Friday, November 5, 2010

Heady Mix

Now there is a place in Arpora….full of ‘fusion’ surprises. Aptly named Mix Bar Grill and More…it’s a venue that creates a platform for food, dance, screening of sports events, karaoke, live acts, and high spirits. Well I will give you a brief insight of the ‘happenings’, but as usual it is the ‘food’ that is of prime importance for me.

Meet Manav and Lovely Paul…the husband and wife duo behind this enterprise. Although Manav originally worked for an MNC, his passion for food and a love for Goa made him leave the ‘bustling metropolis’ Mumbai and anchor here.

‘So what is his fare?’ I wondered as we walked into the trendy open space. The psychedelic colors blue and orange, of the ‘Bar Zone’ warmed our spirits. The ambience is ‘young’ but still comfortable for the ‘traditional’ frame of mind.

Well he has a medley of cuisines… ‘His very own experimentations’ Lovely states! Casting a glance across the menu there is Indian, Asian and Continental favorites… what ‘experiments’ did that need? I wondered.

Anyway Joe was at home immediately with his ‘Classic Margarita’. ‘Mix is a labor of love,’ Lovely says, ‘Manav oversees the kitchen making sure that every ingredient is fresh and prepared ‘a la minute’, so we recommend a waiting time of 20-25 minutes,’ she states.

Well there was plenty to do…even though we had not gone on an ‘event’ night. ‘What happens on those nights,’ we ask. The salad had now reached the table. A tuna salad with a lime and basil dressing- simple was my first thought. And ‘special’ was my next as the molars began its activity. The lettuce was crunchy, the fish flavor modestly vying with the basil flavored lime. The peppers red, yellow, green giving you the ‘Go’ signal. Now although I am not one for the ‘ghas-pus’…you see my daily diet of the same at home makes me crave more exotic preparations at the restaurant. I would definitely recommend this. Joe hastily downed his drink as he took on an extra helping.

Now all this time I had addressed myself to the salad…so I decided to give Lovely my attention. Joe took this break to order a Long Island Iced Tea. Now this place apparently has four days of events in a week…and three days of full menu dining. During the ‘events’ a smaller more practical menu operates…be it the jam session with a live band, karaoke or movie screenings.

But as I remarked…the only event I was concerned with was the ‘food’ although the football match was being screened on a full screen. Goans would love this. The starters arrived. Southern Shrimp and Crackling Honey Vegetables, the Indian and Asian influence. Now let me share that this is ‘one’ great set of starters that will make you shout ‘GOAL’ with joy. Manav had got the ‘experimentation’ just right. Imagine the Kerala coastline…roasted coconut with south Indian spices….medium prawns marinated to perfection and grilled and topped with swollen and fried red chilies. The aroma of the coconut will give you the feeling of ‘ghar ka’ cooking and when nibbled with a bite of prawn? Your taste buds will be sizzling. Great preparation! And the Crackling Honey Vegetables? The very name inspires a host of feelings....the sweetness of honey, the spice of Szechwan sauce and the batter fried vegetables being tossed around in this concoction before crackling in the mouth.

Manav decided to give us his ‘Continental’ favorites as the main course. Now I always believe in the maxim…chef knows best. So it was Spicy Prawn in Tomato concasse, Blackened chicken and Sea bass in lime and dill sauce. Let me take it step by step. First the Spicy Prawns which were attractively arranged in a mud pot with herbed bread around it on the platter. To a normal concasse (tomato puree) Manav had added his blend of spice, with a thick layer of gratinated cheese on top. The prawns had taken in this blend and when taken in with a nibble of herbed bread….a good preparation for those who like a tomato base.

The ‘Blackened’ chicken is the restaurants signature dish. ‘Our guests started spreading the word about this chicken,’ Manav says. So what is the ‘blackened chicken’? Grilled chicken, soft and succulent marinated in his special ingredients...a fusion of sesame oil, soya, honey and orange. Mediterranean? Asian? Indian? A blend of flavors that have captured the ‘conti’ foodies.

The Sea Bass of fresh…on a bed of spinach delicately flavored with a lime and dill sauce. ‘Every preparation is different,’ Manav says with pride. On the screen a message flashed “Professionalism is an attitude.’ Perhaps the Steaks which he recommends and the fancy preparation of Beer Can chicken…well a chicken sits on a open beer can and is gently grilled as the juices from the can permeates it during the cooking…will activate your taste buds.

Whatever the cuisine, or the spirit it is a Heady Mix because Manav and Lovely are offering so much more.

Mix – Bar Grill & More
Address: Calangute-Arpora Road
Arpora Main Market.
Mobile: 9223415333

Molten Lava

Have you ever seen pictures of a volcano in full blast? After spewing volumes of ash and smoke it erupts……the thick molten lava cascading down the slopes. Now what has this lava got to do with my article? While the color might differ…the goodies that this lounge and grill serves had my salivary glands oozing. And with the music raising the temperature to mind boggling heights, I can be absolved for thinking that I was flowing on a bed of molten lava.

There is this place, en route to the airport called ‘Lava cocktail lounge and grills’. And while the Friday Retro Nights has the place buzzing it is the food that is worth a mention. The person behind this endeavor is Nisha Vaz and the ‘chic’ and ‘warm’ ambience in hues of red and orange set the mood.

The menu is elegantly designed with a variety of ‘bites’ starting from the liquid variety. Joe got bitten by the ‘liquid’ bug. The fresh fruit Mojito…’This sure is ‘peachy’’ he says as he takes in a gulp of ‘peach’ Mojito. Was he punning on the word? Well I left him to it as the starters arrived. ‘Hot’ favorites…perhaps to go with the theme…..Jalapeno cheese balls, Parma ham wraps, satay platter, golden fried prawns…..even the color of the preparations add to the ‘molten’ after effects.

Absolutely great! And with a drink in your hand?....excellent tit-bits. Even the presentation…the prawns are served in long cylindrical dishes…..the satay like the compass showing the way…. And the taste, absolutely ‘crunchstatious’ and ‘tasty masti’! Pardon me but the words just popped out. What I meant was that the prawns and the cheese balls were crunchy and tasty, the satay and the wraps…as the advert states would set a ‘masti’ high mood, finger licking good.

Let’s come down to the ‘dining’ bit. This is no music-drink-snacky place alone, but one which would set the taste buds roaring. Try the Bruchettas or the Mushroom Balchao with Pao. You are on a good wicket. A little bird whispered that Nishas mother, Maria Francisca Vaz of the ‘Karma Masala’ fame is the ‘hand’ behind these Goan delicacies. That Balchao masala that wraps the masala and the roundels of crunchy onion rings with the toasted pao..... Alleluia! And Nisha has something more planned for showcasing this from tomorrow. I will tell you about it after this meal.

We decided on the Steak with mushroom sauce and the Kingfish steak with oregano, lemon sauce and chopped garlic. The wholesome plate choc-a-block with accompaniments would be termed as a ‘culinary designers’ delight. The French fries were crisp, the salad that accompanied the fish had its own ‘unique’ coleslaw taste…I used the word unique, cause the chef had added a blend of herbs to take it to another dimension. Uuummm! The pepper sauce that accompanied the steak…well you could have it as a ‘spread’ on toast…Divine! Back to childhood days….we polished the plate clean. Now although you have realized that I have focused only on the accompaniments…it is because I realized that they have taken care of every minute detail. Coming to the king fish, it is absolutely fresh, and with the lemon sauce…….divine.

Yes that meant no room for comment. But how can I not comment on the desserts? I will let you into a secret. At every restaurant I first peek at the back pages. The waiters find this odd always pointing to the drinks…I leave that for Joe. Now Nisha had some ‘old world’ favorites…Sera Dura, and Brazilian pudding, a recipe she confesses she learned from her grandmother. Did we wait from these desserts to ‘thaw’ a little…no Siree! Somewhere along the way it seems that Joe’s sweet tooth has become overactive. The Sera durra placed in front of him….vanished in a jiffy.

So like a spoiled child I put my hand around my Brazilian pudding…something which I have not done since childhood and addressed myself to ‘MY’ dessert. Biscuit soaked in coffee liqueur sandwiched with fresh cream and doused in brandy. Grandmother’s Portuguese dessert was an instant hit. We sat back as the music washed over us, lifting our over satiated senses to a high.

But Nisha has more up her sleeve. From tomorrow she plans to have a ‘Goan’ special. Pick up your meat…choose your masala…sorry ‘Mum Maria Francisca’s’ masala but of your choice and it is prepared right in front of you. Over lunch and dinner she plans to delight you with ‘on-the-spot cooking with local flavors and as the flames work its magic, perhaps you too might ride on the crest of ‘molten lava.’

Lava Cocktail Lounge n Grill
Address: Above Sai Service Showroom, Chicalim, Goa Tel No: 9960182828/9765582828

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Little Lotus and soy sauce

In China or Japan…the word is the same ‘Tamari’ although the meaning might differ. In Chinese it means ‘little lotus’ in Japanese ‘soy sauce’. But perhaps this restaurant is aptly named because it showcases the ‘flavors’ of the Orient.
The new menu has a host of preparations….sushi, sashimi, Tepanyaki, Chinese, Thai-take your pick. We met with Executive Chef Gyanender, Food & Beverage Manager Shobit and the person who donned the mantle of explaining every preparation to us….Restaurant Manager Ryan Sequeira.

Now Sushi is a Japanese dish of cooked rice topped with fish and other ingredients. It is served rolled inside dried and pressed seaweed or nori. Sushi literally means ‘sour’ and we looked at Ryan as he spoke about the popularity of his preparations. ‘We have four types…the Pink Lily, Sumo Roll, Tuna and Avocado and Salmon and pickled ginger.’ Well the sumo roll sounded exciting. I could visualize the ‘Sumo wrestlers’ rolling around the floor heavily laden with… I stopped there. Sometimes my imagination tends to run riot.

Anyway the ‘sumo’ arrives….big rolls of prawn, tuna and ynagi eel. Well you are supposed to take your chopsticks dip the full roll in the soy sauce…the meat not the rice and with a little help of the wasabi (take care its dynamite) pop the whole roll into your mouth. If you do not get this right you will be writhing like a ‘sumo’ because Ryan warns that the Japanese do not like their roll broken in pieces. So with ‘mouths wide open’ we downed the preparations…with a nip of the orange slice to soothe the taste buds….if you want to know what ‘sushi’ is all about….heavenly. You might feel hesitant at the first mouthful but as you roll the mixture in your mouth you will be ‘hooked’ for life. Ryan says ‘if you enjoyed the Sumo roll you will like our Pink Lady too.’

Well although Joe would be ready for the lady…I shook my head. Here were so many attractive things to taste…besides his ‘lady’ of course. So we embarked on a voyage to Thailand. The Son Tom Salad…Raw papaya, Birds eye chilli and Tamarind sauce. ‘The papaya has to be chosen at the right stage,’ Chef Gyanendra states, ‘or else it could be too bitter or too sweet.’ This was perfection. Tamarind tangy,papaya crunchy and chilly spicy it was just great. Word of caution…don’t get bogged down by the names…unlike the Chinese, their dishes have an identity (name and taste wise) of their own. The Thord Man Khao Pod…Aha! What did I say…don’t get mystified…these corncakes are just what an Indian would like….deep fried the flavoring of red curry paste, Thai herbs and when dipped in that sweet and spicy red chilly sauce. The Oomph! Factor!! Means a little burp asking for more. Hang on to your seats. The Thai merry-go-round is still revolving. No Indianisation to this Yum Plamuk Yang…a squid salad. Roundels of squid in vermicelli...a tinge of Siamese ginger…takes a bit getting to but leaves a satisfied feeling afterwards. And then the ..thank heavens its in English….Fried stuffed prawns wrapped in flat noodles. That delicate marination and the crunchy feel after every bite…they have got it just right.

Now the usual red/green/yellow (traffic signal-you never go wrong) Thai curry is on the menu. But we wanted something different. ‘Try our Massaman curry,’ Ryan says. Now apparently in South Thailand the Malayam influence is strong. This dark brown curry…shades of Madras powder when had with sticky rice (marks recommendation) is a sure fix. The thinly sliced lamb and brinjal and the potatoes when intermingled with the rice…..Try it…you won’t regret it. Grreeeaat!

We moved out of Thailand to China. Uumpteen dishes to try…we decided on a duck and pork. Now I really am not a duck fan…I find the meat a bit too stringy…but the little roundels of duck breasts with fresh sprouts in Hoi Sin sauce…’I recommend this dish for weight watchers,’ Chef Gyanendra states, ‘no rice or noodles…just a pok choy’. He is right. A good combo indeed. And for the pork lovers…recommended the Five spiced Braised duck with seared Pok Choy.

There was stuffed crab…but I was more stuffed than that crab…I was given to understand that they had a new pastry chef in their kitchens. So onto the table came the Makroot flavored chocolate mousse and the rose spiced crème brulee. I looked across in dismay. Can anyone play around with the original and get away? Lime leaf in a chocolate mousse? And dried rose petals in my favorite brulee? The French would definitely say ‘merde!’ But the pungent and I am saying delicate flavoring of the Makroot did not detract from the soft smooth chocolaty taste…and the rose petals in the crème brulee…the scent of the rose wafted to my senses…the brulee soft, crunchy and great. Definitely recommendable!

Ryan did whisper that he has got a ‘Dessert Surprise’ - a package of sorts for dessert lovers, but I would spoil the ‘expectations’ if I write about it. All I can say is that this new menu has great things in store…from petals of the flower (not lotus here but rose) to the Soy sauce’. It is Tamari for you.

Address; Vivanta by Taj
D.B.Bandodkar Road,
St.Inez Junction,Panaji
Goa 403001
Tel 91 0832 6633636

Top of the World

I wonder if anyone remembers the fact that once upon a time in Goa…perhaps in the 1940’s, the highest point from Mother Earth would perhaps be the Rooster seated on the rooftops. What a vantage point….and here is a descendant of that very rooster in the Upper House at Panjim.

Today, I am going to share my experience at this very place, where one can partake on a feast of Goan flavor. The ambience that night was magical, a far cry from the busy hub of the morning. Still in my fantasy world I wondered if I could change all the shops which had downed their shutters into restaurants…it would be such a pleasure to walk around the Garcia de Orta…the beautiful gardens, maybe before or after a meal. There was magic in the air.

But perhaps the growls in my ‘better-half’s’ mid-riff had temporarily wiped out the romance in his soul. ‘It’s time to eat,’ was his flat reply. And so we walked up a beautifully decorated flight of stairs…it was so lovely to see drawings of regal old homes on the walls…a touch of the 40’s perhaps? But the ‘rooster’ by my side was in no mood to while away the time and I hurried up the last few steps into…I stopped short. The management of the place had retained the same gracious warmth and splendor of the days gone by, with ‘sensitivity’ towards the modern day fuss-pots….a beautiful air-conditioned dining room.

We sat down at the table; the trio playing the music warmed the ‘cockles’ of our hearts. Join the two dining rooms…yes there is a private one too…was a lounge Bar in shades of red. I would not be surprised if I saw Tom Cruise jump onto the counter, spouting poetry ‘a la cocktail’ style. Perhaps the neon lit word ‘cocktails’ added to my fantasy.

So who are the ‘creators’ of this enterprise? Meet Prakash and Anil Periera, although both are in the sporting field, their passion is food. ‘Well Anil is the creator behind the masalas,’ says brother Prakash, as we complement him on converting an old house into such a tasteful venture. ‘We called it the Upper House,’ he remarks modestly ‘because just like the House of Lords or the Rajya Sabha we wanted it to be one of that status’. Hearing this I decided on starting my ‘mental scorecard’.

Wile we waited for our starters, I took a quick look at the diners. ‘Around 80% of our diners are local Goans,’ Prakash says proudly. Scorecard asks a silent question…’would the food be so ‘ghar-ka’ to make the locals try something which perhaps their kitchens could conjure up?’ Had I asked the question out loud? Prakash continues, ‘Even we were a little apprehensive when we first opened whether the locas Goan would try our place, we can now say that they do,’ he concludes happily.
Nelson Crasto and his team materializes with the starters...chicken tikka in Cafreal masala (you can choose your flavor Xacutti, peri-peri or even go for the popular malai’ Drunken prawns in Beer Batter with a choice of your very own dip….mango puree or mint. I spoon a bit of that mango chutney in my mouth…’what goes into this?’ I ask Prakash. ‘You must talk to my brother Anil,’ he states.

The mango chutney is a mix of mango, cream, mayo and mustard seeds….different. Whose idea? Well this place is full of the ‘Divarkars creativity’ I learn. From Chef Rego’s initial interaction to the current chef Peter’s involvement, to sister Eugenia’s hidden recipes….’ I loved food,’ confesses Anil ,’ and as a child I would ask my sister Eugenia for different recipes.’

Well that is not all….most of the ingredients….vinegar, coconuts, rice are carted from Divar. I moved my attention away from Anil in time to rescue the last bits of starters from the plate. Leave my ‘rooster’ unattended and there would be nothing left for me. Well the starter’s were good, the chicken ‘soft’, the prawns ‘drunken’. Jokes aside, good way to begin the meal. Another preparation worth highlighting is the Bacon wrapped prawn in BBQ sauce and Golden fried Baby corn.

But Joe was eagerly awaiting the main course. I don’t know if you remember me saying that the ‘topmost’ cuisine in his repertoire of culinary delights is Goan.
And so out came the Sorpotel, Fejuado, Beef Roulade, Fish balchao, Samarachi Kodi and Sannas. We started with the Beef Roulade…outstanding….perhaps their signature dish, the Samarchi Kodi…mind blowing…’can I take a packing order?’ says Joe, ‘it reminds me of my mother’s preparation,’ ..the sorpotel with the sannas…delightful. Even their Feijuado and Fish Balchao evoked pleasant memories of ‘good’ home cooked food.

But can we do without the ‘fish curry rice’ combo? We sampled the ‘combo’ Prawn curry/Rice/Kishmur/Fried Fish/cabbage foogath/waterpickle/papad…now they change the ‘bhajji’ daily but what a spread. The prawn curry was smooth and when had with the ‘ukdia xitt’ and a bit of everything…just what the ‘Goans order.’

There was the ‘stuffed crab’ too to sample, but we were too stuffed to try it.
Anil has kept the dessert too ‘traditional’. Home made bread pudding, rich with raisins and cashew nuts and the famous ‘Alla Belle’ the stuffing of coconut, honey and jaggery, a pure delight. The football crazy fans were enjoying the match on the big screen, but for me the lyrics of the song being crooned…’I am on top of the world and looking’ besides me the Rooster crowed with pleasure.

The Upper House
Address: 12/24/2A Rua Cunha Rivara,
Opposite the Garcia de Corta Gardens,
Tel no: +91 0832 2426475/6456330