemon juice
Some chopped Coriander
A handful of Watermelon Seeds



Method:

In a pan (or in the microwave) heat up the water with salt until it comes to a simmer.

In the mean while, in another pan (should be with a lid) heat up Olive oil. Fry sliced Garlic till golden brown. Add in the chili flakes, Couscous and Raisins (I also added in a handful of blanched Green Peas). Toss to incorporate. Pour water over this and close the lid tight. leave untouched for 15 minutes.

In the mean while, heat up a dry pan and toast the Watermelon seeds for 5 seconds. This is strictly optional, you can have them as is!

Once the Couscous is done, fluff it with a fork and add the Tomato and Watermelon seeds, Serve with a squeeze of Lemon, some more Watermelon seeds, and lots of chopped Coriander. If you're anything like me, you will add a dash of Olive Oil over the top too!

Easy enough, right? It is quite yummy too, I promise.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Recipe: Thai Curry with Jasmine Rice.



Mothers are truly God's wonders. Other than being intuitive and unconditionally loving, they also have a good amount of 'tough love' going on for us, which is expressed in various forms from a yelling to taunting to sometimes letting you down just so you decide to prove her wrong. Little do we know that it is all a ploy, and while we prove it to her, she sheepishly smiles, for it is her victory. Just like that, Mom pulled me out of bed this Sunday just to tell me that I could not cook a good Thai Curry. I was nagged from step 1 to the final garnish, and when I asked her for feedback, all I received was a silent nod of approval. It was when I saw her go back for seconds (rare occurrence) that I realized I did deliver. She made me cook the Jasmine Rice again for dinner, just to finish the Thai Curry leftovers. I'll take that as a compliment!

Thai Curry
Serves 4-5
Recipe: Self/Various/Based on trial and error

Ingredients:

For the Curry:

4 Tbsp Thai Curry Paste (readily available in markets)
3 Tbsp Oil
1 Lemongrass Root (Optional)
2 Cups Diced Assorted Vegetables (I used Brinjal, Cherry Tomato, Baby Corn, Baby Onions. Mushrooms, Zucchini and Asparagus work great too!)
2 Cups Coconut Milk
1 Cup Prawns, de-veined, with tails on. (You can add Chicken or Tofu or Soy Nuggets)
1 tsp Palm Sugar/Sugar
Fish Sauce, to taste
2-3 Kaffir Lime Leaves
2-3 Basil Leaves

For the Rice:

1.5 Cups Medium Grained Rice
3.5 Cups Water
1 Jasmine Tea bag
Salt, to taste.

Method:

For the Curry:

Heat up Oil on a medium high pan, add in the Thai Curry paste. You can use the Green or Yellow or Red paste, as per your liking. Be careful as this will splatter. Cook thoroughly till you can smell the fragrance.

Add in the Vegetables and toss them well till coated. Keep mixing them around for 2 minutes. If you are making a Chicken/Tofu/Soy Nugget Thai Curry, your protein will go in at this stage. Mix for 2 extra minutes.

I used the Coconut Milk powder to make my Coconut milk. I made a cup and half of thin Coconut milk and a cup of thick Coconut Milk. If you're using the canned stuff, that is already thick enough, so use 3/4 Cup of thick canned Coconut Milk and dilute it with 3/4 Cup of warm water to make thin Coconut milk.

Add the thin Coconut milk to the vegetables and mix well. Turn the heat to medium low. Add the Sugar/Palm Sugar and mix. Leave the spatula in your gravy to avoid any splitting or curdling.

When the curry comes up to simmer, add in the prawns. Cover and cook for 3 minutes (you will still cook for these 3 minutes even if you do not add the Prawns). Finish with the thick Coconut milk, and check for seasoning. Add Fish sauce as per taste. Final flourish would be hand-torn leaves of Basil and Kaffir Lime.

For the Rice:

I cooked my rice in a pressure cooker. Simply throw all the ingredients in together and cook till done, about 20 minutes.

If you are making rice in a normal pan then I suggest boiling water first (use 4 cups water if cooking without pressure cooker), when it starts to boil, add in the tea bag and salt, and let it come to a vigorous rolling boil. Add in the rice and cook with the lid on until done, about 17 minutes on a medium low flame.

Discard tea bag before serving.

Enjoy!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Review: Asparagus Festival at Sofitel, Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai.


Image Courtesy: Google Images (brightsideglobaltrade.com)
Every year, on the 1st of January, I write a check list. It consists of 10 items. I evaluate myself on the basis of the same, on the 1st of January next year, which is when I make a new check list. One item that has been on my check list for the past 3 years is wanting to learn a new language and finally this year I took it off my list, giving up hope that I will ever get around to learn a new language. In my universe, things have a funny way of finding me when I give up on them, and just yesterday I attended my first class for learning conversational French language. I am so excited! The class was fun and interactive, and I got to learn so many new things! I am lucky that I got the company of my two beautiful friends, Anita and Ramya. We have been spamming each other's messages with Bonjour/Bonsoir and counting numbers from Zéro to Trente!

I could not have asked for a better day to visit the Sofitel chain of hotels, and be greeted with 'Bonsoir, mademoiselle' every place I went. I have always been a fan of their modern decor, and their brand new addition of a mini walk way with potted herbs is a fragrant and beautiful idea, which will grow into a quaint al fresco area for Sunday brunches, what with freshly picked herbs going into omelets! Quelle magnifique!

The Herb Garden
 We arrived early for our dinner reservations, so we could take our time and try out as much as we can of their new Asparagus festival menu, which is said to be an Asparagus celebration. I am a huge fan of this spring vegetable, and I love the beautiful stems with poached Lobsters to scrambled Eggs to being blanched and served au naturel, as a salad with some salt, pepper and a dash of Olive oil. The Asparagus used for the Sofitel festival is imported from Peru and costs upto an exorbitant Rs. 2,000 per kg, but I fail to understand why is the local produce not celebrated more. I guess the imported goods is why the menu looks quite expensive too.

The Menu

A good meal was started with a great Italian Wine, the 2011 Allegrini Corte Giara Soave. My rookie wine drinking date for the night also loved the bright aromatic flavours, as did I. Lovely recommendation from the restaurant manager, Sagar.

The Wine!
  I do believe that Asparagus is highly underrated, and a true celebration for me would be inculcating it into Indian dishes too. On that note, I must try out an Asparagus Korma. Anyway, on to the meal!

Green and White Asparagus Soup

We started with an Asparagus soup that was served with pieces of chopped Asparagus and the croutons were replaced by little bits of Goat's Cheese deep fried to crispy perfection. I loved that the soup was the perfect beginning to our meal, and the White Asparagus soup was unbelievably creamy yet light at the same time. The portion size was just the right amount to set the tone for the meal to come.

Asparagus and Prawn Salad

Next was the Asparagus and Prawn Salad. Tender Asparagus stems were served along side plump prawns tossed in a tartar-like sauce, and served with a Red Pepper Puree and some Alfalfa sprouts. Simple and clean flavors that all came together, albeit I did feel that the portion size could have been larger.

Poached Quail Eggs with Asparagus, Fennel and Pancetta.

What followed was the dish that I would pay the price for. Quail Eggs gently poached to perfection, served over a row of White Asparagus, served with Rocket leaves and Fennel shavings and a mound of Pancetta, all finished with a drizzle of Honey. I know you can imagine it. I know you can taste it. This dish was pure genius. Highly recommended!

Sous-vide Chicken with Asparagus and Mashed Potato Foie Gras Puree.

The main course was a bit of a disappointment. We started with a Chicken Sous-vide that was finished in a frying pan with thyme, and served over a medley of Asparagus and a Pomme et Foie Gras Purée. Please don't blame my judgment on my loyalty towards Master Chef Australia, but I do not get why a sous-vide chicken had to be finished in a frying pan. The meat was overcooked. The purpose of a sous-vide is to cook the chicken to tender perfection so that your knife would glide along the meat, but I did have to work on the Chicken Breast, quite a bit. On the contrary, the Asparagus medley and the Pomme et Foie Gras Purée was so fantastic, that the plate went back with nothing but the two Chicken Breast pieces... Okay, one and a half.

Pan Seared Salmon with Asparagus and Red Wine Butter.

We went on to trying the Pan Seared Salmon which was served over... you guessed it right, a row of Asparagus, and Red Wine Butter. I honestly did not care for this dish. I would give this a miss.

Gnocchi with Asparagus, Cherry Tomatoes and Burnt Sage Butter.

I requested the chef to send me a portion of Gnocchi with Asparagus, Cherry Tomatoes and a burnt Sage butter sauce. Now, I am not a Gnocchi connoisseur but I do know that something is horribly wrong if the Gnochhi bits are sticking to the roof of my mouth, let alone it melting completely at the first bite. It was too doughy, and I did not care for anything on the plate except the blanched Cherry Tomatoes.

Asparagus Panna Cotta with Saffron Ice Cream.
Dessert was an Asparagus Panna Cotta served with a Saffron Ice Cream and a Chocolate cookie dust. The Saffron Ice Cream was pure genius, with just the right amount of sweetness and a great satiny texture. It was also visually appealing with the sensual black specks of Vanilla laced all through it. I wish I could say the same about the Asparagus Panna Cotta. It was overtly gelatinous. Next to the Saffron Ice Cream, it tasted like nothing. If you have to chew a Panna Cotta, you know there is something not so right about it. Requesting their team to fix this as soon as possible.

I wish the Sofitel team could have been more innovative about Asparagus than just placing rows of it on to the plate. To celebrate an ingredient in all its glory is to provide your diners with a unique experience (especially at that price) right from roasting to blanching to trying to incorporate it into some other ingredient. I have watched the Chef movie, and I do sympathize with the Chefs if their hands are tied thanks to the management, but I just wanna say that diners, at least from Mumbai, are always up to trying something new, with a WOW factor. This is strictly my opinion.

I congratulate the team at Sofitel who did manage to come up with a great spread nonetheless, and hope to see better execution! Thank you so much for the invitation, I am truly honored! I shall forever remain a fan of your lunch buffet as well as the Sunday brunch!

The Asparagus Festival is on till August 10, 2014.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

I travel to eat.

I was just spending my usual time on Twitter where I bumped into Aptece Portugal where they offered the golden chance to fly to Portugal for a 16 day trip just to experience their food and culture. Am I Interested? Is this a rhetorical question? I don't think so! All I had to do was tell you guys why traveling is the bridge to experiencing great food.

To travel for new cuisine is not just about tasting great food. It is a stepping stone into the journey of experiencing new flavors. Why does a certain area cook with a certain produce? How is it affected by topography, and how this entire deal wraps around a beautiful country - absorbing a million stories, right from grand mommies grinding up fresh spices to locally caught fresh Seafood cooked in light broths. I travel to experience a new form of life. It is like being re-born. It lets me be a new person, and it gives me another chance.

I don't think I have to write any more. The above paragraph says it all!

Until next time!

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