Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Benjarong, Alwarpet, Chennai

This is not from a recent visit. But i have been here a few times. It is favourite among some members in the family, but i dont necessarily love the experience or the food.

First things first. The decor, the ambience is great. There is a 'thai' lady, usually sitting in the front as you enter carving flowers from carrots and other vegetables. It is an interesting side-show for kids. Once you are seated and the first order has been taken, you are treated to some leaves. It tastes like nothing i have eaten before. My first time, i thought this was basil leaves. But no. I havent dared to ask, lest i find out it came from the Bougainvillea plant from the garden. Jus kidding. So this lil pleasure of eating green leaves with peanuts, chopped onions, sweet nectar, dried fish. Hmm, some chewing stuff this. Keeps you occupied for sometime.

But not enough, cause you soon are done or bored with this. And then the wait begins. The service has always been slow. I wonder what the deal with "expensive" places and slow service. Slow service doesnt necessarily mean great food and good service.

The food is ok. Better than ... (well there is no other thai alternative in Chennai). But i have eaten in several Thai places in the US and the food here doesnt compare. Not even close. So maybe it is tweaked to the local taste !! Wonder why, because in the US we ventured to Thai restaurants, because it was the closest to Indian food !!

My main problem is the rice served with curry dishes. They use basmati or some equivalent. And it is probably been washed after cooking, 'cause it is devoid of any stick stary. This rice just floats in any curry. Just imagine eating briyani rice with some curry! The whole point of Thai food, i think is mixing and eating the rice with the dish. So that the rice also soaks up the curry. Again since i have been aclimatized to eating chewy and thicker rice (with some guey starch) that blends nicely with the curry, soaks it all up and gives you a wonderful experience. Well, so much for all this watery saliva that builds up in your mouth. Try the noodle dishes, 'cause you may not then share this disappointment so much.

Try it. You wont be disappointed, if you have eaten Thai food before. But if you have, you will be sure to compare.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ratna Cafe, T Nagar, Chennai

This is not the first visit to Ratna Cafe. I have been to original in Triplicane, as well as to this one in T Nagar before. While i did rave about the sambar-idly combo before, this time around, we were served a watered down version. It was clear, just as the clear liquid floating, when the sambar was presented in a sitting cup.

The ambience has deteriorated since my last visit a few years ago, when it was fairly new. The service too seems have become poorer since then. There wasnt any exceptional crowd in the A/C dining room upstairs, to warrant this bad service. The food was decent, if you were to excuse the sambar. The server did bring in some fresh can of sambar (this is the trademark dispensing dish), but it was not a major improvement. I think the sambar of the day was a disaster.

We may not visit this place again. Rather try the location in Velachery or probably brave the visit to original.

Osteria, Deccan Plaza, Royapettah, Chennai

This is vegetarian season, that is because of the Sabarimala mandalam time. And so there is frantic effort to constrain ourselves to Veggie places in the city. This in itself might throw people off. What looking for a veggie place in Chennai ? Well, yes, but it should not be a dosa idly place !!

Anyway back to Osteria. A recent article in The Hindu about a dosa festival let us to the Deccan Plaza Hotel. Only to find out that the Dosa buffet actually closes at 6:30 !! So not wanting to hit the streets, we walked across the lobby to Osteria, a vegetarian Italian dinning experience.

We were welcomed very warmly, considering that there was only one other patron seated inside. Jokes apart, the people were very friendly and even brought some popcorn to the table, because my kid had seen it inside. It is normally only served as sides when you order a drink. Hunger in the stomach, lead us to order fast. An appetizer, a salad and main courses.

Hummus was our choice. Dont ask me why. When i saw it, i felt like it. The salad was regular salad with ceaser dressing. The pasta was penne pasta with red sauce and a lazagna (with a request to hold zucchini). Soon, they delivered a loaf of hot garlic bread. Soft and succulent, it melted as you chewed on it. The hummus and salad arrived, both decent, but with no major shakes to talk about. I guess that was only because it paled in comparison (from a story view) on what was to follow.

The penne pasta arrived, hot and steaming, done very well and was quickly dished out to all of us. The sauce was well done and had coated the pasta well, making it a very nice and tasty meal. I was pleasantly surprised by this pasta meal. I guess that answers the expensive price tags. Authentic cooking or good chefs can be expensive. But the experience so far was shattered by the lasagna. I guess since we said 'no zucchini', we were to be punished.

The lasagna was filled with stuff, that included peas. But the taste was killing, the cheese (forget the name), was so pungent and sour that it immediately was rejected by all, except me. Well i am a fan of things sour, buttermilk, puliyodharai, sambar etc. Talking about sambar, this lasagna was close to sambar rice, or maybe we can call it sambar pasta with cheese. The veggie filling in between broken strips of pasta felt like you were eating some mashed sambar rice. Inspite of the pungent flavour, i did manage to take a couple of helpings (small tho'). But this would be on our avoid list in the future.

Not wanting to leave with a bad taste, we ordered chocolate cake, over tiramisu. And we were not to be disappointed.

To sum it all, it was a pleasant experience, a tad bit on the expensive side. The expensive part didnt reflect in portions, presentation, decor or otherwise. It however was served with a pleasing smile and friendly people. I must however, caution, that the restaurant was quite empty and not sure if the same experience can be expected under the duress of a full crowd.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Grains of Paradise, RA Puram, Chennai

This is a new place, about 8 months old, as admitted by one of the waiters at the restaurant. I had seen this place a few times, but never grabbed my attention. There is also an Italian restaurant named Mmmafia, just above this place, run by the same management.

First off, parking is a pain everywhere in Chennai, and this place is not different. And so, the thankful service of valet parking solves this frustration quickly. However, when you leave the keys, you are befuddled, as to how they are going to solve the problem.

One flight of stairs, and you are at the entrance of this interesting dining place in Chennai. Well, it is a vegetarian food place !! I was a little surprised, the decor, the menu, and all, you would have thought different. You are just used to this, vegetarian means Saravana Bhavan and Udipi places, and Tandoori/Chinese cuisine means non-veg is included.

The dining experience was mixed. They had a good collection of food (new names, combinations you may not have heard off before). The specialty choices appears mostly from the north (Jaipuri, Rajasthani etc find mention in the menu). One interesting started we tried was Makki Sheekh, a combination of panneer and corn/maize. Panneer in many forms appears all over their menu. Thanks to the large crowd we went with, we had to settle for the tame, malai kofta and panneer butter masala along with some rotis, to ensure that it was acceptable by most. The malai kofta had a distinct taste, while the panneer butter masala was a disappointment. Their rotis and naans had nothing noteworthy to speak about, but were good enough and as expected from a decent tandoor oven.

A few people from our party also ventured into chinese food and were not disappointed. I tasted a lil bit of the american chopsuey, and it was good, but i chose to stick with my pudhina parota (they were out of methi !!) and garlic naan. As is usual, in these group dining efforts, there is roti/naan left at the end of the curry dish, or the roti/naan run out soon. And then the second order takes long enough to kill all appetite. This time was not very different.

Somewhere in the middle i was enthused to try out lassi, considering the food so far looked and tasted decent. And i was thoroughly disappointed with the watery buttermilk mixed in with some dry fruits, which looked more like crap floating. But the people were kind enough to try a second time, with no major improvements. I must now state, that the service was better than par, and people took care to serve and attentive in general.

The dessert was a limited menu. They were also had only vanilla, strawberry, choclate, butterscotch and mango ice-creams !! I mean they should have a problem carrying more flavours, considering they only had about 5 other items on the dessert section. The special of the day was jelebi with ice-cream. The other item ordered was the shahi-tukda. Both of these were awesome. The jelebi fresh and hot, and so a little late, but served with nice cold vanila ice cream. The shahi-tukda was neatly done, small pieces, mixed in with dried fruits and nuts, again the best i have tried of this dish so far.

All in all the experience was very welcoming and pleasureful. The prices were also not exorbitant, but reasonable for the place. I plan to go back, and try some different items on the menu. I will be sticking to the tandoor and Indian cuisine, 'cause if i want chinese, i think there are other options.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Zameendar, Shanthi Colony, Anna Nagar, Chennai

Shanthi Colony, today, bears no resembleance of how it existed 2 decades ago, or even about 10 years ago. And Zameendar restaurant, bang on the main road, built on what used to be HIG flats is only a reflection of the same. I had first heard about this from an office colleague, but didnt get a chance to stop and try until recently. I had passed the place a while back and for some reason the signs outside didnt seem very appealing.

I visited Zameendar last saturday, for a late lunch. It must have been a little after 2. We were greeted by friendly people and seated quickly without a fuss. After some carefull consideration of the state of the stomach and the many different options provided by the menu, the quickest and fastest bet seemed the meals. We ordered meals and few dishes to actually make it a non-vegeterian fare. The meals arrived promptly as expected, may be a tad-bit slow for our growling stomach. Of course while waiting we had all the time to chow down on the vadams that were placed in front of us. They even replaced the dish continously through out the meal.

After 2 rounds of vadams, thali plate covered with a banana leaf and nice small 'katori' of sides including sambar, rasam etc, arrived. The friendly waiters were quick to notice that food was drying up on the plate, be it the chappatis served at the start or the rice served subsequently. There were just enough of them to look after the tables under their domain and were effecient and friendly, a nice welcoming change from a lot of restaurants. When we were stuffed with all the food we could eat, the head waiter did ask us, if we wanted to order any desserts before closing and making the bill. We had to say no, although i intend to go back and try out a less gluttonous fare, to be able to sample the menu better.

The meal was tasty and good. All the side dishes bore some true south-indian flavours. I particularly liked their sambar and another curry (tough to name) that were served in the meals thali. One of the chicken dish we ordered was not up to the mark. I even forget the name of this, because it was the waiter's recommendation for a boneless dry chicken. In any case, i attribute even this unpleastness to our need to stuff ourselves with some real carbs or rice. Again, this happens once in a while, when the palette demands only a particular kind of food and any other accompaniments may not add any flavour and sometimes even turn-off the taste buds in those moments.

A small note of possibilities tho'. The door man and waiters are attired in ethnic clothes. I guess these were first ordered when the restaurant started out. Given that the restaurant is open seven days a week, it is possible that there is little time left to wash and clean these. However, the management can do well to take care of these clothes, if they do feel it is important to the ambience. It was a small mental note made, while waiting for food to arrive. I guess another options is to somehow automatically determine the hunger level of arriving patrons and then keep feed them quickly and appropriately that they fail to notice these small and subtle things.

Another important note, and much appreciated by me in particular. The bathroom was clean, altho' a little smelly. But it was nice to observe that the place was cleaned recently and spacious enough. The bathroom in most indian restaurants used to be a hole in the backyard, with a bucket and a mug nearby. These days it is refershing to note that some resturants in the city and elsewhere seem to pay particular attention to this.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Subway, Spencer Plaza, Anna Salai, Chennai

Subway, the sandwich (shaped in the form of a submarine) chain from the US, has been doing decent business in India. Today they operate out of Chennai, multiple outlets, serving major localities in the city. I am not so sure if these are franchisees. But knowing the US model, where Subway is the most franchised chain, there is no reason why these shouldnt be too.

The reason, i bring that up, is because, this commentary is very much about the Subway experience in India as compared to its chain in the US. I have been to about 5 different locations in Chennai. But a few highlights about this specific store has also been expressed, specially about the 'elli'.

First, things first. Their 6"seems so much smaller, that it appears to be based on a whole new scale. The other is the fad that is supposedly 'american' or 'phoren', blasting english music (and many times playing songs with questionable or vulgar lyrics). I had to point this out to a manager of a store, asking if he was paying attention to the lyrics, and didnt meet much success in getting him to understand.

The food is good, the sandwich here does justice to the name and quality they are famous for. The stores in India seemed to understand the mind here and so have two lanes one for veg and non-veg options. This does create problem when you want to 3 non-veg and 2 veg sandwiches !! Wonder why the non-veg guy cannot just take the veg order ? But then thats how it works. The sandwich artist do a decent job of carving and stuffing the sandwich. The sandwich and other food options are also priced nicely. You can get a 5.386" Veggie Delite for about Rs 78/-. Hmm, on second thought i take that back, that is a lil pricey, but hey, you are buying 'american' food.

The other surprising thing about fast food chains, is how dumb the people behind the counters become. I used to think it was a phenomenon that existed in the US, but i saw this in London, Bangkok, Malaysia and now here in Chennai too. So it is universal, they are all robots that do only what they are told to, and what their machine in front will allow them to.

This store at Spencer Plaza had interesting visitor or resident during my last visit. An Elli, rat, mouse or whatever name you would like to refer it by. The little chap ran from the inside. Luckily there is no kitchen where anything is really cooked, so his impact may have been small. In any case, he ran undistrubed to the dining area. And here is how the dumb phenomenon works best. I had just finished my order, and was not particularly repulsed, because i hardly saw it, except for the vanishing tail behind a chair. But i did change my mind about eating in.

Anyway, another customer had seen the 'elli', and brought it to the attention of the 'sandwich artist'. The artist, of course, knows only how to stuff sandwiches, and so stared back. The gentleman asked 'are you going to do something about it, or just stare?. Obviously this man didnt have a Phd, otherwise he would have known that this was not just an ordinary stare. To this challenge, our local friendly sandwich artist, moved an inch to the right. The manager/cashier, by then, knew he had to do something different, so he came out in front to see if he could interview the 'elli' in person. Of course, our good friend and mascot of Lord Ganesha, knew better, and was no where to be seen. This whole thing soon turned out to be just another myth, obviously. The store was back in business, the Gentleman walked away cancelling his order, the diners a few left, a few stayed, the money was back to being counted, and the artist was back at carving bread and stuffing lettuce.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Liu's Waldorf, Adyar, Chennai

This is one of the oldest and still running chinese restaurant in Chennai. Well, it looks and feels like it. Located very close to IIT Madras, on the main Sardar Patel Road, in Adyar, this restaurant has been around of ages. I remember going to the place as a kid. It used to be run by a Chinese family. I still remember the husband and wife who seated us and were serving us. I still think it possibly owned by them, no reason to think otherwise. Unless, of course, when you wonder about the condition of the restaurant now.

I visited the Waldorf again recently. The entrance is now a very crowded place, with two or more other eating places nearby, and the road on which it is located, is now a major artery within Chennai. But surprisingly, it had parking space for about 3-4 cars, and about 2 dozen bikes. The restaurant had a worn out look. We chose this place, out of desperation because we didnt want to travel very far and were hungry. We made a good choice. Waldorf was always known for its quality chinese food. This time too, they didnt let us down.

We were about eight people, quickly settled down in a corner, and were ready with our order. The veg fried rice, egg fried rice (i voted down chicken fried rice, i somehow am not a fan of that), waldorf special chicken, waldorf special veg. I also noticed the fooyoung, i hadnt seen one a menu for a long time. I ordered this egg dish, which probably closely related to an egg omellete. Even the waiter, answered to my query about it saying "its an omellete". We then waited. Waited for what was about 5, or maybe 8 minutes, to see the waiter carrying medium sized bowls of piping hot food. We soon added a few more dishes thinking we have ordered less, considering there were a few 'Bhim' in our mix.

The food was good, but they could have taken more care in preparing chicken dishes. The experience all together was a little mixed though. The restaurant should take more care in its cleaniliness etc. The waiter were dressed in clothes which were probably cleaned once a week or less. The glasses for drinking water were cleaned, but they were not dried and had water drops inside and outside. The people were friendly and helpful, specially the parking attendant outside. I only wish they had take more care. But, i guess, considering they dont charge a lot of money for decent food, they are probably just about managing on the numbers side.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Malgudi, Savera Hotel, Royapettah, Chennai

Malgudi is one of the restaurants within Savera Hotel. I dont recall, when i first visited this place, or when they actually carved out or created this restaurant inside. But, i have been here many times and pretty impressed with their food selection. Malgudi is a smaller and lesser expensive version of Dakshin (located within the Park Sheraton). Malgudi offers a collection of vegetarian and non-veg food delicacies from south india. If you open the menu, you can choose from food from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The best bet is the thali, again you can chose from veg/non-veg. This gives you a quick tour of the food from these places. But if you want to pick and choose and soothe a specific hunger or taste, then feel free to flip through the menu and take a leap. The non-veg dishes compare decently to the restaurants that specialize in one cuisine. Most of the time, i have chosen the thali, many times the non-veg, and few times the veg. Their dosa and appam that comes with this thali is recommended. And you can eat as much as you want. The only problem with the thali format is that, you are served dishes in a particular order. You must specifically request them to bring dishes out of order.

They give you some free starters, vadams with different chutneys. But then you will really have to be on a strict diet, to pass up on the soft mangalore bondas. They also have a selection of delicacies that are more the home cooked variety than usually available in restaurants. Trust me, i could give you a list, but a visit is much better experience.

Their service could improve. They try, but at times, a lot of people are around, but not necessarily paying enough attention. This is true of most hotels and restaurants in Chennai and India.

To add to the experience they also have a 'killi jotsyam' and/or 'kai jotsyam'. So, if you miss these interesting diversions and fortune tellers of yesteryear, you can experience it here at Malgudi. Now it would have been complete, if they also had the 'boom boom maadu'.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ente Keralam, Alwarpet, Chennai

They serve a good payasam. Well, you can make that home, if you are a mallu. But if you are not, and you crave for it, this is a place to go. Also carry your mastercard, cause the bill falls in the priceless category.
Expensive. That is only because i am a mallu. I eat this or similar food everyday. And there are other places in the city - kalpaka, kumarakkom, tharvad, etc, that provide the similar fare for a better price. I guess the dining experience and silver ware makes the difference. And by far, this lives up to the other restaurants, from the same management. But also like his other restaurants, it falls short of excellence. Its good imitation, it does give a run for the original cuisine, but you know a few things here and there could make a difference.

I remember the appam and stew (or ishtu), the fish fry and the payasam. But then again, nothing was monumental to think about returning soon. It would be nice for a grand occasion, where you need a nice ambiance and are willing to spend the money.

Talking about the payasam, the Aiyappan temple in mahalingapuram can serve an equally good payasam (off course it is the prasad from an offering to the god, but hey its good food too).

Sparky's, Spur Tank Rd, Chetput, Chennai

Their tagline or slogan reads 'never trust a skinny chef'.... well apparently the fat guy chef has suddenly lost a lot of weight.
I cant but be amused at the sudden change of quality and service at the place. Dont get me wrong, they are not bad. It is a good place. The people are friendly. However, the service and food from my first visit to the fourth had changed.

As far as the food and menu is concerned, you wont make a mistake. The restaurant gives you a pleasant experience of a standard american diner. Ofcourse without the bottomless coffee or soda. Well, to expect that in India, is some way off.

They have a buffet on friday evening, which gives you a good value for money (not to be compared with typical indian buffet) and also provides an opportunity to taste different dishes.

They are very children friendly and allow the kids make a big noise without getting irritated. It does create a good and pleasant atmosphere. The decor (kind of similar to TGIF etc), gives you a nice perception of America. To expats, there are things that they can associate to, and i guess feel at home, no matter where you are from in the US.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tandoor Express, Spencer's Plaza, Chennai

If you are in the craving for a fast and good roti's, and if you can pardon the ambiance and the service, then Tandoor Express in the food court at Spencer Plaza Phase I is worth a visit. Since my office is in the building, i do have the luxury of strolling around and deciding on a place to eat. Tandoor Express was a chance stop, two days back.

I stopped at their counter, in the rather unseemingly crowded and noisy foodcourt, since i was a little tired of my first option. I noticed a combo, for two stuff parathas and lassi. Wow, my mouth watered. Since the stuff parathas options included, aloo, egg, kheema, gopi, mooli, and panneer. But i was craving for lassi more than anything. I dont think i have had a good lassi in chennai recently (last good one came from Yaadgar near New College in Royapettah, now closed down, so thats a good 10-20 years). But, my luck, that day, they had a problem with lassi and so i walked away. As luck would have it, i was at the store again the next day. And this time, i was in for luck with lassi.

So here it was a combo of two parathas and lassi. I chose egg and aloo paratha. Short wait, brought me two hot parathas, a paper cup of lassi, some dahi and a pickle. Talk about disappointment. The lassi cup was small and the lassi was between good to mediocre. They also served a little dahi (curd) on the side. Little means little, i think the measure it out by the teaspoon, as in one teaspoon per paratha. So that meant i got two. The pickle was even strange. It was one piece of mango, as in about 4x5x8cms, no evidence of the usual gravy, it could very well have been on the plate as left behind from the previous customer. But they were kind enough to fetch me a little bit more of the pickle. The waiter took pity on seeing my plate, or maybe it was guilt. So they bought about 2 more of such similar stuff, but this time with a tad bit more gravy. Gosh, talk about being stingy. The day before it was lassi, maybe now they ran out of pickles, and they were scrapping the bottom of the bottle.

But the parathas were good. Closed to heavenly, i must say. Atleast the anda (egg) paratha. It was hot and burnt my tongue and mouth, which i am still suffering from today, ie a day later. I quickly worked my way through one half of the egg and aloo using any evidence of dahi and pickles. When they were all gone, i tried to flag the attention of the waiter for more, and also ordered an extra glass of lassi. However, i had no patience to wait. Soon they my plate was almost getting clean. And my cup was running dry. At no time, were there any evidence that my additional order had been placed and anything was going to come to my table.

So, if you can pardon the waiters, the crowd and the noise, but feeling like having some good parathas during lunch time, here is a place. But then what are the chances?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Kumarakom, Gandhi Nagar, Adyar, Chennai

This is only one of the many Kumarakom restaurants in chennai. The others that i know of are located in Shanti Colony, Annanagar and the first one that started it all is at Nungambakkam, near Palm Grove hotel. The main usp of this place is kerala style food, hence the name to show the link to the now famous backwater resort in kerala.

I have eaten from this place a lot. More often delivered to my home, than actually eating at the restaurant itself. The nice part of eating at the restaurant, apart from the food, is the music. There is a karaoke machine, and the people sing along, mainly malayalam songs, but also a few other songs. I have seen one person very regular, maybe the owner. He has decent voice, but the whole experience can be soothing when you are enjoying the food, or very irritating when you are hungry waiting for your food.

My favorite is Karimeen Pollichathu. I really never ate this fish before. But this is a constant order at home and so an acquired taste. But what i really like is the masala. The chilli paste that is rubbed all over the fish. That really sets the flavour for this dish. You can get the same if you order their regular meen fry too.

The other main attraction is the rice, the kerala style boiled rice. I have huge craving for this 'motta-motta chor', or rather the full blooded rice. One look and you would think that this rice will fill you up sooner than eating the regular thin grain variety. But you would be surprised. Kumarakom also serves kerala style parotta. At the restaurant you cannot go wrong by ordering the regular meals, which comes with pappadam, kachiya mullaga and moru. I have tried the drier varieties of chicken, but i am sure they are probably not as great as the beef ulathiyathu etc.

All in all, it is fine food. The service as always falls short, but its nothing to complain about. Its a small restaurant, and so the wait can be long depending on the time you land-up. I, luckily havent had to wait long at all. Most times we are either early for lunch or late, so we miss the peak time.