Monday, October 26, 2009

Durga Park, AMS Raj Palace Sundar, Adyar

A last minute decision on sunday evening, caused us to get in the car, and drive to a restaurant for dinner. The day was almost over, getting ready for monday played on our minds, to pick a restaurant close by, but to avoid boredom, it had to be something new preferably. The choice was Kokum, which i had just located inside MRC Nagar that morning or the new Raj Palace Sundar. A quick left turn after crossing the Adyar bridge, brought us inside the erstwhile Andhra Mahila Sabha location, which is now the home for this hotel and its restaurant.

There is only restaurant, Durga Park, and is located in separate building. This was an old building tastefully converted into a restaurant. We entered into a small hall about 10x10, to be greeted by no one, but were able to see a buffet laid out to the left. A lot of men dressed in dark suits (mostly black or blue blazers) were standing in line, leading us to believe that maybe some party or marriage had taken over the place. Soon one of the waiters came up to us and directed us to another room to right, which we had seen earlier, but avoided because it looked like a hastily converted dining area. The table and chairs were not the usual restaurant chairs, but more like the marriage hall types. When questioned he indicated that the restaurant was booked. Ok. My question at this point should have been, why keep it open at all? Why not indicate that today it is closed to casual diners?

Well, not to make a big fuzz, we sat a table in the corner of the room. There were already another family seated at a larger table, with room for one more large family of about 6. Our table of four, seemed placed rather oddly in a corner, but was ok to seat children and two adults. He brought us a buffet menu, priced at Rs. 300 for an adult and 150 for a child, it seemed fair. But we were not in a mood for buffet. We were looking for just a couple of dishes to close out the night. He indicated al-a-carte menu also was available, and brought us the menus, he did bring one menu each (i guess since the rest of the crowd was not using the menu). The buffet, by the way, is regular for weekend dinners. The non-veg buffet, had only 3 non-veg dishes, one each for mutton, chicken and fish. I think based on your preference and liking, the chances of a win-win on the buffet is only 50-50 or less.

The menu was fully of all kinds of cuisine, southern, chinese, tandoor, punjabi etc, all fitted into about 4 pages. I was wondering why a restaurant which supposedly located in AMS would have any cuisine other than Andhra style. I reasoned that the guests at the hotel would probably want more options, and hence the only restaurant offered a mish-mash of everything. I tried specifically to stay away from chinese and north-indian. There are better restaurants for these kind of food.

We quickly ordered a starter chicken chat (i forget the exact title) and pappad, and the main course was kozhi varthathu (chettinad style), meen kozhambu, chicken biryani, pulkha, roti and some curd. The pappad (masala) was on the house. All of this cost us only about Rs. 500, inclusive of bottled water. Well the food arrived rather quickly. I found that a little strange, but who is to argue, and since we were hungry and tired, it was heaven sent. But the reason was apparent soon, the kozhi varthathu and meen kozhambu were based of the same gravy, same taste, same spice, well like i said 'same' gravy. It was good, no complaints there. The biryani was average, and no different from very many chicken biryanis available elsewhere. The roti and pulkha were pretty pathetic, not from a taste perspective, but from shape, form and style of cooking. You would think they would be dry and devoid of oil, well these seemed to be soft (more from wetness of oil or humidity). All in all the meal was not bad, but a big disappointment based on the expectation to eat Andhra sytle food.

When the food from the main course arrived, i asked the waiter about the starter. He said there was nothing on his list. Looking at the food in front of us, i figured this was more than enough, and said fine. As we began eating and made about 1/4th our way into the meal, a chappy came with our starter. I said thanks, but we are already eating our meal, so no thanks, and please take it away. Smart fella, he goes back and arrives about 4-5 minutes later with a small boxed meal indicating our starter was packed. I wanted to smile at his cheeky attitude or his manager disposition. But i said, boss, we are not going to take it, please cancel and take it back. Well, no major shakes, they didnt make a fuzz after this or about this. But we did get a visit from a 'manager' or someone who apparently seemed to have just worn his jacket to visit our dining area. I dont think he was visiting us on accord of this dispute, but must have suddenly realized that we and now two other guests in this room must be missing his warmth. He strode in adjusting and buttoning his jacket, and asked if everything was fine, and soon walked away, never to be seen again.

At two points during the visit, i was considering leaving this place, the first was when they had indicated the main dining area was booked, and the second was when we saw the menu devoid of any andhra specialty. I was seriously considering going to Kokum. In some sense it was good that i stayed on. We may have been tempted to visit this place at a later date, but now, i doubt if we will go back to this place, considering it doesnt have anything unique to offer. A few points to its credit, the place was new, and so had a very clean and fresh smelling bathroom (something that is rare even in larger and better restaurants). The waiters were not discourteous and tried their best to accommodate visitors and our wishes. The food was just better than average, but it may also be based on our choice of dishes. They are also priced modestly. However, i am disposed to not visiting the place, since my expectation was that this restaurant would offer a specific cuisine or atleast specialize in the andhra cuisine. This is a restaurant meant mainly to cater to the guests at the hotel.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cream Centre, RA Puram, Chennai

It was vegetarian season, thanks to an upcoming trip to Sabarimala. We had been frequenting the usual idli-dosa places, and wanted to try something different, but also particular that it had to be a full and only vegetarian restaurant. While Cream Centre was one of the options that night, i wasnt quite sure where it is located. Well, we found it without any difficulty. We were also lucky, we were early, in by 7pm, and managed to find a table within about 5-10 mins. As we entered, i was wondering where we had come, since it seemed decent but rather ordinary.

All that changed when we were seated and presented the menu. For once, the waiter at our table, gave us an extra menu, meaning more than the usual 2 or 3 normally provided at a table at restaurants. I wonder if we should start ranking restaurants based on ratio of menus to guests at a table. By that category, i would give this place a four star rating - "****". Anyway, the menu presented, was breathtaking, mind-blowing, and fantastic....(please insert any other accolades possible). The pictures, the presentation, the sampling provided, simply amazing. An appropriate movie dialogue would be from Jerry Macquire, "you had me at hello".

It soon turned into another problem. What to order.... or for the first time, in recent history, what not to order? It was tough choice to pick something and leave out another. It was like you were doing great injustice to the Onion Rings, by picking the Cheeseballs. But finally we did pick the cheeseballs and falafel as starters, lahori sizzlers (based on the my waiter's advice), veg panner sizzler, penne pasta and quesadilla (thats case-a-diya, not kusad-illa !!). Ordering out of the way, we settled for the usual long wait for food to arrive. Only to be surprised. The food came fast to the table, but in the wrong order and one at a time.

We had the Penne Pasta first, immediately followed by the falafel sandwich. In a few mins, just enough for the solitary falafel sandwich to go around the table, for a measly bite each, we had the cheeseballs and the quesadilla. So two dinners and the two starters. The quesdilla looked more like a starter, as we were waiting for the sizzler, we decided we must augment the order. And we ordered an aloo methi parantha!. The penne pasta was still be worked by my kid, but everything else had disappeared from the table. We were then presented the veg panneer sizzler. It is now that the waiter had realized that he was missing something, he soon came and apologized for the missing sizzler. I guess there is a reason why i am the butt of all the jokes, thanks to my blog. That was my sizzler, and my mouth that had watered at the menu stage was soon going dry. Still waiting for the sizzler, we received the parantha. I was done eating, or my appetite was gone. I had half the mind to cancel the order. Everyone else had finished their meal, and the parantha was like an extra filling and making its rounds.

Well, i did get my sizzler, all steaming and hot. I was hungry and so i swallowed my pride along with some of the hot steamy food. The sizzler was good, but i may have given it raving ratings, if it had come sooner. Now it was just too hot, and had to be transferred to another plate from the iron skillet, and seemed more messier than it should have been. All this wait and some extra food, ate into empty space for dessert. So it was left to me to slowly work my way through the sizzler, while others watched. A nearby table had a very similar problem, all but one order had reached the table. We exchanged glances, but i guess they too were in a similar state, one person hungry and still waiting for food.

In summary, it was a good place, good food, a tad bit expensive, but the service like most other places was just about average. In all this mess up, my waiter, was friendly, but his manager or bosses didnt make their appearance or even make apologies. I was tempted have a small chat, and cancel, but i had not eaten, and i kept wondering if this poor chappy's salary would be docked because of some mistake in the kitchen. I only wish people in the service business took some more care. It would help attract and retain customers.

But then who really cares. We finished our meal, paid up, with a decent tip (in-spite of the small mess up) and walked outside into a sea of people. From madi-sarai mammis to noisy children to english speaking tamil-girls to kurtha-pyjama daddies and many of the usual all-veggie desi crowd. At that point the wait would have been anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. What the hell, why would anyone care about attracting customers and more importantly retaining them!. In an country of a billion people, where almost 30% have all the money to spend, and fewer places to spend them in, you cant expect great service. Demand is always higher than supply.

Oh by the way, before i sign-off, a place that charges about Rs. 100 for small starter, can afford to have more than one bathroom per gender accessible.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fisherman's Fare, Egmore, Chennai

I have been to this place a couple of times. The names makes it seem like it only serves seafood. Well, it does predominantly serve seafood, but i guess the demand of people who simply want to eat biryani and the likes of panneer butter masala are too much to keep it of the menu.

The place is nothing much to write about. Its not jazzy and it would appear from the name. The road it is situated on is one of the more crowded ones, but there is decent parking (for about 6 cars) right in front of the restaurant. In any case these cant be held against the restaurant. But the inside appearance must surely be something, that they can do a better job off.

The most recent visit was during lunch on a working day. A colleague and i walked into an almost empty restaurant, though it was early for the usual lunch hours, which would have started an hour later at about 1pm. The place did get crowded and almost full, by the time we finished and walked out at about 2pm. Since we were early we had a choice of the entire restaurant to sit, but we were dissuaded from sitting at the one place we sought, because of some electric work possible. The person who seated us was friendly, so one cant take offense to this simple request. But it is still a bit difficult to comprehend how restaurants showcase something, only to deny you later. This happens more when it comes to items on the menu, to hear the all too frequent apology, "sorry sir, this item is not available today"!!

After a protracted view of the menu, we chose to order the combos. I chose the chicken tikka combo (well, i am not a great fan of seafood. I eat only some kinds of fish, and absolutely no shell-fish and other stuff the ocean). My colleague chose a fish tikka combo. We also got some hot pepper chicken soup, only when it arrived, it was made the chinese style, with egg-drop and all. It was good, steaming hot and helped my cold, but would have been rather ridiculous on a hot afternoon in madras. The timing of the soup was right, and we got our food just after the soup bowl was cleaned up. The combo platter was perfect for lunch. Two dishes of chicken, one dry and one with gravy, some rice, one dhal, some rotis, a bit of salad. The other combo had two dishes of fish. But i noticed that one of it was strips of fish, deep fried with batter, something i wouldnt have been too excited about. The food was good, and there was nothing to complain. Although people wanting to know about prawns, crab, squid and other seafood stuff on their menu, will have to search elsewhere.

The combo also came with a drink. Since i had a bit of cold, i asked for something warm. All their bottled softdrinks were stored cold and so not an option. The guy (waiter, server) said they have appy or frooti (both of which come in a tetra-pack). I chose the appy, only to specify that he brings it in a glass and not in the pack itself. Well, he did, only he that he brought the empty glass and tetra-pack to my table and insisted on doing the magic in front of me. I first requested him to go do it somewhere else, since we were in a serious conversation. He did a small walk and came back to the table to do it again. I again, requested but now without the please, and also showed actions, in case he didnt quite understand. He now proceeded to walk around the table, and attempted to do this, on the opposite side. I lost my cool and told him, please take it away from the table, go to the kitchen and do this. I dont think he did that, but he did take it away from my table and bring it back in a glass soon.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience. The food was good. The service was friendly to the usual nonchalant (which is pretty much common in any restaurant in the country). I guess its part of the 'it feels like home' mantra, many people try to follow. I must consider this place again, probably with a larger group, so a better choice of orders can be tried.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dynasty, Nungambakkam, Chennai

This is an all time favourite, or used to be. Part of the Harrisons Hotel, has been in existence for a better part of my life. The old style hotel has now been torn down, and rebuilt into a multi-storey building hosting the same restaurants as before, Meenam and Dynasty. There was a time when the Harrisons Hotel opened smaller Dynasty outlets around Chennai. There were about 2 or 3 around chennai, not including another bakery called Harrisons (i think).

I have been here a few times. I specially loved the older version, because of the sprawling setup. But then, those kind of places are rare these days inside chennai. If i remember correctly, i was introduced to the 'manchurian', thanks to Dynasty. Good chinese food, meant Dynasty once upon a time. Unfortunately, while they have not gone bad, they seem to have lost their edge. The quality of the food is surely not in line with times.

The services was mixed. I must thank Mr. Jeffery (forget his last name), who seemed to care, but boys in the red suit were not as friendly or careful. Mr. Jeffery with his black coat and all, is the head waiter (if you can use that title here), and obviously was required to override decisions or rules. The lower boys were quick to say 'no' to anything, but the moment you bring it to Mr. Jeffery's attention, the issue is resolved amicably. We were a group of ten, and were at first squeezed into a table for 8, in an empty restaurant, in anticipation of a crowd coming later or because the extra table will come in the way!! The next thing that required Jeffery's attention was approval to change the channel on the TV.

We ordered starters, main course all too quickly, hungry as we were. Crispy lamb, dry chilli chicken, veg balls manchurian, and crispy chicken and fuyong. The crispy chicken leg is a chicken bone, all covered with chicken meat, dipped in a special batter and deep fried. It is unique here, most other places, offer a version of this called chicken lolipop. The fuyong was also good, as expected. However, after eating, i wish we had ordered the fuyong without chicken in it.

For main course, it was two kinds of fried rice, and soft noodles, both of which were just about good. But of the dishes we ordered, Lemon Chicken, made with sliced chicken, deserve a very good rating. The other dishes were just about ok, and not worth calling out or remembering. The fried rice or noodles in India, is different from what i have eaten in the US. There is very little oil used in the cooking of both these food, that it could qualify for a health food. I specially love egg fried rice here or in most chinese places, adding meat (chicken or other), seem to introduce a different flavour, making it less desirable.

We finished with some deserts, mostly ice cream, because the menu had nothing special to offer here. The date pancake was just ordinary, compared to ones we get at Mainland China, nearby. People dont seem to care about competition, they believe that crowds will come because of some old glory. One should only look at the Buhari's on Mount Rd for some lessons.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Vrindavan, New Woodlands, Chennai

This is not new, its been there for ages. This is one of the restaurants inside the New Woodlands Hotel, on Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai. This is their attempt to 'up the scale', i guess more on the monetary side, than on the service side. The restaurant is a multi-cusine vegetarian restaurant, and is also 'Jain food' friendly. I have been to this hotel a million times, but 99 times of a hundred it is to the faster 'south indian restaurant' now called Krishna Restaurant. The visit to the Vrindavan side is only when there are special 'guests' in the party, or if the other side is packed.

Food is not a problem here. It was never a problem with this or the other restaurant in New Woodlands. In fact, the name 'woodlands' has become quite generic, and i have not been disappointed visiting one of these copies or originals or branches (i dont think they are branches, but more like within the family or something like that !!, i dont know and so no judgement regarding that). It appears that if you name something woodlands, the food is decent to good.

The service on the other side is somewhere between indifferent to decent. It appears to be a common trait with all restaurants in India. It is difficult to get good quality service. This place wasnt so bad, but, i am sure there is scope to improve. We ordered Idly, Dosa (couple of different varities) and then later coffee. Well, if you go to a Woodlands, get the Idly and Dosa, not the noodles and roti/naan etc. Straying from this mantra is asking for unnecessary trouble. Not that it will suck, but hey, if you wanted roti/naan, go to a dabha. Yeah, except its difficult to find a vegetarian dabha.

I am sure they share kitchens at this hotel, because i couldnt find any spectacular difference in taste. They all tasted just as good. One thing that stands out, and caught my fancy, while sitting and eating, is the decor. There are some beautiful painting or pictures, primarily based on Krishna, but also mainly keeping with the theme of Vrindavan. I snapped the picture on the right, a long while ago using a camera phone. The reddish tinge, was because of the limited lighting inside.

One other comment about the Woodlands place, is the bathrooms. It is common to all the restaurants, and it is kept quite clean. There is a guy also standing there, watching like a hawk for split water etc., and cleaning it up fast and regularly. For that purpose alone, it is worth repeat visits. While this is great, the parking can be crazy when the marriage halls are full. So good to avoid the place when the marriage season is in full swing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Duchess, Alwarpet, Chennai

Duchess, is an interesting name for a restaurant. Am not sure of the inspiration for the name, but the cuisine or food offered is all over the place. You can order chinese, continental, some bit of indian, and also order from Kabul, the restaurant next door. Duchess are Kabul are part of the Shyam Group, which runs Savera, Amaravathi, Malgudi on ECR and a bunch of other restaurants in and around the city. If this not clear from the menu or other specific statements, just look at the water that is served, bottled water that is.

While i am writing about Duchess, now, i have been to this place often. And it is one of the more common stops for the family in the city. And that brings up the problem of what to order everytime you go there. After a lot of soul searching, you usually end up ordering the same thing again and again. On the positive side though, if the whole family likes the place, then usually different people do have different tastes, and so the table will be assured of some choices and sometimes new ones too.

The recent visit to the place was yesterday and one last week too. It was coincindence that two visits happened so close to each other, on second thoughts it was more of a happenstance, specially if it is on the way home. The favourite starter was chilly chicken (dry), and our experience has proven that this dish is going to come fast to your table. We also ordered fried baby corn, not my favourite. How the hell do you eat this veggie? The chilly chicken dish is served hot and is spicy too. It is safe to have water around before you get started on this. We do order soups, usually chicken corn, but that is only for more elaborate meals. They do serve some fresh roasted pappad and mint chutney, which are usually good to keep you occupied till your order is ready to be served.

The order during first of the two recent trips, was egg fried rice and veggie hakka noodles. I prefer egg over chicken fried rice, becuase i think there is some wierd smell associated with the latter. Both these dishes are also quickly served. We also ordered a lemon chicken gravy dish, which was a disaster. I have no clue what concoction was used, but it was a mess to look at, and tasted even lousy to the palette.

The second time, it was sizzler time. The desi version of steaks sizzlers. Well, you can get all kind of sizzlers. We got the chicken pepper steak, which was decent, but for some saucy stuff that was poured on the chicken. I guess it was done to hide the poor quality of meat (as in the fat and other uneatable parts). I would think that they would take extra care to choose the piece of flesh or meat. We also got the chilly chicken starter. Seafood came in the form of Phuket fish, which was sear fish all nicely cooked in some spicy sause. Was decent, but i think the spice used for many of these are all the same.

The place is about ok, in terms of ambience and also in terms of service. But their restroom (bathroom) simply sucks. They are not any different from most other restuarants here in chennai, all of whom ensure that the bathroom is the most smelliest and unclean place. This is true even sometimes with restaurants located in 3 and 4 star hotels.

I would go back again, simply because its a fave amongst the family, its also on the way between the center of the city and home in adyar. Although i will have to hold my nose and search for any hidden toilet paper and paper towels when i use the bathroom to wash hands etc.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Thattukada, Spencer Plaza, Chennai

This eating place had opened a while back in the Spencer Plaza food court. I also helped some of my colleagues and friends not so aware of the mallu (malayalee, as in person from kerala) ways, understand what these dishes meant. But, i didnt quite enjoy the ambience in the food court and so had avoided the opportunity to eat from this place. Well, finally i was presented with another one, that allowed seating in their reserved area and i took it.

There was a lot to offer. My other rationale for not lunching here was that, the portions (biriyani etc) could be huge and i didnt want to sleep after lunch. So it took a while to read and re-read the menu to choose something appropriate. I finally settled for 'poricha kozhi and parotta', thats mostly dry fried chicken, with kerala style parotta. My friend accompanying me ordered fish curry and rice. The food arrived soon, 'cause i think there is very little cooking done at the site. Meals come prepared.

I got two parottas, and two fairly sized pieces of chicken meat (with bones) and some nice thick gravy stuck to it. The first taste was awesome, just the way i liked it - spicy and hot - mallu style. The gravy was thick enough, but had managed to seem inside the flesh and was marinated nicely, cooked to perfection. I also got to taste the fish curry, typical mallu curry, coconut based gravy, rich with the sour tasting pulli (tamarind), and spiced up to give you a kick. The parottas and chicken quickly disappeared. I was tempted to ask for more, but this was filling and decided the greed had to wait for another day.

Just as i was leaving, i confirmed, if they were open late and provided parcel/pickup. An obvious question, to a mallu would have warranted a retort, but i was answered with a exuberant yes and confirmation that they are open late till 9pm in the evening. I guess thats when the mall also bring their shutters down. By the way, in the evening, around 4, you could also stop by for a 'meter chaya' and masala vada. All done kerala style.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Delhi Dhaba, ECR, Chennai

Delhi Dhaba, on the ECR close to the toll gate (just before, if travelling from thiruvanmiyur) and is part of the same group that runs Amaravathi and Savera Hotels in Chennai. We had been here before, but the last time we ate at Malgudi, which was the same food (taste and concept) as the Malgudi inside the Savera Hotel. The Delhi Dhaba is the north-indian (read punjabi) version of food.

The restaurant is inside a nice complex, that includes Malgudi and a chinese restaurant, a shop selling some 'desi' stuff etc. We had stopped at Malgudi here previously after visiting the ISKCON temple still being constructed off the ECR. Lot of space, made parking a breeze, but it shouldnt have been a concern, because they also had a valet service. The decision was made to eat biryani etc., so the choice became Delhi Dhaba. We were quickly disappointed, by a very nonchalant host, or should i say ghost, who was more interested in staring at space. This ghost clearly couldnt see people, even though his curse and black coat, allowed him to be clearly visible to everyone. After a little thought, we helped ourselves to a table available in the closed room (airconditioned), even though the weather was perfect to sit out.

We sat and waited for what seemed a good ten minutes before patience ran out, and we attempted to seek attention to our table. The waiter (i am not sure what the professional terms used), soon arrived with 1 menu for the entire table. Meanwhile, the ghost, actually managed to collect a lot of menus lying on a table nearby, and calmly walked out. I think i am certain, he couldnt have seen us, sitting almost right in front of him. I wonder if the table was in different position, if he would walked thru' to get to the door.

The order placed, included murgh and panneer kabob, chicken biriyani, veg pulao, makki roti, sarson ka saag and some raitha and pappad. The waiter after his initial embarassment was quick on his feet and turned very helpful and fast. We were hungry and he indicated he can deliver everything (or anything) we order fast enough (we of course didnt quite ask him how fast is fast). But true to his statement, the kabobs reached our table in about 5 minutes. And it turned out to be good. I dont know, i guess the expectation were low, so we were amazed at the quality. But that didnt last long.

The biriyani and chicken were just about average. The veg pulao was very mediocre. But the makki roti and saag were really good. Well, i enjoyed them. It had been a while since i had treated to myself to these, and so comparision to original or regional preparation aside, i think it tasted good, just as it melted in the mouth.  The food service was quite fast. But i think we paid a price for speed, in terms of quality of food. They also seemed to be stingy in dishing out portions, because they hardly filled the vessels they were served in. All of this also, came at a nice price ( a tad bit expenisve total i thought).

A mixed experience, in all. I think i will visit Malgudi again, but not this Dhaba. And on ECR, i think there are a lot of choices, for me to pick Malgudi, specially thinking we may have to see the ghost again. Altho' i must say the hosts at Malgudi (previously) were quite friendly. And oh ya, only one other reason to choose this clump of restaurants is the killi jyotsyam and kai jyotsyam offered at the location.