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.