When the Mahou Maestra wheat beer and I had a rendezvous!

The Mahou maestra has made it’s debut in Kolkata; much to the excitement of a beer lover like me. I enjoy my glass of beer, just like a weary traveller enjoys his drink of water after discovering his way out of a trecherous, hot and sunny desert. A glass of chilled beer sets off a reaction in me that is similar to the Pavlovian reaction in a canine. It is therefore a moot point that I should make an attempt to try out the new beer that had made it’s entry into the Kolkata market.
“Mahou Wheat”- said the lettering in white and green on the half gold and half white coloured oblong label stuck on the body of the bottle. “This beer is not like other beers”, the server in the bar tried to explain to me as he saw me taking a keen interest in the cardboard marker that adorned every table in the bar meant for advertising this new Spanish beer to have hit Kolkata.
” It’s got a cloudy appearance that is similar to that of Hoegaarden,” gushed the server, apparently pleased to note that he had an avid listener in me!
“Really? Are you trying to tell me that this Spanish beer is as interesting as The Hoegaarden;” I emphasised on the “The” in an attempt to draw the server’s attention to the fact that he was now trying to cross the limits! Hoegaarden, after all, was not just an ordinary beer! It occupied a high place on a pedestal while other mortal brands paid their obeisances standing far below, at the foot of the pedestal. The cloudy appearance that bordered almost on the frothy white water of a rapid, was like an aura, mysterious in the flavours that it hid and waiting to swamp the drinker swiftly with each gulp. Did “Mahou wheat” really had it in itself to come anywhere near the exotic Hoegarden?
Then the pint of beer was brought and the server tilted the glass to catch that frothy white liquid gushing from the bottle as if in exhilaration of being liberated from captivity! So far so good, thought I as I watched the cloudy liquid in the glass dissipating light and imparting a dullness to the golden fluid.
My patience was now like a leash around an excited dog, barely able to keep me from picking up the glass. As soon as the server had moved away, I picked up the glass and drank a large gulp of the beer. It’s chilling effect initially dulled my taste buds and it took some time for the signals to get transmitted to my brain. For a brief minute it really seemed different-different from the other beers; a little heavier, slightly more complicated in it’s flavour compared to the other beers. It felt good and I quickly took in another large gulp. A few more gulps later I had begun to feel the difference.
Mahou wheat has a distinctive taste of wheat, a sort of starchy taste of wheat that remains in the mouth when you chew a small handful of grains of raw wheat. I realised that it is this starchiness that probably lends a heaviness to the flavour of Mahou, something which lingers on and gets accentuated with every sip. That was when my mind was made up. The flavour of wheat in Mahou wheat is too strong, in my opinion. If the coriander imparts an aroma and flavour then it failed to register on my senses.
Alas! Mahou wheat was a mere mortal, nowhere near to the greatness of The Hoegaarden!

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Hotel Nahar at Ooty… We dined there!

Tradition came in a large steel plate, with 3/4th of an inch of raised edge, and a green cut to the size banana leaf placed inside. Tradition came in 12 steel bowls, filled with different items like curry, daal, rasam, stuffed dried chilly deeply fried and few slices of cucumber to name a few. At the centre of the plate reposed another steel bowl filled with rice, of a variety that’s short and stout, it’s dazzling white colour and the aroma rising with the steam made pangs of hunger rise from the deep depths of my stomach.
Nahar restaurant is apparently one of the oldest eatery in Ooty. The eatery is actually part of a large hotel complex and once inside, first visitors like us would need to ask for directions to the restaurant serving the traditional Indian thali. The place is quite popular and when we reached the place during the lunch hour, we had to wait for about 5 minutes before a seat for two was found out for us and we were seated comfortably in seats adorned in shades of deep red. Red is the dominant colour in the restaurant, with tablecloths and servers’ liveried in shades of red, and probably chosen in the past to create an impression of warmth on people as they came inside cold and hungry. Much has changed with respect to the weather in Ooty since then and it may do well for the owners to contemplate on perking up the interiors with shades of bright yellow or orange in tune with the sunlight bathing the world outside. The place does have an old world feeling associated with it and while the mustiness and decay associated with things past their age is not necessarily repulsive, my personal opinion is that the place is in need of some make over to make it a more appealing place. In the process of this make over, retaining it’s old world charm would certainly be much desired.
Food at Nahar, the traditional veg meal that we had ordered, was made more enjoyable by the presentation of the thali and the fragrance of the steaming rice that forthwith set about the task of lubricating the taste buds of the tongue. We were hungry and enjoyed the wholesome and simple meal very much. If, however, one were to ask whether the taste was something unique, my answer, sadly, would be negative.

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Restaurant review… Ammini- A glittering pearl

Are you in the mood for some dazzling white, perfect cauldron shaped appams and yet do not want to go to the popular restaurants in Kolkata serving South Indian cuisine, simply because you want to try out something new? Well, for such folks, there’s Ammini!
Imagine a garage space at the basement of your flat meant to park your Honda civic or Hyundai elantra and you will get a fairly rough idea of the space in which Ammini operates. I was amazed at how much efficiency had been packed in that little space, without leaving any room for any dissatisfaction or irritation to creep into the diners. We landed there on a Saturday evening and the 20 odd seater eatery was packed with people. Yet I noticed that everyone was happy and if there were to grumbling folks or discontented diners, my eyes failed to pick them up. Service at Ammini is quick and dishes are served with a smile on a green banana leaf spread on a rectangular bamboo tray that acts as the food plate.
Ammini is all about vibrancy and what struck a chord in me the moment I entered the place was the burst of colours that made the little cubby hole a joy to be in.
Apart from the green of the banana leaves, the green, purple and blue colour of the cushions, the egg yolk yellow on one of the walls contrasting with the muted cream on the other, the slate pink on the columns and finally, the vibrantly colourful paintings of the Kathakali dancer and Lord Ganesh adorning the walls, all sync wonderfully to raise the happiness quotient of diners to seventh heaven!
Ammini is therefore all about happiness ; happiness that comes from its colourful ambience, it’s efficient and eager to please staff and, last but not the least, it’s food. We tried the mutton fry and potato stew as an accompaniment to the appams. The mutton fry was perfect in its flavour of spices and the sweetness of the potato stew acted as a perfect foil to the slightly tangy flavour of the appam. I did however note a slight hint of raw uncooked rice dough in the second appam that I had ordered, the rawness probably attributable to the rush of diners on that particular day. I must however add that it did not, in any way, lessen my happiness . Such was the delight that pervaded in our hearts that we decided to go the extra mile and order a bowl of kesari. Kesari is the sweet, saffron coloured halwa, the camphor flavour of which winds its way straight down into our hearts with every spoonful.
Portions of food at Ammini tends to be on the smaller side and hence a big eater would do well to order a helping all for himself. Being a small place, most of the accompaniments are probably cooked elsewhere and only heated before being served here, a fact that makes service quite fast at this place. I guess that the kitchen is probably only used to prepare only appams and Malabar parathas.
We loved Ammini; it’s ambience, flavours and the promptness of service. Will certainly go back another day to try out some more of their dishes.

Lychee Wine…. Flavours from rustic lands of India

The colony in the outskirts of Ranchi town was where I grew

up, amidst flora that included fruit bearing trees like guava, mango, wood apple and lychee. The cool confines, courtesy the shades of these trees, were one of the favourite hanging out place for me and my friends; a place where we discussed on topics of varying nature and argued in favour of our favourite soccer team. The lychee tree was my favourite amongst the other trees, primarily because it was always willing to accommodate me, with my short height not proving to be a barrier to reaching out for its branches and pulling myself up on the tree to rest in the crook between two branches. The bonding with lychee began thus and grew stronger with every passing season when the tree used to provide an inexhaustible supply of bunches of the red juicy fruits.

The town of Muzzaffarpur in Bihar is famous for its lychee fruit production. According to Wikipedia, Muzzaffarpur produces 300,000 MT of lychee annually, the quantity being 40% of total India’s produce.

I love the lychee, particularly because of its sweet taste and its hassle-free way of handling. The fruit is not as messy as the mango or the wood apple or even the sugarcane and certainly a minor hassle by way of it being handled when compared to the pomegranate. The fruit pulp, when chewed, burst forth to fill the mouth with pleasurable and heart warming sweetness. Once the sweet juice is drained out, all that remains of the pulp tastes something like an over chewed chewing gum-flat and rubbery.
These tastes and the associated memories came back to me as I took the first sip from the bottle of Lychee wine that a friend of ours make and gifted to us!
The wine, the colour of pale straw, had a clarity akin to that of the waters of a mountain spring. Just watching the daylight move in with ease and light up every single speck of this clear liquid was sheer delight to my senses. Then there was that sweet, heady aroma of lychee that pervaded my senses with every sip and brought the memories of youth back in a rush!
Those who love the flavour of Lychee would certainly, in my opinion, find this wine quite to their liking.
The only flip side to this great wine is the dryness factor. It may not be easy for everyone to consume more than a glass because the dryness factor begins to take hold on one’s senses and leaves an uncomfortable dry taste in one’s mouth.

To pair the wine with the right food was a difficult choice for me. The sweetness followed by the dryness inside the mouth would probably need to be countered with some fried fish fingers or chicken cutlet. Even a buttered Naan with some chicken malai kebab would go well. A little oily Indian fried food should counter the dryness and therefore should pair well with this wine in my opinion.

Chapter 2….Memories of Park Street in Salt lake ( A restaurant review)

Shakespeare crept up into my mind immediately as soon as I entered Chapter 2. The setting resembled a micro-auditorium or a theatre, with a stage at one end of the room and tables arranged in random fashion at the front portion of this stage. It was Saturday night and quite late in the evening when we decided to hit “Chapter 2” to grab some bite. Inside a band of 5, musicians and singer combined, were belting out English numbers. It took some time for the eyes to get accustomed to the glare of light that kept swinging to the beat of the music and hitting us right on our pupils. Having settled down, I picked up the menu card and was immediately transported back into history!

Chapter 2 promises to give back to Calcuttans a sliver of what Park Street had once stood for in the forties and right through the sixties. For someone like me, who has not been witness to the heydays of Park Street it will probably be difficult for me to make a comparision and vouch for the level to which Chapter 2 reaches in comparison to the golden era of Park Street! However for those who love their music and want to satiate their souls with music this is probably one of the place that they would love. The band playing on this particular day was belting out English numbers, something for which I really have not much of an understanding. However, judging from the few diners who shook their torsos and beat a tune on the table, I realised that people were definitely enjoying the overall experience of music that Chapter 2 was serving along with the blend of food and drink. For the ones seriously inclined to listening their particular favourite, there are request slips on each table that can be used to make a request for one’s favourite song.

Sipping my old monk I glanced through the menu card and was enriched by the bits of knowledge about the heritage that Park Street had once stood for. It made me wonder as to what Calcutta has really lost by way of a rocking party place. Park Street today is only a shadow of its former self and I couldn’t but silently applaud the efforts that Chapter 2 has made in trying to rekindle the heritage that once was.

Food at Chapter 2 is, as is usually found in such places, more of continental variety and we were happy to order a Seafood Chowder and some English fish fingers to go with the soup. The Chowder however, was slightly disappointing because it lacked the distinct aroma and flavours typical to the sea foods. The consistency too, I thought, was a little thicker than normal. It was only later that I realized that the menu had clearly spelt out that the contents of the chowder would be limited to prawns and crab ; the absence of musky seafood flavour was therefore easily explained. It was too late however to do anything other than to blame the swinging stage lights for having  come in the way of my vision from reading out the detailed contents of the dishes that appeared as disclaimers on any advertisement. The English fish fingers however were quite English, crisp on the outside with the chef ensuring thy the crispiness did not get overdone and the flakiness of the bhetki took control of the taste palates inside the mouth as soon as one bit into the stuff. With the gastronomic juices now flowing like a gurgling stream, I decided to order a Ham steak. What was offered to us, complete with sauteed veggies and dollop of mashed potato was quite delicious. The pieces of ham were succulent and filled me up to my gills making me happy as a lark!

So what is my advice to would be diners who wish to make a beeline for Chapter 2? Is it the only watering hole in Calcutta that dishes music as an add on feature to the food/drinks? Trincas on Park Street still carries on the tradition that was once the hallmark of Park Street and what Chapter 2 promises to bring back. Then there is my favourite, Kalash at HHI, which has a lady rendering ghazals that promise to sooth many a soul tired with the drudgery of daily routine work life. So Chapter 2 is not unique in any way. Besides, I have never had an ear for English rock and so found the place a little too loud for my taste. The space is small and music hangs heavy in the air inside the room making conversation a little difficult task to achieve. If you are the sort, like me, who wish to dine in peace and quiet with conversation with your fellow diners being the main aim, then Chapter 2 is certainly not the place you should be heading to.

As regards the food, I would like to go back once more to try out their juicy pork spare ribs and pork chops. Other than that I don’t think there’s much to attract someone like me to this place. Even the so called “sea food” here is all about Beckti and is as insipid in variety as a moat!

Benaras-Through our eyes

Benaras is a city that reminded me of Rip Van Winkle; who went off to sleep and then woke up to utter chaos around him! The city keeps blinking its eyes, trying to figure out what has caused such an huge spurt of life around it; life that has multiplied exponentially to fill every inch of available space! There is life that spills out from the narrow by lanes, like the spewing of lava from an angry volcano. There is life that moves on the streets in random chaotic brownian type movement of liquid molecules. These lives keep bumping, colliding, pushing, jostling, dribbling around, trying to gather an escape velocity that they hope, might propel them, in their desired direction. Even the holy river has not been spared; there are scores, floating around in boats, like deadwood.
Benaras is a city that seem to be bursting at the seams; an old city which has now probably been stretched to its limits and gasps to keep itself intact. It seems woefully incapable of handling the pressure of the growing ambitions of it’s residents.
So is it worth making a trip to Benaras from the viewpoint of a tourist? The city was established along the banks of River Ganga and grew up to be a holy city for the Hindus. Even today it attracts thousands who throng to offer prayers to lord Shiva and other Hindu deities. This apart, the sights of the narrow, cobbled pathways and the ancient architecture dotting the bank of the river do have, in my opinion, the capability to hold the “non-religious” tourist’s attention. The sights and sounds of Benaras are definitely capable of providing a lasting impression on the minds of those who wish to have an experience that is not bordering on the religious. While we were short of time and did not have the opportunity to watch the evening Arti at the Dashaswamedh ghat, a lazy float on the Ganges while taking in the sights of the ghats is an experience that is sure to be considered worthwhile by most who undertake this. The river, though still polluted to a large extent, gives an excellent view of the ghats, it’s colours and architecture appearing like a collage on a painter’s giant canvas! Each ghat has its own distinctive identity that presents itself as a feast to the eyes while sailing down from one end to the other. The Dashashwamedh ghat, the busiest of all, comes across as the most colourful; the colourful wooden umbrellas and the throngs of pilgrims appearing like dollops of colour haphazardly splashed on a white canvas. Each ghat has its own distinctive flavour and portrays the identity of its developer. While Dashashwamedh ghat is a cacophony of colours, the Dhobi ghaat is a symphony; coloured clothes laid out to dry on the bank in organized pattern. Another contrast is the grey colour that the soot from the leaping flames of the burning pyre leaves on everything at the Manikarnika ghat.
Getting a grip on the mode of transport in Benaras requires some skill and some prior information on same would probably help a wannabe tourist greatly.
Benaras has auto rickshaws which seem to believe in the theory of standardization; a standard fare of Rs 200 is demanded irrespective of how near or how far you wish to go. If you do not agree to their point of view, then you would be better off trying to book an Ola. Ola services in Benaras offers a choice of auto rickshaws as well as their standard range of cars. The service does tend to disappoint though, like they probably do in all towns and cities that they operate in, by making themselves scarce during peak hours. If you decide to do away with all these and walk, then that has its own set of challenges! Such is the density of vehicles on the road that a pedestrian always runs the risk of being pushed off the road or being run over. The density of traffic at some places is so dense that the speed is a little better than a snail.
Picking our way through the winding narrow cobbled lanes enroute to the Vishwanath temple reminded me of my place of birth-Jamalpur and also of faraway Edinburgh. The cobbled pathways are fenced on both sides by shops that we failed to investigate because we were pushed forward by a crowd that seemed to swell as one neared the temple. Secondly we were ourselves in a rush because we had just heard that the temple closed for an hour and half around 11 am, primarily to clean the temple of the large amount of flowers and leaves that the devotees offer. Our visit to the temple of Kashi Vishwanath was fraught with confusion and tinged with a sense of disappointment due to the fact that despite such efforts and money spent, all that we could manage was a fleeting glimpse of the shrine. Even our pujari cum “queue-manager” did not give us enough time to admire the magnificent gold dome once inside. He also did not consider it his business to provide us with snippets from history of the temple and the anecdote pertaining to how a mosque had been built by Nadir Shah after razing the temple. The temple visit is one of the most forgettable part of our tour because of lack of transparency on many parameters and the tendency of the flower shops and pujaris to fleece the devotees. In the sacred land of the Hindus, we were once again sadly reminded of the barriers that ordinary devotees need to surpass in their quest to reach out to their God!
A visit to Benaras should be considered incomplete without savouring the sweets of Benaras. The milk based sweets are worth gorging on and they can beat the milk based sweets from even Kolkata, by a mile. Noteworthy amongst all that is on offer are the red pedas, a sweet made by thickening the milk to such an extent that the sugar caramelizes and imparts a red colour to the pedas. Our taxi guide advised us to buy these lal pedas from inside the sankat mochan temple. The sweet is offered to Lord Hanuman as prasad although we simply bought half a kilo for our own consumption. The taste is heavenly, like a million sweet filled bubble bursting in succession inside the mouth and then moving down in a stream finding its way into one’s heart.
Benaras is also famous for BHU and a visit to its campus provided a welcome escape from the congestion we felt at the temple and the ghats. The campus is huge and provides ample space for those weary from the strains of sightseeing to stretch their legs and catch some breath without fear of being jostled. The air inside is also clean and one can therefore feel an instant upliftment of one’s spirits. The architecture of the institute buildings and the hostel a delight for students of architecture. I took a special liking to the temple of Lord Vishwanath inside the campus primarily because of the pristine holiness it exudes.
Benaras is a holy city, a city that has survived many an onslaught over ages. It groans and gasps under the onslaught of the present day multitude but still survives and bears all with a stoic resignation. Probably it derives its strength from the holy river Ganges that comforts with its caress as it flows gently past the city.

Review… The newest Cake Patties er dokaan in town


Trust Anjan Chatterjee to come up with something creative all the time! The master of flavours has now ventured into cakes, pastries and all things baked. Thus has been born the “Dariole”, and in whose search I spent a fruitful afternoon, the November Calcutta sun puff-ing heat in doses milder than when it is at its “baking” best.

The road to Dariole twisted its way from Loudon street to Moira Street and as it finally snaked into Rawdon, I noticed the brownish chocolate coloured signboard that announced I had reached my destination.

Probably afternoon is the cleaning time and so the first thing visible to me , from a distance, was a mop and pail, resting against the glass facade of the shop. Gourmets, like me, are however made of sterner stuff and no amount of mops could deter me from striding in purposefully into the shop.

The review of Dariole, published in a local daily on the occasion of its opening, had advertised about its unique flavours of patties and puffs that, to a hardcore non vegetarian like me, had sounded like manna from heaven. Once inside, it took gluttonous mind and impatient eyes a fraction of a second to search out the stuff of a Bong glutton’s soul – kosha mangsho. The kosha mangsho here had been skillfully concealed inside layers of puffed flour. That however had in no way, I realised post my 1st bite, altered its heavenly flavour and very soon I had gobbled up the whole of it and was ready to order another!

Dariole is a non veg lovers delight! There was prawn patties, chicken Seekh kebab rolls, mint and mutton puffs and a host of other options on their menu. What however made me to consider  bowing my head in reverence to the master of culinary world, was the Potato mustard puff. The delectable taste of the stuffing that is again, quintessentially Bong is, in my opinion, the winning recipe of Dariole. Of course I haven’t tried all their flavours and I would definitely love to go back to try the other savouries on their menu.

I do have some opinion on the decor of the shop. The interior  decor of the shop could have been improved a little, in my opinion. The space inside seems to have not been very well utilized and the place could have done with a bit of colour and smarter looking sets of chairs and tables. Excessive use of the brown colour seems to have made the place appear a little drab.

While waiting for my items to be packed, I Googled to check the meaning of the word Dariole. It’s supposed to be a French term for a mould used for baking cookies and other savouries.

My ratings for Dariole (on a 5 point scale) :

Food on offer      : 4

Value for money : 4

Decor                    : 2

Just Asian…A Dining experience

Visited.. 19th August 2017

OK, so this is the new kid off the block! The kid is new, fresh, full of energy and raring to go. The owners do a round of the tables, speaking to the diners, trying to connect, suggest courses, extract feedback after a course is done and generally make an attempt to make the dining experience a pleasurable one!
Well, I did like what the new kid had to offer during our first visit. The place used to be rented earlier by another restaurant and I couldn’t but help make a mental comparison of the inside decor of the current with the old. The owners of the previous restaurant had done up the place in bright shades of red and yellow with the walls being adorned with colourful posters and a clarinet style decorative lamp shade. Shorn of these posters and the clarinet lamp shade, the decor now appeared a little minimalistic and bare though by no means unattractive or un-appealing.
We had gone to the place with a specific aim of trying out the Japanese cuisine. The Miso soup that we ordered initially turned out to be a drab affair with the endearing seafood taste, so characteristic of a typical Miso soup, missing completely. Then we ordered some salmon sashimi, which however seemed to have retained all its freshness and hence was delicious in taste. The Thai red curry was next and though I thought the chef could have added a little more spice to the red curry and thickened the gravy a little bit more, the aroma emanating from the steaming white rice and the flavour of coconut milk of the gravy made up for any misgivings that I may have initially harboured.
In summary, if I had to describe the dining experience at Just Asian it would probably suffice if I mentioned the fact that I look forward to explore this place more in the coming months. There’s certainly the convenience bit for us because it’s distance from our house can be covered in 10 minutes even if we walked at a pace at which the tortoise had started the race with the hare. The brother – sister owner duo have already talked us into getting the discount card made and we certainly intend to make use of it in the coming days. There’s also something more than the convenience bit and the discount bit that would make me go back. It’s that honest eager to please attitude of the owners that has endeared me. I would therefore go back, on another day, to have a hearty conversation with them on matters relating to charity, something that they mentioned was their passion, over some good assorted sashimi platter.

 

Pic– Salmon sashimi platter. Would have been a better visual delight had it been paired with serving  chopsticks, instead of the fork & spoon combo!IMG_20170819_203936.jpg