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.