Mapping Madness

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I've finally discovered nearly the perfect mapping tool for my blogs. Map Channels lets me make these cool interactive maps using Google Maps that I can then embed into my blog. Really cool. I've started adding maps retrospectively - so far these posts have been mapchanneled.

The only downside seems to be that the javascript maps do not get imported into Facebook notes very smoothly. A bit of a pity, that...

More Suburban Crawl

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A few people called me with some names I had left out of yesterday's list.

Bhagat Tarachand no longer insists you brave the bylanes of Kalbadevi; they are now also at Vashi's APMC market. O Calcutta lived long as Only Fish in the bylanes of Tardeo, and has spread not just northwards but nationwide. Zafran has stretched its arms from Crawford Market all the way to Oshiwara. Tiwari Sweets added Juhu to Opera House a while ago, and my favorite place for south Indian - Cafe Madras - has a small, hard-to-find branch called Hotel Gopal just outside Malad station.

Suburban Crawl

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Mumbai, ever since the days when goras pottered about cobblestone streets, has been dominated by "town". Respectability was measured in direct proportion to distance from the Gateway of India, and for the longest time the Borivali national forest started just beyond Dadar. This was true of any kind of decent housing just as much as art or theatres or dining choices.

Things, however, insist on changing even when perfectly satisfactory in the first place. The city I returned to after a half-decade absence seems to have collectively heaved its arse and moved up and out. I have heated arguments with the townies who think the sun still shines where it always has, but the reality is that the heart of Mumbai is moving.

Dining is usually the first to move where diners are, and it is no different in Mumbai. Trishna, Kailash Parbat and Mahesh all smelled the coffee and got familiar with names like Andheri and Juhu. Even the venerable China Garden upped and opened in Khar. Rajdhani along with Cream Centre, Copper Chimney and Noor Mohammadi (as Hakim's) has wheedled itself into mall food courts even as far off as Thane and Vashi. 5-Spice, Royal China and Cafe Basilico already do Bandra, Kobe is sizzling everywhere, Gaylord lords it in Oshiwara, Tex-mex-gujju New Yorker co-habits with Natural's in Juhu while five-star dining choices are a dime a dozen north of the great divide. I would say that Colaba has surrendered the centre of the culinary world to Bandra, Versova and Oshiwara. Now I'm waiting for Leopold New Martin Cafe to look north.

The latest such move is Indigo Deli, now open in all its glory just off SAB TV lane in Andheri Lokhandwala. Given that its in a dead end in a small lane off another lane on the edge an industrial estate, its a wonder that it was packed to the gills on Sunday.

Gazalee, Natural's, Kareem's and most recently Olive are meanwhile heading the other way down the Bandra-Worli link ...

Dining with Saint Francis

about San Francisco, CA, USA 2 comments:

Vir Sanghvi has described in his column in yesterday's HT supplement his dining experiences in San Francisco, which got me to thinking. I know San Francisco quite well, having spent generous amounts of time there cycling up hills and running down reviews in the SF Chronicle. Indeed, this blog started four years ago in San Francisco, while I was wondering what to eat and no one had any good advice for me. I''ve just realised, however, that the two reviews written, "Salsa Time" and "Afternoon and tea" are my only two posts in so many years about that city. That put me to wondering...

What are my favourite places to eat in San Francisco?
Mr Sanghvi had a very different set of choices (some did not even exist when I was there), but below are my Fav Five, rated mostly on the wow factor of the food. This is not intended as a comprehensive list, just a personal list of favourite places to have a meal.

#1

Number one is easy - its the place I head to every time I'm in San Francisco. Hard to find and widely reviewed is an unusual combination, but Saigon Sandwich Shop's tiny storefront in the oddly-named Tenderloin district fits the bill. Something transcendentally soul-satisfying about biting into their roast pork and pate combination bahn-mi (or any of the others, really) makes it zoom straight on to the top of the list. Why it beat San Francisco's best culinary wizardry is difficult to explain but basically I use my infallible "island test" of greatness; if I were allowed to take along only one meal made in San Francisco to a deserted island, it would be a Saigon Sandwich Banh Mi. You could say the Beatles beat Mozart here.

#2

Having already chosen fast food over gourmet I debated briefly if value-for-money should be considered in selecting number two, finally deciding that sheer merit triumphs merit-cum-means. The finest overall meal I've had in San Francisco (and one of the best anywhere) is at the bar at Gary Danko. Fancy food with waiters dressed better than you are isn't the same, soul-satisfaction as Saigon Sandwich but one of the few high-dining meals that I actually remember for the food and not the lighting. Nothing is simple or unfussy - this is the temple of culinary complexity. High technique, complicated ingredients and wonderful execution all ends up worth the huge tab. Not what you would want to eat every day, but this is definitely on the memorial meals list.

#3

The merit-cum-means candidate that got edged out by Gary Danko is Delfina. Still moderately expensive and nearly as hard to get a table in but unlike Gary Danko, Delfina is all about unfussy cooking with wonderful ingredients. Every visit yielded a winner - the best simply-grilled fish I ever had (Copper River Salmon), wonderful salad (a simple bib lettuce), incredible ravioli (wild nettle) ... you get the idea. Unlike Gary Danko, I wouldn't mind going there every day.

#4

If rankings were measured by the length of the lines outside, Swan Oyster Depot would win hands down (they ply the queue with free wine to make the interminable wait bearable). Swan isn't really even a restaurant; actually a shop selling fresh seafood wholesale while a thin strip of customers gobble seafood along the side counter. Outstandingly fresh oysters and seafood (some outrageously good smoked salmon too - this from someone weaned on Jewish delis in the big apple) makes this my fourth pick. It is also the city's best place to taste its famous crab in basic fleshy sweet simplicity - huge lumps of the stuff piled onto lettuce is my preferred option. Open store hours only (8am-5:30pm), so be warned.

#5

This is the toughest one. I find here that I have trouble deciding on a fifth, because many interesting ones vie for attention. A crowded French bakery for breakfast (La Boulange on Polk), a desi restaurant that reminds me of the best Mumbai kabab joints (Shalimar), a sophisticated place where I had great lunches (Town Hall), wonderful ravioli at a tiny place in the Mission (Il Cantuccio), uplifting yuppie Vietnamese near the ferry (The Slanted Door), simple American and salads beside a nice used bookshop (Chow), great nuevo-latin small plates (Destino), satisfying neighbourhood Italian (Acquerello or Nob Hill Cafe) or a cute-as-button tea room (Lovejoy's) - all are in consideration for #5 and I can't pick a favourite. Plus, I also have run out of adjectives so, the few others that might have made the list have to be undescribed - Tartine, Zuni Cafe, Boulevard and Ti Couz among others.

Ok so I cheated and put not five but eighteen names. Go enjoy...


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Lucknow Again

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I finally went to the other place - Lazzat-e-Lucknow. It is now no longer on my list of must-tries. I have - it may be officially stated - tried it.

Map image

I tried, in particular the gilawati (in both kabab and roll versions), the seekh (in the roll version, though I did extract and eat some of the kabab by itself too) and the mutton biriyani. The first thing to notice is that the menu is a lot smaller than Dhuan, no arabic pretensions here but some Punjabi has nevertheless crept in. A single laminated tablemat-size sheet with dogeared edges suffices for the menu. Seating is pleasant, and there's even an AC section for those who can climb the short but steep stairs that characterize Versova's mezanines.

Enough of the ambience - here's my view of the food. They don't have kakori. Gilawatis were great, and in particular the paratha (ulta-tawa lucknow style, the menu insisted) that made up the roll was very nice; thin, beautifully non-greasy and quite edible all on its own. I particularly recommend the gilawati roll - all those soft bursting kababs releasing flavour, ecstasy and mmmm sounds, etc etc; I thought the seekh roll had a poor meat-paratha ratio though my sneaked out piece of seekh was, by itself, quite nice. Mutton Biriyani was the dry kinds, not the usual Mumbai curry rice disguised under a nice name, but was about average. The mutton pieces were good (all nalli too) but the rice part was not going to drive Kolkata's Shiraj out of business. No potato too.

Verdict: Great gilawati (slightly better methinks, than Dhuan, though not quite Kakori House). Ok biriyani (better than most other places, but not great in absolute terms). Excellent parathas. Promising seekh. Totally VFM prices.

Lucknow and Smoke

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I must post an update on Avadhi food. Versova, that new mecca of eating options in Mumbai, has not one but two restaurants boasting of Lucknow connections. My cycle trips to one (that I discovered through an unexpected google search) led me to go past the other so two birds, one stone and all that.

The one I found through google was Dhuan - where a single blog post by the owner promised the best kakori in Mumbai. Who can ignore such a promise, so there I was, braving the rain a few days ago on my bicycle headed towards Yari Road. It turned out to be a lounge, very hard to find because the name (written in huge three-foot-high letters) is so fancily written that it is difficult to read. However, its conveniently next door to Rice Boat.

Dhuan is actually an Arabic sheesha lounge, but it also has a long and substantial food menu. I focused only on the Kabab list - in particular kakori and 'tundey' (named, obviously, after Lucknow-famous Tundey gilawati kabab) and here's the conclusion. The kababs came in generous portions, were as soft as you could ever want, and surprisingly fairly good - certainly worth the visit if you're this side of town. Kakori House, however, is hands down better, both kakori and gilawati.

Lazzat, a little before Dhuan on the same road, is still on my list of to-trys...

Dhuan 9 A/B, Aram Nagar II, Versova, JP Road, Andheri (W), Mumbai 400049 Phone: 26316350, 26332379, 9819266907

Lazzat-E-Lucknow 5, Beach Apartment, JP Road, Versova , Andheri (W), Mumbai 400049 Phone: 9322387119, 9833762759

Lucknow in Mumbai

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Everyone raves about food from Lucknow, but in Mumbai its really difficult to find any competent version of it outside the fivestar hotels. The Bandra Copper Chimney and Sun-N-Sand's Kabab Hut were both influenced by Ishtiyaque Qureshi into churning out impeccable nawabi khana, but one has closed and the other, though still serving good stuff, is hardly in the awesome league it once was. Apparently he's still the consultant there but while it has the recipes and techniques, the place lacks the magic.

Ishtiyaque Qureshi hasn't quite disappeared from Mumbai, though. He was always around for catering to celebrity weddings and the hallowed environs of CCI, but for the common man he was nearly invisible. Nearly, but not quite - he's been discovered hiding out in the bylanes of Bandra, running a catering and takeaway service called Kakori Hut on tiny Waroda Road. Luckily the food is as great as ever - oh those kakoris, ah that biriyani...

You wont find it unless I help you, so here it is. Go to American Express Bakery on Hill Road. Ask for directions to Waroda Road (but don't have one of their luscious lemon tarts; you will need your appetite). Or, look at the map - the marker on the left is American Express Bakery. Be warned, there's no place to sit. I'm usually on bicycle, I sit on the steps of the shop and eat off a plastic stool while chatting to the mechanics at the repair shop next door but that I suspect, is not for everyone. Much better to stand around and wait for the Kakori wraps that you can walk with, or do the whole takeaway thing. Or, buy a house in Bandra and call for delivery. I've gone at odd times, but at peak hours I hear the wait can be long.

Shop #5, Dunhill Apartments 26 Waroda Road, Bandra (W), Mumbai 400050 Call 9320090269 or (022) 6411 9211

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Ethnology

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Ethnic is always an interesting challenge. Dictionaries blithely define 'ethnic' as belonging to a shared cultural, linguistic or racial identity - which unfortunately means that the world is full of 'ethnic' restaurants. Nearly every restaurant in New York or Tokyo or London is, by that definition, ethinc - they just belong to the ethnic majority rather than some exotic minority. Italian, Sushi, New American, French...et al.

Here again, India saves the day. In a world full of ethnic restaurants, India is overloaded with that unique label - multicuisine. South Indian thali with paneer butter masala, chicken tandoori with chowmein, Russian salad with schezwan soup, its all here, only in India. Armed with the information that Indians when eating out order (that uniquely Indian version of) Chinese food more often than any other kind, eateries in India went about arming their menus with lots of words starting with chow. Then, as tandoori chicken and paneer butter masala spread its tentacles, restaurant owners quickly augmented their already long list of choices with generous helpings of all things out of clay ovens.

The amazing part of multi-cuisine is that it is not an uncontrolled jumble of foods and dishes. No, any self-respecting multi-cuisine must follow some very clear rules. The first rule: what is included in this whole multi business. There must be a smattering of soups, mostly of approximately Chinese origin but at least one cream of tomato and/or chicken for those with the Raj hangover. The rest of the menu must represent with reasonable flair three key cuisines - North Indian (including dals,curries and tandoori) South Indian (dosa, idli, and variants) and Chinese (of the Manchurian/Shezwan variety). Optionals are a section of chaats, a kids menu with pizza and burgers, and a half-hearted dessert section.

And here's the key; all the stuff must be cooked in the same kitchen with the same set of cooks. There's no place for specialists here. Versatility is the buzzword - the same cook must turn out dal tadka and chicken noodles with equal facility. The dosa guy may be a specialist, but merely because making dosas takes up all his time - the same for the tandoor guy.

One should not confuse multi-cuisine with that silly Western fad for fusion. In fact, every such restaurant tries for the opposite - each dish claims to be completely authentic. Dosa the way a Tamil amma does it, tandoori that could have been flown in from Amritsar, Chinese that everyone in Manchuria eats every day - thats the promise here. All the fusion here is accidental, probably because the cook making your Schezwan has eaten dal tadka all his life.

Multi-cuisine is, I would put it, the REAL Indian ethnic restaurant. This is restaurant food that we have all grown up with, before we started turning our noses up and heading to sings proclaiming South Italian or Chitpat Brahmin food. Distinct, hearty, universally popular and unhealthy enough to be our version of the pizza parlour - this should be the considered the true 'Indian' flagship.

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