Thursday, June 7, 2012

Seafood festival at ITC Gardenia

ITC Gardenia will be having a seafood fest starting today until Sunday. Chef Harish from Chennai (from Dakshin) is down here and he's come up with a host of specialties from the coastal areas of the 4 southern states. The dishes will be served as part of the buffet at the Cubbon Pavilion. I was invited for a sampling, and after speaking to the Chef, I can safely say that he knows and loves what he cooks, so you can expect the same quality throughout the fest. Here's a sneak-peak at what to expect.

We started our meal with a semolina crusted soft shell crab (from Karwar). If semolina crusted is sounding vague, try rava fry. Seafood dishes from the western coast, especially Karnataka use red chilli powder for the dry fry preparations, and aren't overly spicy. It was the same case here. The soft shell crab was delicately flavoured, and I swear if I wasn't in a 5 star hotel, I'd have grabbed the ones off the plates of my fellow guests as well.

Karwar jenji fry - Semolina-crusted soft shell crab

From Karwar, we moved further south to Kerala, and we were served with a prawn starter - the chemmeen ularthiyathu, or prawns tossed in shallots and coconut, along with red chilli powder and a few other spices (coriander, cumin, garlic, and maybe a little ginger as well). I know the dishes are usually toned down so is appreciated by all, but I'd have preferred if they'd have maintained the same spice levels as the dish demanded.

Another crab dish, this time in the main course, was the star attraction. The peetala igguru (an Andhra dish), or crab meat simmered in a mixture of cashew nut paste and masala, and served in the crab shell itself, was a fabulous dish, scoring high on presentation, flavour, and ingenuity.

Peetala igguru - crab meat simmered in a mixture of cashew and masala

Next on the menu was another Andhra specialty - royalla munakaya pulusu, or prawns in a tangy drumstick curry. I really expected this dish to be spicy (because it's an Andhra dish :P). However, it was actually quite a surprise to see prawns paired with drumsticks, and go quite well in the dish. However, a little extra 'bite' would've been nice. The mambazham pulissery was a clever dish where mango was used to substitute tamarind, since mangoes are in season. The taste wasn't as sharp and the sweetness from the mango lent a slightly subdued touch. I personally love sour and tangy dishes, so this was probably the least favourable dish for me.

Royalla Munakaya pulusu - prawns simmered in a tangy drumstick curry (right), and mambazham pulissery - mangoes in a coconut gravy

One of Kerala's most popular local dish, the karimeen pollichattu, or pearl spot fish was served with a red chilli powder marinade, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled. Brilliant. Enough said.

Karimeen pollichattu - pearl spot fish wrapped in banana leaf cooked on a griddle

Some of the other dishes on offer are the kujit (stewed prawns, squids, mussels and clams in coconut milk with green chillies, garlic and onions), Allepy fish curry (seer fish cooked in raw mango and coconut milk curry), and chemmeen idiappam biryani (string hopper prawn biryani).

Chemmeen idiappam biryani string hopper prawn biryani

Starting from the 12 o'clock position, moving clockwise: mambazham pulissert, royalla munakaya pulusu, peetala igguru, butter beans with green chillies in tamarind and garlic gravy, pepper rice

Kujit - stewed prawns, squid, clams and mussels in coconut milk

Badam halwa (left), and rice payasa

Lunch: Rs 1200 + tax (Fri, Sat) per person
Dinner: Rs 1275 + tax (Fri, Sat, Sun) per person
Sunday brunch (seafood included): Rs 1950 + tax per person

What are you waiting for. Get calling. The fest is open only till this Sunday.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Don't be a sheep!

I know the title is very ambiguous, vague, and any other adjective that would indicate a high level of lack of clarity. But read on, and you'll see what this is all about. I've been writing this blog for almost 4 years now, and over a short period of time, it transformed from a blog that merely 'spoke' about the food that I ate, to one that got into the depth of food and actually 'reviewing' restaurants, the latter an outcome of a lot of comments left on the blog.

After I started reviewing restaurants, I kind of moved on to the 'big league' - I was given the opportunity to do the reviewing formally, for the Bangalore Mirror (thanks to Amit Akali), something that I went about doing for 2 full years, loving every bit of it. And yet, throughout the last 4 years, one thing has slowly dawned on me with regard to the reviews that I, and many others, wrote and continue to write about restaurants - there are people who follow us and take our word seriously about the places we've visited and the food we write about.

Moving on to the broader picture, where reviews of anything - movies, books, gadgets, or restaurants - are concerned, I've observed that far too many people exhibit a tendency to put their thinking on hold while reading these reviews. Sure, if there is a whole lot of 'factual' data that is spoken about, then one can be excused for not wanting to take the time off to perhaps Google the content and verify it (some people are busy, while some are happy to be spoon-fed, and both are perfectly normal, so don't worry). However, whenever there's an assertion made that is an inference, or a conclusion made from an opinion or based on a preference, then dear reader, I would request you to not readily accept the 'logic' behind the conclusion at face value but employ a little bit of thinking on your part as well.

In the case of restaurants, a person writing a review may arrive at a conclusion (about something in particular) based on a personal preference or simply a personal opinion. You can agree with the conclusion if that preference or opinion works for you as well, but always remember, it's a preference/opinion, so it doesn't necessitate the acceptance of that conclusion as the law. To use an oft repeated example, a person who's used to and enjoys eating extremely spicy Indian food (like Andhra food), would probably never be able to fully appreciate the finer subtleties of European or Mediterranean food. However, that doesn't mean such a person 'should' start developing a liking to food served at Mediterranean cuisine restaurants just because the review of that place is positive. The taste, however authentic, will be something that will probably not be appreciated on the palate. Taste is a very personal matter, and what works for one needn't work for another, and the converse also holds true. If a connoisseur of spicy food slams a Med cuisine place for lack of 'spiciness', you might want to hold off on passing judgement. However, if the place suffers from a lack of {insert adjective here} that results in sloppy, uncooked food being served, then there can be no two ways about it - it's bad!

Another example, moving over to a movie review this time to keep things a little different, is like when the movie Satya released, there was a lot of hue and cry about the language used and the amount of violence, and due to these two factors, some reviewers said the movie wasn't worth the watch in spite of a stellar performance by Manoj Bajpai. This opinion was later voiced by many a man on the street (rather thoughtlessly, I might add). The story actually centered around elements of the Mumbai underworld, and so firstly, the language used was more or less in line with what could be deemed 'routine' in those circles. Secondly, the savagery of the underworld in any country cannot be ever disputed, and so the violence shown was also justified. If the reviewer was squeamish about watching people being beaten to death, and based his conclusion on that, well, violent movies quite clearly aren't for him. Had the people who readily accepted the reviews, reviews that were quite clearly conclusions drawn on the basis of opinions and preferences, thought for a moment, they'd have found the folly in the reasoning.

Why am I writing this post all of a sudden? Simply because of late I've been seeing a lot of mindless parroting of lines from reviews, and not necessarily ones where the conclusion was based on fact. Remember that agreeing with an opinion because it merely 'sounds right' isn't a very smart thing to do. If this post can get some of the readers here to question potentially faulty conclusions, or even get them to agree to disagree with a conclusion that's been drawn based on opinion and not fact (as simple as "it works for you, but not for me"), then I think the quality of the diners (in terms of being discerning) in the city can certainly improve. Mind you, as a member of the debate team in school, I strongly believe that while opinions are sacred, it's better to develop opinions based on fact and not sentiment. And why limit this post to just diners? It's applicable to anyone reading any review of anything. So dear reader, don't be a sheep.

Note: It goes without saying that I can hardly be called an expert in the field I write in, and I will readily agree that for me it's a learning process too, and hopefully the quality of posts (reviews) have improved over the years and will continue to improve. That said, it goes without saying that the posts here are open to scrutiny as well, and if genuine errors in are pointed out, it will be appreciated.

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