Monday, January 8, 2007

Raaj Bhavan, Nungambakkam, Chennai, India

Raaj Bhavan is located at the major intersection in Nungambakkam, where Village Road and Nungambakkam High Rd meets. It used to be haunt for me, thanks to the easy access from the sterling road, bus stand. Even after starting work at NIIT on college rd, and the opening of Nagas (closed since then, and now some Sangeeta), Raaj Bhavan was a place to meet and eat, when the budgets were low.

Since moving out of the area, i havent visited the real Raaj Bhavan. They do have a section on top, where they serve stuff in an air-conditioned environment. Unfortunately since they serve stuff thats not in their domain (idly dosa etc), its better to skip these. Downstairs on the other hand is probably best now only for an early morning weekend visit, because the place is crowded with office going staff, like me. Except that i am now, never hitting a restaurant for weekday breakfast or lunch.

Their claim to fame if any, was again sambar. When i used to eat there, i remember that they had one of the better tasting sambars. I, off course, hadnt tasted the Ratna Cafe sambar. So now the reasons to eat here is even less, when you think of the one thing that would draw you to it. Also in my recent visit to the more 'posh' looking upstairs, left me very displeased. The place has been neglected and requires a lot of maintenance. The food is still very decent, but i think it safe to pass, considering there are other options in the city today.

Its sad, when you think of the possibilities this place had, and the start. Most important of it all, like they say in the restaurant business, location. Its quite possible that this place is raking in the moolah, and the management couldnt care less about spending additional money in its upkeep. Today the real estate price for this location will be way higher that the business potential of the current restaurant.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Sri Krishna Sweets, Adyar, Chennai, India

Sri Krishna Sweets is not originally from Chennai, it is based on Coimbatore, further south in TamilNadu. But soon after it set base in Chennai, it has revolutionized the sweet-meats business in the city.

Of special note is the mysurpa (or mysorepak, altho' i dont think it has anything to do with mysore). Today if i were to buy or eat mysurpa, i wouldnt get it from anywhere else, other than from Krishna Sweets. It is difficult to believe that i used to occasionally nibble on something of this kind before, because it was called by the same name, but compared to what Krishna Sweets make, that was like eating plain sugar and flour mix. The mysurpa from Krishna Sweets is in a very volatile form, you must consume it immediately otherwise it would melt in your hands. You would rather have it melt in your mouth.

Krishna Sweets also makes a boat load of other stuff. They also have a ladoo which is supposed to be an imitation of the famous 'Thirupati' ladoo. Its close, but you will know it is an imitation. I also like the sweet and masala poli that they make fresh. Recently they introduced food and snacks, i guess keeping in line with their restaurant background. And it is pleasing offer from them.

Krishna Sweets also has something more than sweets and food to offer its patrons, music. Sometime back they introduced a concept of live music (classical kind). Although i havent visited the restaurant during a performance, i have seen the stage and all the prerequisites for such performance.

A daily event from Krishna Sweets

Friday, January 5, 2007

Hotel Saravana Bhavan, Royapettah, Chennai, India

Hotel Saravana Bhavan, or HSB as i call it now, has numerous branches. All over Chennai, there is one close to you, like finding an ATM. And now they have a few or more in other parts of the world. The hallmark of HSB, is consistency, unlike our Indian cricket team. Its like a McDonalds, only that the food is cooked fresh, unlike throwing 'boxed patties and french fries into boiling oil' fresh. The food tastes almost the same in every branch and location of HSB.

The only problem, i have, if any, is what to choose. I know HSB makes all kinds of stuff, including chinese and tandoori items, but i try to stick to our south-indian stuff. The reason, if i want chinese i would go to a chinese restaurant and for tandoor a punjabi place. I am at HSB, for their dosas, idlies, poori, and the likes. So, back to the choice, amongst this long list of south-indian stuff. Its always a tough choice, and i end up with some kind of dosa or dosai. Rava, Masala, Butter or some newer variant. If it is not Rava Dosai, then my instruction will include, soft dosai, not crisp like pappad. I hate paper dosai, what the hell, why would anyone eat it. My wife loves it, crispier the better. For me, dosai has to be crisp on the outside, kind of thick, and soft on the inside and of course flowing with butter.

HSB has started speciality restaurants, and the one i am writing about specifically here is the one on Peters Road, Royapettah, called Swathi. Go early, and you will find a place to sit, if you are any late, you will need to wait for your table, for a long time. Small place, but it can easily crowded. With all the restaurants in the city, a lot of them seem to want to wander here. For us it is place to be after a late nite movie, specially after a tiring and boring one. Its also close to the Satyam Cinemas.

The reason i stuck the logo picture (i couldnt grab a better picture), is because there are a lot of restaurants that have been using this name and passing-off as HSB. So dont get fooled about the quality when you visit a Saravan Bhavan, and find bad food, and then you realize its missing an 'a' in Saravana.

Hotel Saravana Bhavan

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Mainland China, Nungambakkam, Chennai, India

Simply wow. This has to be the best, repeat, the best, chinese food place in town. I am sure there are smaller restaurants that can churn out this kind of food. But this is the best i have eaten ever, in India and in the US. I wonder if the chinese in China can cook better than this. Ok, thats carrying it too far.

I have been there many times, and is still one of the better joints to visit as a family. Its not cheap, but nor is it outrageously expensive. The environment is five-star class, and the service is great. The food service was mixed, in the sense sometimes fast and sometimes a tad-bit slow. But there has been nothing that has stuck in my head as an issue. The restaurant is spacious and restroom (i think is always a good indication of the quality of the place) is clean and well maintained.

Now the food, that is the best part. I am not so sure where to start. The starters, cripy spinach and fried corn are my favourites. There is of course the usual spring rolls and drumsticks and the unusual. In the main course, the pick is really just about anything. I have tasted a few of the chicken and veg dishes, and each one is unique and tastes great. The noodles, is one of the best i have tasted. I usually dont like noodles, but this place i recently took some, and it was awesome. I need to try somemore, the next time.

But before i finish i must talk about daarsaan and date pancake, the desserts. Each of these with ice-cream is the reason to save some space at the end of the meal. They also have a nice business lunch buffet during weekdays which offers a collection of dishes, and includes daarsaan and ice-cream. A reason to visit for lunch more often. But since i tend to skimp on food during lunch, it becomes a tough choice to go to a buffet place. There is something about buffet and over-eating. I wonder what !!

Visit to Mainland China can be pleasant experience. The hotel has also solved the car parking problem, by introducing valet parking (the new fad in town, thanks to the parking problem).

Mainland China

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Suriya Sweets, Abhiramapuram, Chennai, India

Suriya Sweets located originally in Abhiramapuram is a hot stop for sweets and savouries. Fresh is the key, and the service. After initially doing just sweets and related stuff, they also have a shop next door selling fresh vegetables and groceries too. The specialty of the vegetable shop again is the freshness.

I never knew it existed until my sister-in-law shared a box of besan-ladoo, that was gifted to her, by one of her patient. I think the box had about 10-12 ladoos, and i may have eaten almost 3-4 of them in one sitting. And anything remaining was polished of the next day or so. It was then, that i set out to find this place. And even today, i think there is no besan-ka-ladoo like the ones that you get Suriya sweets.

You can add to this list, appam. It is made exactly to my liking. Soft and chewy, but a bit crispy on the outside. The only problem with the appam is the oil. Since this foodstuff is deep fried, it is inevitable that the oil has to be part of the ingredients. But this does put a dampener on the proceedings (eating). Although, i have been known to gorge through a packet before wondering the after effects of the oil and such gluttony. Even writing about this, makes my mouth water. I guess i am going to make a trip to Suriya soon.

For people in Adyar, if you thought it was chore, to go upto Abhiramapuram, you can now get the same selection on Greenways road, closer to the Adyar bridge. I guess they wanted to bring competition close to another hot spot, Adyar Grand Sweets (more on that later).

Suriya also scores on the service front. The ladies, are eager to serve and complete the ordering process, only to move onto another waiting customer. In the evenings, you can also get some chat-items, fresh-cut fruits and also a selection of sweets for instant consumption. Another good thing, is that, there is decent amount of parking for two-wheelers and cars. Although the Abhiramapuram location is in the midst of a residential area, and therefore has lesser parking. But then thats nothing new in India or Chennai.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Kerala Hot Chips, Chennai, India

Hot Banana Chips, sliced thin, deep fried in coconut oil. Buy it fresh and you will never want this from anywhere else. Kerala Hot Chips has about 3 locations that i know off. There's one on Usman Road, T Nagar, one in Shanti Colony, Annanagar and i recently noticed one on Tharamani Road, Velachery.

I was introduced to this tasty eat way back in my childhood, when i would spend time in kerala every summer. But before you start buying these golden yellow chips, you need to make sure that they are cooked in coconut oil, the taste is everything. Even in Kerala, people swear by chips that come from Kozhikode, Palakkad and Trivanthapuram etc. There are special points and places where you get fresh and tasty ones.

In Chennai (madras), it was always a problem to get tasty chips, specially this not being a native specialty. And for mallus, if you didnt get the ones that tasted close to what they got back from Kerala, it wasnt worth eating. I'm sure there were other places where one could get these chips before, but i dont remember it ever being consistent and having attained this popularity.

With Kerala Hot Chips, it is become easier to acquire and to indulge in this savoury every now and then, without having to wait for people or family to return from Kerala with imports. For me it is a frequent stop, every time i visit the US, to carry some to family and friends there. Timing is everything though, getting it fresh is the best. Altho' these things can be stored for a long time. Eating it as it comes out of the frying pan, leaves a different taste altogether. Its not always possible to stop by and pick them up, but the ones done and stored in the back are good too.

Kerala Hot Chips has other stuff too. Lots of other stuff, that one would usually get from bakery or more stuff that one used to make at home before, but dont have time these days. Its well worth a visit for the chips, but also for other things you may want to tack on, when at the store.

Kalpaka, Royapettah, Chennai, India

Name: Kalpaka
Address: Royapettah
Location: Chennai (madras), India

Its been years since i have gone here. Actually not true, me and wife had picked up food recently from the place. But life after a visit and life in the US, has surely affected our ability to dine in restaurants where the food is great but the ambience not. In the case Kalpaka, the food is great, the place is decent, the area were you wash your hands (or bathroom) is the weakest link. And thats not true only of Kalpaka, its true of virtually any restaurant in Chennai, except the ones in a hotel or maybe the high class ones.

Before i spent too much about the 'nothing', let me simply start by saying the food is great. Starting with the free 'kachiya-mora' and achaar on the table during lunch time. Sit in the air-conditioned room, and order your stuff, and be ready to forget all those warnings of health and diet before you read the menu. Because this is not for the faint-hearted, nice beef curry and fish curry etc, is for the one ready to battle it out.

The restaurant like the other two i have written about so far, has limited access and parking. It, altho', is located in a very easy to find intersection, within walking distance of the Music Academy. The days when we used to frequent this place, it had more parking of the kind we wanted then (bike), and it still does allow bikes to be parked in nearby lanes. The view from the road is almost hidden, and you could easily miss this place, if you didnt know where to look and what to look for. A small steep stairway, i guess typical of homes in kerala, leads to this food place, that serves up hot malayali dishes, right in the heart of madras.

And my favourite about kerala food is the rice. Nalla goondu goondu ari (nice fat and thick rice). But it seems that no matter how much eat this rice, it doesnt fill you up. I am sure it is just a perception, but who wants to argue. Food would have been even better for me if it came served on a banana leaf, but here it is served on a nice clean and white porcelain plate.

So, briyani, fish fry, chicken kerala style, mallu parotta are all my favourite. I dont eat beef, but the options are real mouth watering. I wish the cook would be brave enough to cook up chicken the same way she/he does beef. Everything on the side plate is all kerala style too, papadam, moru-ozhicha kuttan, avial and manga-pickle, etc. Fast service, at least, the best i remember, but may also be because, i have always been here only during weekday lunch time. And in-expensive, at the end of the day. Me and wife used to frequent this place during our working days. How else to get home cooked food, when both of us were working ?

Here is a review of the place from The Hindu.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Ajnabi, Egmore, Chennai, India

Name: Ajnabi
Address: Fountain Plaza, Egmore
Location: Chennai (madras), India

Ajnabi was the haunt of my school days. Asan Memorial, my school was down the road and when FP (Fountain Plaza) was opened, it was the place to spend time. And Ajnabi among the many different shops inside the plaza served some of the best Bhel Puris, Kachoris and Samosas.

The shop is now located in a congested corner, at the rear of the shopping complex, but still commands the crowd. I guess when you make good food, people tend to wander about and taste something different, but then come back to taste the experts. I particularly like their kachoris and samosas, and do venture out to try some of the other delicacies they display on their counter.

They make most, if not all the stuff at the kitchen at the back of restaurant. And the looks of it may scare you off. But then who ever looks inside a kitchen to eat the food. If you chose to ignore some of these, then you are in for a good time. If you think not, then take out is a good option, because you can drive and park nearby, pick up your stuff and zoom out of there, to enjoy your favorites.

Ratna Cafe, Triplicane, Chennai, India

Name: Ratna Cafe
Address: Triplicane
Location: Chennai (madras), India

Ratna Cafe, a small restaurant located in Triplicane or Thiruvallikeni, in Chennai, very close to the Sri Parthasarathy Temple, Chepauk Stadium and the Triplicane Mosque. It has now opened branches in a couple of locations in the city, banking on its name and idly/sambar fame.

Ratna Cafe is a regular 'udipi' style restaurant, and serves all the regulars, dosa, rava dosa, poori, pongal etc. But its claim to fame is the sambar and thats what will linger in your mouth and mind, after you dine there. The sambar is one of the best i have ever tasted, and they will simply pour it on. They are not shy or stingy about their sambar.

There is little or no parking anywhere near the original Ratna Cafe. And the best time is to go early in the morning for a breakfast. Considering the busy and congested location, it then becomes a weekend eatout place. We visit Ratna Cafe after a trip to the temple. We parked car at the temple and took an auto (because we didnt know the exact location), but it is also not a small distance, but can be good for a stroll after the heavy meal you are going to have.

With all the branches opened in the city, i still think the original is the best. Although the ambiance may not as good as the branches. But the original also hosts a airconditioned dining room, in case you prefer to take refuge from the sweltering heat, which is so common in Madras and also specially inside a restaurant.