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Preview: Traveller's Tales

Traveller's Tales

My first impressions, musings, and lasting impressions of food & places around the world!

Updated: 2018-02-15T04:17:14.842+05:30


Pune Dining 2017


It’s been a long time since I wrote about the Pune dining scene. When I began this blog, there was no Zomato, Google couldn’t identify most restaurants in Pune, and there really was no good way to even locate new restaurants.  Much traffic ended up at this blog from search engines as people searched for reviews and/or phone numbers. Zomato’s founder-CEO called me up one day to review their newly-introduced printed food guides for the city; he had to introduce himself since the company was pretty much unknown those days. Well, a decade has since passed.  Zomato and Google Maps both do a decent job in identifying all food places worth visiting and even many that are not. There are thousands of reviews online (though fake reviews abound too!).Watching restaurants in Pune has lately been like watching a season of Survivor. As restaurants have mushroomed in the city, it is dog-eat-dog times. Fads such as quirky mis-matched furniture, mason jars, and highfalutin names on menus have spread like wild-fires, as have self-professed foodies and food experts. Restaurant open with a bang and many vanish without a trace before the year is out. That favourite restaurant you braved the traffic for earlier now has a branch next door and a few streets down too. What is missing though are table cloth, fine cutlery and specialised cuisine - menus in this city seem to have more breadth than depth these days.Yet, in the midst of all this, there are winners new and old. Here they are in no particular order are my favourites in 2017.  I value consistency, so only those I can depend upon always are listed here:Malaka Spice:  Loved by foodies, the Koregaon Park restaurant continues be our go-to destination for Pan Asian cuisine.  Always consistent with its cooking and service, it is rare that you will have a bad day here.  They have recently spread their wings by opening branches in other locations within Pune and in a few other cities.Taareef:  There have been several North Indian/Mughlai restaurants I have raved about during the course of this blog: they have all closed down or spiralled downwards in quality. However, Taareef at Aundh continues to be big in taste even if small in space, just the way it always was since it begun.  They make some of the most succulent kababs, delightful curries and biryani in town.Surve’s: Kolhapuri mutton thalis’ are suddenly big in Pune. Several restaurants have opened all over town catering to this rustic dining experience for meat-loving foodies.  The one I think get it consistently right is Surve’s. I think their original FC Road location is the best, but their Viman Nagar outlet is larger and comes a close second.Hotel Reddy: Andhra biryanis are among the most popular dining options in several South Indian cities, and finally we are beginning to get our own outlets here too.  Among the many Reddy’s signboards you will find in this city, the one that is a cut above the rest is the one in Kharadi (opposite Zensar offices).  No one does a spicy Andhra biryani better than Hotel Reddy, and certainly no one does it at the price they do!Gajalee:  A name very familiar in Mumbai has been making a name here too. Ever since they opened,  they have indulged us with an amazing Coastal Maharashtran cuisine with the freshest seafood in town.  There are many who swear by Fish Curry Rice on the other side of town, but for me, there is only Gajalee when I get a fish craving.Cafe 108: Exceptional western-style breakfasts were difficult to come by in Pune just a few years ago. There are several good choices just in the Koregaon Park/Kalyani Nagar area now. However, when I want to be indulged, there is just one choice: Cafe 108.  Excellent egg-based breakfast plates, amazing bowls of granola-yogurt and good coffee makes this place an easy winner.  The Australian lady who runs this place clearly has a keen eye for high-quality ingredients.London Muffin & Le Flamington: I am big on hot beverages and not always pleased with the q[...]

Mourad & Akiko’s Restaurant


It had been a while since I had indulged in some fancy food at San Francisco and I wasn’t going to let this chance go. First, the stand-out Mourad which continues to earn its Michelin star.  Like the Michelin guide puts it, "Chef Lahlou is at his best when reinterpreting modern Moroccan cuisine with ingredients such as za’atar, harissa, and dates.”Mourad has striking interiors with its soaring ceilings, glowing columns, and Persian motifs on its flooring tiles. The chef’s menu was also perfect for me, and I waited in anticipation as they quickly brought in my glass of wine and the amuse that started me off on a modern Moroccan culinary journey.First came the Caviar on melon flavoured with verbena and the Oyster with bits of apple and cilantro in grapefruit juice.Next the Squid in fermented tomato, almond and Moroccan milk.  This was was particularly interesting on the palate.On the menu next was the delightful Salmon that came with hints of fennel, blood orange and olive.  I liked the balance of this dish with its crisper caramelised outer layer and the highly flavours inside.The dish celebrating Corn came with Shrimp, peppers and tomato.  Another delightful dish!The Short Rib followed, wonderfully braised in black garlic, turnip and plum.  Loved this one too.The Couscous that was served along with the Short Rib was among the best I have had with a warm butter taste.Another interesting Moroccan amuse followed after which came the Tisane tea with mint and verbena.  The dessert was a melon ice-cream and chocolates. While fine-dining is increasingly expensive in San Francisco, I thought this dinner was worth every penny.  The service was impeccable throughout; my servers were efficient, friendly and the courses came on to the table at the time I expected them. They packed a fresh copy of the menu along with some chocolates for me to take away too.The other dining experience I was looking forward to was at Akiko’s Restaurant. This one is an up-and-coming sushi restaurant that is trying to break through to the ranks of the best in this city.  The first part of dining here is to navigate yourself to the right place!  First, there are two Akiko’s in SF; this one is Akiko’s Restaurant & Bar.  Second, this restaurant doesn’t have a signboard at all (in the best traditions of some good places in Japan).In addition to a platter of sashimi at the sushi bar, I had also ordered a Saba Shio-Yaki, crisply seared mackerel with chives and ponzu-diakon.Overall, from my lunch experience and the passion of the chefs who work the kitchen and sushi bar, I can tell this restaurant is going to go a long way.  I am going to be back here again in my next trip. [...]

AI and Steaks at SF


I was in the United States to attend an AI conference.  Luckily for me, it was being held in downtown  San Francisco, a location that is chock-full of my favourite restaurants.  This trip turned out to be a perfect mix of business and pleasure. I had been missing steaks for a while, and this also gave me a chance to try out some of the city’s better steakhouses.Earlier, I had travelled by Emirates after a long break. I am happy to report that my favourite airline continues to be on the top of their game.  The aircraft I travelled in had newer seats and gadgets and it was fun as ever to stretch and socialise in the bar/lounge area within the business class cabin.  Dubai’s business class lounge at the B Gates too has a new, fresh look after a recent renovation.  San Francisco welcomed me with a clear, sunny weather on the day I landed and I was soon in my limo headed to the hotel I had booked via Airbnb.The Donatella is a very nice hotel right in the heart of the Union Square area. My room was fairly large, the bathroom well appointed, and the wifi worked flawlessly.  The staff was friendly and efficient too.  However, what made this hotel experience unique was that I had booked two nights here via Airbnb from a lady who has a time-share here. Overall the room cost me a fraction of the rates in nearby Marriott hotels with pretty much similar facilities.That evening I made a reservation for dinner at Alfred’s, a steakhouse in the classic tradition: red walls, circular chandeliers and red sofas.  The ambiance is distinctly masculine, old-American style unlike the newer steakhouses with their modern, chic Japanese-inspired decor.My wedge salad with buttermilk dressing, blue cheese and bacon was amazing.  I have always found the salads at good steakhouses to be very good.My 12 oz. New York steak was done just right and I had ordered the three peppercorn sauce to go with it along with a side of mascarpone mashed potatoes.  This is what I had come for and I savoured every bite of it.The Spumoni sundae made of frozen custard, whipped cream and cherries provided a sweet ending to the dinner but wasn’t particularly a good choice.  I should probably have ordered the Banana Foster instead which is crafted table-side at this restaurant.The other steak highlight of this trip came three days later when the conference ended.  I walked down to San Francisco’s popular House of Prime Rib for an early dinner.  It was difficult getting a reservation for one person, so I walked up to the bar when the restaurant opened. Within a few minutes all the bar-stools were occupied and the restaurant was full - always a good sign!The House of Prime Rib just focuses on one thing, and does it remarkably well.  All you need to do is figure out how large a cut you would like and if you want that with a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned.  The meat comes with creamed spinach, mashed potatoes with gravy and a Yorkshire pudding.  The dinner could not have been better.  The meat and every thing else was just perfect.  As I walked out and back to my hotel I was a happy man, a very happy man! [...]

Mirchi and Mime


Its been a while since I have reviewed a restaurant and for good reason.  Almost at the same time as I begun this blog, I had also begun jet-setting to foreign lands.  As I discovered a multitude of cuisines, restaurants, and food habits across geographies, I got interested in the stories behind the plates I enjoyed. Pune too began growing as the software industry thrived bringing with it a boom in restaurants and bars. During the initial years, I wrote many a review of restaurants I visited and liked. Fast-forwarding to now, I rarely post a restaurant review. Having seen a host of restaurants open and close in record time, the ones that I continue to patronise tend to be the older, familiar ones where I know I won’t get a nasty surprise. So this post is somewhat of an exception, and only because the restaurant in question does such a good job.I had heard of Mirchi and Mime some time back. People loved their concept of only hiring staff who have severe hearing and speech disabilities; visitors are taught how to order and communicate using basic sign language. The restaurant is among the highest rated on Zomato.I ended up here for lunch during a short business trip to Mumbai when I decided to book myself at the Radisson hotel.  I had gotten here early and was one of the first to walk in, but I saw the restaurant getting filled up pretty quickly. The manager (the one person who can speak) came over to explain the concept, the menu, the sign to call out the name of my server, and some basic words like thank you, etc.I decided to try their fixed multi-course menu. My server was a friendly and efficient young man and soon dishes begun making their way to my table. The jal jeera was served in a mason jar (a trend much over-used in trendy restaurants now).The soup was a mutton nalli shorba cooked in dum!  That was the first non-biryani dish I have had in this manner. However, the flavours were intense and perfect. I knew right then this restaurant was going to be a winner and I was right.The next dish was a nicely plated portion of calamari pan-tossed with Kashmiri red chillies and curry leaves.  This dish too was perfectly balanced - spicy but perfect on the palate.  Until I began tasting the food, I had kept my expectations fairly low.  Few ‘concept restaurants’ do an impressive job with their food. Mirchi and Mime is clearly an exception. Their concept deserves to be applauded, but so does their food.Next came the Amritsari fish tikka grilled with mustard, dill and ajwain.  This was a prepared well too; however, I am not fond of basa which has become the standard find now served at most restaurants.Finally the amazing main course that was delightfully plated and finished on the table with a side of Zaitooni Rice, red rice with olives that was just amazingly good.  I was so full by now I could barely move.I couldn’t refuse the sugar-less sitaphal panna-cotta.  It has been a long time since I had such a delightful meal in an Indian restaurant.  Concept, service and food were all perfectly executed. If you are a foodie, this is a restaurant you must try! [...]

Singapore Detour


Regular readers of my blog will already know this: Emirates and Singapore Airlines are my two favourite airlines for international travel. This time we were on Singapore Airlines which meant transiting through the always-welcoming Changi Airport.  We had a pretty long stop-over here and wanted to make the most of it, so we decided to take advantage of a transit visa to head into the city,  dine at Jumbo Seafood and take a leisurely stroll in the cool breeze on the water’s edge. While Singapore’s Changi airport continues to add even more attractions and rest areas to ensure its transiting passengers never get bored or tired during long connections, they also make it easy for those who want to pop into the city for a brief tour.  For Indian passport holders travelling to the USA or UK via Singapore on a visa, you can get a transit visa right at the airport.Jumbo on the East Coast was full when we got there - it was peak dinner time.  However, the hostess was able to get us seated fairly soon.  Without ado, we were gorging on a large Sri Lankan crab make in black pepper sauce, scallops in fried yam covering, and those lovely fried buns to soak up every last drop of the gravy. By the time we got done, it was pleasant outside with a cool breeze blowing in from the sea as we looked out at the twinkling lights of the many ships anchored off the coast.   Our daughter had caught a cold on the long flight from San Francisco, in all probability from the sharp variation in temperates while in the US. When we reached Singapore, she wan’t very enthusiastic about heading into the city.  However, one look at the delectable plate of crab was enough to restore her spirits and I don’t remembering hearing another complaint after that. So, if you are feeling travel weary or under the weather, remember a trip to Jumbo can quickly cure that! [...]

A Brief Stopover at Vegas


On our way back from New Orleans, we had decided to stop at Las Vegas.  Since we had our daughter along, I had to figure out a ‘family-safe’ itinerary here for the first time! After some research, I decided to combine some food adventures (of course!) with the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show and tours through some of the the resort hotels on the Strip.I had booked us a room at the Cosmopolitan. I am nostalgic about the earlier resort hotels with their unique themes and bright (even garish) decor, so I wasn’t quite taken in by the modern edgy look and feel of the Cosmopolitan.  However, the hotel turned out to be every bit as fancy as any Vegas hotel with its miles long corridors to get to any place and a view to kill for on the 74th floor balcony of our room.The Michael Jackson show turned out to the highlight of this trip and I would whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone with kids who loved the King of Pop.  The show is no as acrobatic as the other Cirque shows I have watched, but every bit as entertaining. We walked up and down the Strip during the evening and the next morning. The day-time is distinctly different from the night, both in the kinds of people you see around and the ambiance of the Strip itself.  The Bellagio fountains are clearly one of the highlights during the evening.  During the morning trip, we went into the wild-life exhibits and the botanical gardens within these massive casino hotels.We lined like (like other tourists) for an In-N-Out burger, which was an underwhelming experience. The Super Duper in SF afforded us a far better one.  The food highlight from this trip was the excellent burger-and-shake at Holstein’s within the Cosmopolitan. Upscale and pricey but worth every penny!  Amazing burger with sun-dried tomatoes, bacon and sweet potato priced and the thickest meanest shake in this part of the world. [...]

Back in New Orleans


I was back in The Big Easy, this time with my family! We had travelled by Southwest across the United States and it was early evening when we got in. After that long flight were were looking forward to our room at the Roosevelt Hotel. This was another imposing and historic hotel we had the pleasure of staying at during this visit to the USA.  Some rest and a shower took care of our travel weariness and we were soon headed down Bourbon Street. The city’s ‘party street' was getting ready for the evening, welcoming the usual mix of eager tourists and raucous conference attendees.  We were more interested in taking in the sights of the French Quarters before heading to a good gumbo place nearby.The Gumbo Shop is one of the iconic restaurants in the French Quarter.  The steaming hot and spicy gumbo and jambalaya was just what the doctor ordered on a rather cold and rainy day.  The courtyard seating and the smells and flavour made for a lovely dinner.We had booked a plantation tour for the next day. We got up early and after a quick breakfast at a neighbouring iHop walked down to the river’s edge to hop onto the bus which would take us on a trip down New Orleans history. The day was chilly and there was a little drizzle, but we were glad we made this trip.  The journey to the plantations took us through small villages on the outskirts of the city and alongside the mighty Mississippi river. Our guide explained the history of the lands, its people and its central role during the period of slavery in the United States. This continued through the tours in the Laura and Oak Alley Plantation where we saw both the opulence of the French-American families who owned and ran these plantations so many years ago, as well as the tragic stories of Africans who were brought to this distant land to slave in sub-human conditions.One of the things I have always admired about Americans (and probably the Germans) is their willingness to look back at their history, honestly critique parts of it and learn from their mistakes. As Indians, we tend to whitewash our own history and rarely have the appetite to admit to the less-than-stellar aspects of it (unless it is to bring down a political rival). During the New Orleans tour too, the guides did a very balanced job of explaining the views of the French families who came to make a fortune here, investors in Europe who funded them, and the forces that led to most of Europe and America turning a blind eye to slavery for so long.  At the same time, we were given the raw and tragic stories of the slaves who were ripped off a distant land, separated from family, possessed no rights over their minds and bodies, even sold for less money than animals.The next day was bright and warm, a sudden change from the day before.  We made the most of it by strolling the streets of the French Quarter, lounging on the banks of the river, and stopping by the many delightful cafes and eateries in the area.  We checked off the city’s most famous beignets at Cafe du Monde, amazing po-boys and muffalettas at Johnny’s and another great seafood dinner at Red Fish Grill.We rode a street-car during the afternoon to Lafayette Cemetery No.1 with its iconic over-the-ground graves and the many stories contained within. Finally, it was time to head back, and we drove back to the airport on a sunny afternoon bidding good-bye to a city we had came to love for its distinct sights, sounds and tastes. [...]

Ahoy San Francisco!


For a period of about four years, I flew in and out of San Francisco almost every other month. The Union Square area, its restaurants, cafes and bars were as familiar to me as those in  my hometown of Pune. Then in mid-2015 I left my jet-setting corporate life to start my own thing ending my international travel.  Now after a gap of two years I was now flying back into SFO with my family.  As we drove down to our hotel, I felt like I had only momentarily been away. There were a few changes I noted immediately: a larger, fancier Apple Store at Union Square and a new steel and glass building on 2nd St., that houses LinkedIn. My favorite lunch destination Osho Thai on 2nd St. has morphed into a fancy Laotian restaurant (sadly), the La Boulange outlet at Metreon has moved out. But otherwise, much of this city seemed exactly as I had left it.Our first day here was unusually warm. I had decided to take my family on a fun trip to Fisherman's Wharf by tram.  Given how popular this particular route is with the tourists, we had to stand in the warm sun for a while before we got our turn. We headed straight to one of the many crab and sea-food restaurants on Pier 39 before strolling around like the many tourists milling in and around the area.In the evening we strolled down Market St. to the Ferry Building and stopped by La Mar for a dinner of Peruvian delicacies of ceviche, causa and other sea-food delights.  A welcome breeze made for a pleasant walk back to our hotel.  We were at the opulent The Palace Hotel in downtown SF, one of the few in the area that has a lot of history. On our way back from New Orleans and Vegas we spent another day in this beautiful city before taking our long flight back home.  This time we were at the Grand Hyatt in Union Square, a hotel I have stayed many times before during my business trips to this area.  We spent some time walking up and down Chinatown and the Nob Hill area, stopping for sushi and miso soup at Sushi Toni and the  always amazing Super Duper for SF’s best burger-shake combo.Singapore Airlines was as good as ever, their business class cabin and service top-notch like before.  For a change, it was good to have company during these long flights which I usually do all by myself. [...]

Planet Goa


Now that we had tasted the freedom a road trip to Goa gave us, it was inevitable we would try this again. So it was just five months later, we were packed on a wintry Pune morning headed out to our favorite Indian beach once again. Given our experience, I would strongly urge people to try and get to Goa right after the New Year's celebration and party hordes are gone.  The weather is every bit as desirable and the beach-side shacks are open. Yet, the prices are down when peak season ends on January 2nd.This time, we decided to try out a newer resort, Planet Hollywood, not because we really wanted a Vegas/movie themed resort, but rather because of its splendid location.  Unlike our last trip when we camped within reach of the capital, this time we were amidst the quieter beaches of South Goa.Planet Hollywood is another new resort that has come up in the last few years on a clean stretch of beach to the north of Majorda.  Uttorda beach on which it is located until now was best known as home to the popular seafood shack, Zeebop. We repeated our journey to Kolhapur, Pearl Hotel and a sumptuous dinner at Dehati.  However, from Kolhapur we took a different route for South Goa.  The road to Belgavi turned out to be another scenic route - this time through deep jungles and ravines.  I think we drove almost 30 kms through a narrow road through a protected national park without meeting another vehicle on the road.  The only signs of human habitation were the tasteless posters - every one of them had a specific wild animal lying in a  pool of blood with a warning to drivers not to speed since there may be animals crossing. We passed through Belgavi mid-way and stopped briefly to pick up a pack of Kunda, which I had heard was a popular local sweet.  It was about noon when we arrived at our resort. Having a car is a boon when in South Goa, especially if you want to explore more than the beaches themselves.We dived into our 'Goa routine' of morning beach walks and breakfast buffets followed by long sessions in the pool. One one day we drove down to Fish Ka, a tastefully decorated shack near our hotel.  We savored some fresh catch of the day grilled different ways with glasses of wine.  The fish was fresh and the ambience of the evening even better.One another day, we drove the long stretch to Panjim to repeat our dream lunch from last time at Mum's Kitchen.  This time too was perfect!That evening we walked down the sandy stretch to Zeebop, a large beach-side shack.  This is where we were treated to this trip's stand-out dinner.  The fresh sea-bass grilled whole in tandoori spices was so good, it still makes me salivate!We returned to an old favorite in South Goa, Martin's Corner. They still haven't lost their touch. In addition to savoring several favorite dishes, we also discovered a new one: Caldin made of okra and cauliflower - two veggies we have never cooked together before.Before we knew it, it was time to drive back.  Goa during early January is still crisp and cold during early mornings but fairly warm during the days.  The tourists are mostly gone and the beaches are less crowded.  There isn't a better time of the year to vacation here than this. [...]

Day Trip To Mulshi


My wife and I had a rare day to ourselves when our daughter planned a day trip with her friends. On a whim, we decided to drive down to Mulshi, a popular picnic spot on the outskirts of Pune that is particularly alluring during the monsoons. This turned out to be one of the better ideas we have had lately. Mulshi was everything it promised to be and more. Mulshi was green, lush, and open all around with a large lake in the middle that fed into the dam - nature at its prettiest. On the day we were here, there were few tourists which made this visit even nicer. The drive itself was fun.  The road was in good condition and there wasn’t much traffic other than when we crossed some of the small villages en route. The only scare we had was when a chicken crossed the road right in front of our car without a warning, losing a few of its feathers in the process!We had decided to make Paradise Cafe our destination.  This little eating hole is right next to the water’s edge with a path leading right down.  We made our way to the lake where we saw saw many of the trees submerged almost to their lower branches.  This year the rains have been abundant making the whole vista nice, green and the water level higher than the years before.We spent a good amount of time just sitting on the rocks at the water’s edge, listening to the birds and insects, the only man-made noise from the pebbles I periodically tossed into the water (!).  Later, we  walked back to the cafe and had a rather nice rustic lunch of chicken curry with naan, as we watched a videographer go about directing a young couple wedding shoot. [...]

Ambling Through Mumbai


Cities that have been a melting pot of cultures and attracted a steady stream of immigrants through the ages are the best ones if you are a foodie. Food moves in along with people bringing a variety of new cuisines and cooking styles even as completely new ones are created as the old melds with new. New York, New Orleans, Hong Kong and Kolkata all owe the richness in their food scene to this simple fact. So does Mumbai! In this teeming city of millions, there is always a new delightful place waiting to be discovered, no matter how many times you have visited this grand old city before.As I moved from my jet-setting corporate life to that of a local entrepreneur, one of the nice things it let me do was discover street food, small local restaurants and other places I would rarely have the time to find and visit earlier.  As I (re-) discovered, there is a lot more to food than Michelin stars!Bengalis have long been migrating to Mumbai given the similarities these cities share right from the time of the British Raj. The two most important port cities of that time, both Mumbai and Kolkata employed a large number of immigrants from other parts of the country and even the surrounding region. Among the more recent restaurants serving Bengali cuisine to its people is Kolkata's Bhojohori Manna.  Quirkily named after a popular Manna Day song from the 70s that talks about a mythical chef, this restaurant now has two outlets in Mumbai.  I decided to visit the one in Oshiwara.An elaborate Bengali meal followed that included fish with mustard sauce, slow-cooked mutton in rich spices, a dish of banana florets, and palm sugar ice-cream.  I returned here again during my next trip and pretty much repeated the entire meal but with the fish replaced by a dish of tiger prawns in a coconut sauce.On one day, after a long day of meetings, we sat down at tiny little Janta Bar at one end of swish Pali Hill.  This place barely shows up on Google Maps, but is quite a delight.  The best way to describe Janta Bar is to say this is like a 'daru-ka-adda' but with posh people trooping in.  In other words, a low-end gentrified Indian bar.  It was a warm day, so the pitcher of chilled beer was a welcome sight.  The tawa mutton we had ordered was excellent too!We strolled to the other side of the road for dinner.  Jaihind is another one of those unassuming eateries that dot cities in India, but with fantastic food.  The local sea-food thali was amazing with crisply batter-fried fish, spicy gravy and fresh solkadi drinks.La Pain Quotidian is another place I happened to have a business lunch in. This upscale boulangerie is a part of a global chain run by French-Belgian baker, Alain Coumont.  The name is Our Daily Bread in French, and they specialize in simple, elegantly made pastas, salads, breads and pastries.Finally, during one of my trips here I walked the few blocks from my Juhu hotel to the once-iconic Prtihvi Theater.  Built by the 'first family' of Bollywood as a celebration of the performing arts, it is also home to Prithvi Cafe, a haunt for many aspiring artists during its heydays.  Even today, this is a is a wonderful place to chill out with one of their popular rolls and milkshakes.Finally, Mamagoto in Bandra, an expanding chain of Asian restaurants that combines a Asian staples with a casual, fun vibe, without taking itself (and its cuisine) too seriously. Everything tasted nice enough, even though I am quite a traditionalist when it comes to Chinese food. [...]

Surf, Sand and Seafood


The Grand Hyatt in Goa is a new 5-star entrant in this vacation city. Located within the capital city on a quiet bay with its own private beach, this hotel is a great option for those who wish to have access to the many dining spots within the city even as they reside in a luxury resort. We loved strolling the clean and quiet beach, which would be strewn in the mornings with capiz shells, unique to this stretch of sand. We would head back to the resort for breakfast.  The hotel has an elaborate buffet with live counters to satisfy most taste-buds.  Our room was fantastic too and had an outdoor verandah with a whirlpool where we could relax in the late evenings when the night fell.What was different this time was our access to restaurants in the city.  We rarely ate a meal within our hotel. We would drive down to a different restaurant in town every day for lunch and dinner.  Panjim has a lot of delightful places for foodies and exploring them was a highlight of this trip.  The best food experience during this trip clearly goes to Mum's Kitchen.  A popular place with both locals and tourists alike, this upscale eatery specializes in authentic local cuisine.  The interiors are a delightful meld of wood and hand-painted tiles. Local kitchen ware and pots adorn the walls.  The Fish Fofos, mildly spiced fish roundels crumbed and deep fried looked more interested than they tasted.  However, the Mussels Rava Fry was a delight to taste.  The best dish of the day was the amazing Goan sausage pulao, distinctly spicy and fragrant the way only the best Goan dish can be. Another great place we ate at was Black Sheep Bistro. This modern Goan restaurant specializes in a Goan-influened global menu designed from fresh, locally sourced ingredients and very popular with well-heeled locals and visitors.Clearly for the best dining options in town, being near Panjim helps! [...]

Driving to Goa


Goa is clearly our favorite vacation destination within the country.  From the time we moved to Pune, we have made several trips to this idyllic beach paradise where time seems to slow down even as the rest of India continues in its mad rush.Note: Yup, I am back on the blog again, making up for lost time! :) Until now, I have always chosen to fly to Goa rather than take the road, with the aim to squeeze in as much time within Goa as opposed to spending some on travel.  This time we decided to do drive down and even take a break at Kolhapur.  While this meant investing two days of our vacation time to the travel itself, the journey was worth the effort and time.We started on a bright sunny morning from Pune and in an hour had crossed the city limits as we sped down the Pune-Bangalore highway towards Satara and Kolhapur.  It was amazing to see how fast Pune had grown in the last decade.  Areas that were just rocky hillocks were covered with a  maze of apartment complexes and shops.  The highway was well-maintained and it was an easy drive to Kolhapur. We had decided to stay the night here at Hotel Pearl.  Pearl brought back memories of hotels I stayed in during the 80s and early 90s. The staff was friendly and helpful.  The restaurant on-premise served very good 'Indian-style' tea with some snacks and we were quickly refreshed.  We decided to take an auto rickshaw to the famous Mahalakshmi temple.I was fascinated by the temple. Built by the Chalukyas in the 7th century the temple still looks amazing.  The dark stone pillars and the inner structure of the temple have weathered these long years so very well.Kolhapur reminded me of Pune like it was in the last 90s - less crowded and with little traffic. That night we decided to gorge on Kolhapur-style mutton.  What better place to do that than Dehati?Dehati is a relatively new restaurant with a more upscale ambiance than the previous go-to places for Kolhapur mutton thalis.  While they price their thali higher than others, they provide a better quality experience too. We gorged on the fiery but delicious mutton dishes with the freshly made bakhri breads. I was so full by the time we left, I could barely walk back to our hotel.We got up early the next day and were on our way to Goa even before the sun had risen.  The front-office attendant and guards were very helpful and insisted on cleaning our car before we drove on.Soon, we had to turn off the main highway and into the narrower road that would wind its way past Amboli ghat. While the road on this stretch is a little more tricky with unexpected and un-marked speed breakers, it also is the more picturesque. The remote villages, the winding road, and the cloud-kissed top of Amboli ghat is sure to excite the most jaded road warrior - especially so if you are here during the rains when everything around is verdant and green with little streams and waterfalls all around.We stopped on the top, eating freshly made Maggi, pakoras and tea as we watched the sun thin out the mist over the surrounding hills.  Finally, we were back winding down the slopes on our final stretch.  The vegetation began to change, the backwaters and coconut palms got more dense and then we were in Goa.Vacations are best when you do them slow! Taking the time to stay at Kolhapur, let us enjoy the entire time of the road so much more. [...]

Introducing Pal@table


Dear Readers, as many of you have noticed my blog has not been as active as it used to be once.  This is the reason why! I have been completely involved in something exciting. Palatable is a labor of love for fellow foodies and social animals, the next step to realizing the true potential of tech and smartphones in helping take our social life and food experiences to the next level.  Hope to see many of you try the app and let me know what you think.  Cheers!

Asia Box and Jimmy Hu


Food and cooking styles from Persia and countries in the west entered India from the time Arab traders began landing on our shores. On the other hand, cuisines from the Far East got in only recently; the earliest among them, Chinese. The Chinese have been traveling to India since Buddhism began entering their country, but their food made its way to our shores only during the heydays of the British East India Company. Immigrant Hakka Chinese made their way to Calcutta whose port afforded them plenty of jobs. They brought with them their noodles, soups, sauces and woks. Chinese cooks soon opened eateries here, learning quickly to combine their sauces with local vegetables, spices and produce, even learning to adapt their menu to suit local tastes.As my generation knows only too well, Chinese cuisine went on to become a huge hit. Bastardised dishes such as Manchurian became popular through the length and breadth of the country, even as the two countries locked horns for long periods due to war and politics.  No childhood memory of mine can be complete without Chinese Egg-drop Soup, Chow Mein, Chilli Chicken or Hakka Noodles in them.Thai food, strangely, did not make it here until very recently.  Strange because of how familiar Thai food is to the Indian palate with its spicy sauces and rice-based dishes.  Until the 90s, it was difficult to come across restaurants that served Thai, Vietnamese or Malay food.  That is being rapidly rectified now. In Pune, when Malaka Spice began serving Pan Asian food several years back, they were the only one in town to do so. Now, Asian Box in Koregaon Park is only the latest to bring Pan-Asian delicacies to foodies here.  Having heard so much from those who seem to adore this place, we decided to pay a visit on a weekend.On a pleasant day, this place can be quite nice.  Most of their seating is outdoors and the menu quite exhaustive.  We ordered a selection of Thai, Malay and Burmese selections as we guzzled down chilled beer.The Satay Ayam made of succulent chunks of chicken marinated and grilled with spices was quite good. The Thai Lettuce Wraps with minced chicken that had been wok tossed with basil and red chillies was very good.  The only unfortunate thing was the chef had overdone the salt considerably, thereby destroying an otherwise excellent dish.  Hopefully, this will be a one-time occurrence.With the daughter with us, it was inevitable that she would notice and insist on the Tempura Prawns. She loved it, but then she would have no matter how ineffective the chef! ( Lies... btw this is ‘The Daughter’ ).  No surprises, the wasabi wasn’t exactly the kind I am used to.The most memorable dish of the day was clearly the Burmese Khao Suey. Like the menu promised, the dish was a fantastic combination of noodles, Burmese curry and a variety of condiments with which to garnish the dish.  Both on the eyes and the palate, this dish was a winner!Overall, Asian Box is a good choice when you are craving Asian food. Jimmy Hu brings another twist to Chinese food.  Most Chinese food in India comes in two varieties: the the heavily localized street food variety at street corners and more upscale places that serve ‘authentic dishes’ in surroundings designed to evoke the real deal, but also spiced up for Indian tastes.  Jimmy Hu fits into neither category. They have created a bar/lounge that is both contemporary and youthful, but with a Chinese menu. What makes them stand out is how well they execute these dishes.Both the Hakka Box and the ClayPot rice with Chicken and Fish at Jimmy Hu have quickly become our favourite. We come here even when we aren[...]

Dravida’s & Peter Donuts


Dravida’s Bistro is a welcome addition to Pune’s food scene.  Where most restaurants that serve Indian food tend to focus on oily dishes that can leave you feeling heavy and lethargic, Dravida’s has filled its menu with home-style South Indian food with a contemporary twist. The focus is on the use of fresh vegetables and healthy grains. What surprised me the most was the price-point.  For the food on offer and the casual but upscale ambiance I am sure many would be willing to pay higher.Dravida’s serves only vegetarian food but that has never been a problem with me. Does that surprise you knowing how much I enjoy my meat? Actually, South Indian foods is special because it is comfort food and brings back memories of my childhood days in Mysore; this is the one kind of cuisine for which I can gladly go vegetarian.Dravida’s has a few other unique things in its menu.  They allow you to customise almost any dish to your taste.  For example, a dosa can be specified by size (small, medium, large), type (regular, rava, etc.) and filling (traditional, mixed veg, paneer, etc.). The one thing that has been my favourite for lunch is their Create Your Own Basket option, which allow you to create a custom thali by choosing your own variety of rice, breads, and options from a menu of vegetable starter and gravy preparations - all available in small or large sizes.  It is a rather unique concept, but one that works very well.  Another thing I love is their Degree Coffee sourced from Kerala.The restaurant is located in City Point on Boat Club Road.  Try them also for their organic juices and the elaborate satvik thali on weekends. If there is one thing they should continue to focus on, it is faster and more efficient service. They are a little short of waitstaff which can be a problem if you are in a hurry. Cafe Peter Donuts is another place to hangout over coffee, pastries or even something more substantive.  Large and airy, this place recently opened opposite Symbiosis in Viman Nagar.  There is no way you can miss the bright red cafe with its large glass windows when you are driving by.We tried a few of their dishes, which were served fast and efficiently.  The Chicken Stroganoff and Thai Green Curry were both pretty good especially if you were looking for a fast meal. Their donuts were good too - not surprising, since Koreans tend to be serious about their baking.I was curious about so many Korean run places opening up in Pune lately (London Muffin, another favourite place, is also run by Koreans).  Turns out the couple who own this one visited India once, loved the country and on a whim decided to move here and set up their own restaurant.  The day we went to Peter Donuts, the restaurant had just opened and a lot of people from the local Korean community were in attendance. I hope we will continue to see more of this phenomenon.  India was once a magnet for global travellers; I hope we can make this country attractive from global immigrants once again! [...]

Picantos & Wadeshwar


Mexican food has taken a surprisingly long time to get to Pune. I have never quite understood why.   Indians traveling to the USA during the 90s when there were few Indian and South Asian restaurants in that country quickly found themselves at a Taco Bell or something similar that served the basic Mexican fare of tacos and burritos. That was the nearest they could come to spicy fare that was familiar to their taste-buds when they craved for some comfort food.  Now, we have so many eateries in town serving Italian, Mediterranean and Thai, but nary a place that serves Mexican. Until now.Picantos Mexican Grill in Viman Nagar brings to town a taste of Mexican in a quick serve format. While those looking for something very authentic or upscale may balk at their offerings, I have to say they do a very good job for the price.We loved their Spicy Chicken bowl, which comes with fried beans, rice and some really spicy chicken. I have to warn you about the heat level in their spicy options - they are quite fiery! My wife and daughter liked the charmaula chicken burrito.  They also seemed to enjoy the tacos, even if the shells weren’t exactly how we like them.  I guess the quality of the fillings made up for it.We had ordered a Tres Leches cake and Churros too. These were ok, but not particularly memorable.  The churros tasted alright, but they haven’t gotten the shape right.  As for the Tres Leches Cake, I am not sure the fault is entirely theirs.  Having tasted some of the top-notch versions, it was inevitable I would inadvertently compare with those.  But again, like I said earlier, for their price point, they do a remarkable job.Wadeshwar serves a local version of South Indian fare and has been quite popular. They recently opened an outlet in Kalyani Nagar.  On a whim, we decided to see what they had to offer.  Like restaurants in their space, Wadeshwar, was a neat and clean place offering a variety of dosas, wadas, and idlis during the morning hours.We tried what they say are their most popular dishes:  Molgapodi Idlis and Ghee Idli. Both these dishes are created with mini idlis.  The former is tossed in a dry spice mix while the latter is dipped in hot sambar with ghee.  We liked both, even if they weren’t too different from what you would get at a Kalyani, Vaishali or a Madhubani. I guess, every place has their fan proclaiming how different these places are.  I for one, don’t find one that is particularly special compared to the others.  For the record, I also think Vaishali is grossly over-rated! :) [...]

Classic Rock Coffee and Bombay Bronx


Classic Rock is unlike any other coffee place you would have been to, unless you have visited one of their outlets in the United States.  It is like being in a backstage lounge of a rock concert.  They are as much known for the variety and the quality of their coffee roasts as for the usually cool and funky ambiance. Bombay Bronx is the newest answer to our city’s never-ending quest for new watering holes and they have done a fabulous job of carving their unique identity already.Classic Rock is a relatively newcomer in a highly competitive space.  With just two outlets in the United States, they quickly expanded to cover select locations in the Middle East and South Asia, before expanding further into the rest of the USA.  Pune became their first opening in India, and also the first to serve alcohol in addition to coffee.  My wife and I ventured into Classic Rock on a Saturday evening when the night was still young.  There was a small cover charge, but that was for the Weekend Flea Market that was set up within the open area next to a small amphitheater that had a live band playing rock.  Classic Rock turned out to be a fun place but only if you didn’t go there on a weekend expecting to settle in with coffee. During these evenings, the place gets rather crowded with young people looking to guzzle beer as they enjoy the live music. Not quite like a coffee shop on those days! While Classic Rock’s USP has been the coffee, their Pune location is better known for their live gigs and other specials (such as when they got a Master Chef celebrity to host a cooking themed event).  Bombay Bronx too wears different hats on different days.  Open only during the evenings on weekends, it caters to patrons looking to chill out over their favourite poison, they also have a weekend lunch buffet for families with their kids who can dig into some rather well-made food. What makes Bombay Bronx unique is the very innovative Bombay themed interiors. Amitabh Bacchan looks down upon you from the iconic poster from Deewar that adorns the bar area. You walk past an area re-created from seats and overhead handles from local trains that are so much a part of Mumbai’s daily life. There is even a Dhobi Ghat area and one that celebrates the famous dabbawalas. Creepily, the toilets have a red light on top with a signboard that says Kamathipura! However, Bombay Bronx is not all high-concept without substance.  Their cocktails and their bar food are exceptionally well-chosen and well executed.   They have some interesting Mumbai-themed cocktails and the cool thing is they give you a tasting flight of their most popular ones so you can try them all and then order the one you prefer.  Like many other bars in Pune, I found the alcohol content in their drinks on the lower side.   We ordered the Dongri Galli Thali which puts together some of their popular food items into a platter.  This was exceptional and every item was extraordinary.  The chicken roll, chicken baida roti, mutton sandwich and bhuna mutton with paratha were so very good!  While this a great choice for those looking to de-stress with alcohol in cool surroundings, it can be a great option for teetotallers just because of the bar food alone.  Given that this lounge comes to us from the same guys who brought Brooklyn Shuffle, WTF! and Jimmy Hu’s, we shouldn’t be surprised. [...]

Food Story and Zamu's


For those who never tire of kababs and curries, Pune now has one more excellent destination. Food Story on Boat Club Road brings to you the delectable fare perfected by Nawabi families of Hyderabad in upscale surroundings. For those who prefer good food with a casual old Pune vibe, Zamu’s continues to be a great choice. Lip-smacking sizzlers and Parsi delicacies like Dhansak make it to the table just the way they did 16 years back when I moved into Pune, albeit in surroundings that have undergone a makeover.Food Story has a rather understated appearance from the outside. However, the luxurious interiors in white, antique silver and purple detailing exudes regal elegance and invites you to to sit back and take your time relishing every dish.  The menu has several unique dishes of Nizami heritage in the meat-lovers section, but there are surprising innovations in the vegetarian section too.My first experience was during a week-day lunch, when they have a fixed Executive Lunch menu that allows you to try a few of their kababs, curries, breads and biryani at a very reasonable price. This quickly became a favourite with me. Among the rather interesting creations from their menu is the exquisite Shikampuri Kabab, a refined version of the better known Shammi Kabab - just like the Kakori Kabab is to a more ordinary Sheek Kabab.If you do try their a la carte menu, you may want to check out the Haleem, a festive time favourite and rarely on restaurant menus in Pune. The Patthar Ka Gosht and Gosht Dacha are other unusual dishes I recommend. Their biryanis and dal too have variety rarely found elsewhere in Pune.Having eaten here multiple times, I can also say the quality of their food and service stay consistently top-notch. Give it a try, you won’t regret it!  Chef Shaikh Arif Ahmed has succeeded in executing a menu that is both intriguing and delightful at the same time.Only a couple of block away from Food Story is Zamu’s.  This restaurant has been serving its patrons since much before this area developed into an upscale restaurant hub.  I was introduced to Sizzlers only when I came to Pune, and this was one of my favourite places for that, and it still is.During Parsi festive days, Zamu’s is filled with Parsi families celebrating with their traditional food. On other days, this is a great place to hangout with friends over beer and a sizzling plate of meat and accompaniments.  They now offer a 3-Step Sizzer which allows you to customise your Sizzler plate in a hundred different ways and is the best way to sample this local comfort food. I love the Chicken Gregory combined with stir-fried veggies, fries and burnt-garlic rice along with pepper garlic sauce.  Another more traditional sizzler, is the Masala Chicken Shashlik.  If you care for a starter, try their old favourite, Mushrooms in Garlic sauce and remember to keep some space for another of their old favourites, the Caramel Custard.As for their Parsi fare, this is the place to sample a Dhansak with a mutton gravy.  It is completely delicious but be aware the serving is a very large one.  A perfect dish for a lazy Sunday lunch that is guaranteed to make you want to nap right after! [...]

Desi Delights


Sweet lovers have not had it so good in Pune. You have several sweetmeat sellers that conjure up the most delicious classic Rajasthani and Bengali sweets. From expertly made burfis to an authentic ghewar, from fluffy roshogollas to palm sugar sandesh and kheer kadam. You no longer need to trouble friends travelling from Delhi and Kolkata; you can have them all - right here in Pune. For those with a taste for Western delicacies, say a cheesecake or a creme brûlée, you have several great choices too. However, this post is not about these classic desserts, but the ones that have been  crafted and perfected by our street vendors over the years.Among the most well-known is the Kulfi-Falooda.  If you are near Pune Railway Station, head straight across the street to Shiv Kailash for a taste of Pune’s finest.For a more elaborate creation, head to Falahaar in Viman Nagar and ask for their Gulkand Falooda. Layers of ice-cream, falooda (vermicelli, soaked basil seeds and tapioca pearls) flavoured intensely with rose petals make for a heavenly post-dinner treat.Finally, who in Pune hasn’t heard of the Mastani, the city own proud creation.  A local sundae, Sujata Mastani’s version is the most famous one here.  Named after the famous queen, the Mango mastani is the clear favourite of their patrons.  While they have several outlets in the city now, their shop in Sadashiv Peth in the old city is where it all begun.  They use the French Pot method for their ice-cream sundaes but without the use of eggs.  The Mango Mastani is intensely flavoured with saffron and topped liberally with dry fruits.  A true indulgence, Puneri style!For fruit lovers, Falahaar has a few interesting treats up their sleeve.  Foremost is the Jaman Shots and during season, Sitaphal with Cream.  Try some of these pure desi desserts and I bet you will be hooked! [...]

A Tale of Two Bakers


German Bakery in Pune has been a favourite haunt for foreigners, hippies, and expats ever since the early 90s when most outsiders came to this city to get away from the stress of modern urban life.  When I first visited this place at the turn of the millennium, it was teeming with maroon robed inmates of the nearby Osho commune.  And so it continued until that fateful day in February 2010 when terrorists exploded a bomb here killing 17 and injuring over 60 people.Today, German Bakery is open again, albeit in a new avatar. They have also taken over another restaurant on Law College Road. The German who started these restaurants and gave it their distinctive name no longer runs them. What continues is the easy-going vibe.  While the expats and tourists have moved to other newer cafes and bakeries that now dot Pune, these places continue to be a magnet for young students and local hipsters.German Bakery was opened in 1989 by Klaus Gutzeit who left Germany in the early 70s to follow the hippie trail to the subcontinent.  He arrived in Pune after living for several years in Nepal and Goa, where his breads, especially the German Pumpernickel, had became popular with travelling foreigners.  As Pune began to grow crowded in the early 2000s, he sold out and went back to the Himalayas.I happened to find myself in the German Bakery on Law College Road recently.  While there is not much German about the bakery - other than the few German words that adorn the counters - the atmosphere is chilled out and makes for an excellent place to work or just relax for a while.  The food too is pretty good: breakfast items, sandwiches, pizzas and a sprinkling of snack items just right for the students that frequent this place.Overall, I think this German Bakery is even better than the original one, and nice to see something like this - a step up from the Vaishalis and Roopalis - coming up (finally) in this part of town!Fast forward to 2012.  Another European baker moves into Pune and opens shop.  This time a Frenchman. Brice Poisson’s La Bouchee D’or on Boat Club Road is probably among the best bakeries in Pune today. Unlike German Bakery, this isn’t just a lounging place for the expat community but one where you come for the excellent breads and pastries on offer.For those who are looking for authentic French baguettes and other high-quality breads, you need look no further.  This is also heaven for those with a sweet-tooth.  I am completely hooked onto the decadent, rich croissants he turns out every day: the almond-chocolate and the pistachio are my favourites.  Tarts, eclairs (try the passion fruit), mille feuille, and much more - they are all memorable.We have come such a long way since I first moved into Pune. Coffee, breads and pastries those days were a pale imitation of the real thing. Now, you are spoilt for choice!  Expat and Indian bakers have upped their game so much even as the city’s tastebuds have evolved.  Now I get my cupcakes from Forennte in Koregaon Park, muffins at London Muffin, multi-grain bread from The Flour Works and croissants and eclairs from La Bouchee D’Or.  Doesn’t get much better than this! [...]

Fish Curry Rice and Nisarg


I have heard of Fish Curry Rice for so long and yet been unable to try it due to its location and the lack of parking. This week I was finally able to sample what many say is the best seafood restaurant in town. Fish Curry Rice brings local coastal cuisine to its patrons in its real form  without the adornments and embellishments of the typical restaurant fare. This is in fact the next best thing to home-made food! They best way to sample Fish Curry Rice is to choose one of their seafood thalis. We went with the Special Fish thali.  This thali came with a fish fry, a fish in local Malwani gravy, a dry prawns dish, and other accompaniments to complete the meal.  In the fish dishes, we had pomfret, surmai and bangda today. The fish, like we expected, was absolutely fresh.  Every dish had a distinct taste and flavour making for a very pleasing lunch experience.We had visited their Law College Road restaurant, which continues to be no-frills but is tastefully decorated with old Marathi film posters. The service is fast, efficient and the check easy on the wallet.  It is no wonder, this restaurant comes listed in The Lonely Planet as must-visit food place.Those who live near Karve Road argue that Nisarg is the place to go if you like seafood.  So off we went to try that one too (but on a different day!).Nisarg is clearly more up-market with a larger seating area.  The restaurant would be in the same category as Gajalee (which I have reviewed here earlier).We ordered some fish tikkas followed by a gassi with the local rice-based bread - a Malwani version of the appam. Overall, the fish was good as were the preparations.  While the service was quite efficient, I think Gajalee has an edge.  However, all said and done, if you are in this part of town and craving for seafood, you can do worse than drop in here for a very satisfying meal.With both local and Mumbai-based restaurants now courting Pune’s seafood lovers with their renditions of Malwani and Konkan cuisine, you have enough places to choose from now. Equally important, these restaurants are spread out over different areas and you can find something good close by no matter where you live. [...]

Kapila Kathi Kababs


During my college days, I did my summer internship at Kolkata. Among the many things I remember from those days are the street food that were not only easy on the pocket but also a gourmet’s delight. The most popular of them the Kathi Kabab and Muglai Paratha.  When I came to Pune several years back, I discovered Kapila Kathi Kababs, a small ‘hole-in-the-wall’ outlet on Dhole Patil Road that recreated the deliciousness of the Kolkata Kathi rolls and have been addicted ever since.Both the Kathi Kabab and the Muglai Paratha owe their existence to the influence of Mughal cuisine as it made its way into Bengal.  I have mentioned elsewhere how Mughal cooks fled to Kolkata during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.  Among the many things they brought here was their cooking traditions which were soon adapted and absorbed within the local Nawabi kitchens of Murshidabad and other princely homes of the North East.Nizam’s, a restaurant that has been a Kolkata institution from the time it opened in 1932, appears to be the first one that turned Kathi Kabab into a fast food delicacy.  There are many stories that speculate on how the Kathi Kabab came about, such as the one about their British patron who loved Nizam’s kababs, but didn’t want to use his fingers and therefore the kabab was given wrapped to him in a paratha. Others found this a great way to take away the kababs and savour them on their way to work.Nizam’s grilled their meat on long iron skewers in the traditional Indian way, but after demand for their Kathi Kababs began to grow, found it faster to grill them on long ovens with the meat on smaller bamboo skewers.  This is apparently the process that gave this dish its distinctive name.  Kathi in Bengali means stick, so this became the kabab on a stick.Kapila Kathi Kabab moved into a larger place recently (right opposite their original location).  They also open early now: at 12:30 pm.  The unique deliciousness of their Kathi Kababs are a combination of the spicy meat filling, the well-crafted paratha made by frying the leavened bread with a layer of egg on a large iron griddle before rolling up the meat with a sprinkling of freshly chopped onion and mint chutney.Kapila has never slipped up once since I first ate here, but my last visit here was an anomaly.  For the first time, they served me a roll that had been over-fried and the taste underwhelmed.  I hope this is a one-time mishap and not a sign of their focus on growth getting in their way of quality.When speaking of rolls, one must also mention Tibbs of Mumbai which introduced the Frankie, which is what they call their version of this dish.  Not as rich and less oily, the Tibbs Frankie is a reimagined and Indianised Lebanese pita wrap that has found appeal among the more contemporary Mumbai crowd since they opened in the late 60s. The Kathi roll continues to live on in newer forms.  Faaso’s of Pune built their business on a version of this popular Indian fast-food too. [...]

Where Else in Pune?


Where Else Cafe & Bar is another of the new generation cafes that have sprung up in Pune. We got here on a weekday during lunch hours and found the place mostly bereft of customers, but from the large number of bags being readied for home delivery indicated their popularity with patrons that live and work in its vicinity.  The cafe has a bright, youthful vibe and give you an option of outdoor or indoor dining. There were several other things that stood out as we settled in.  I could see several power connectors set up near tables, yay!  Finally, some folks who are willing to cater for those who run around with laptops and want to get some work done as they wait for food.  They also had a section in their menu devoted to traditional Parsi food.  Finally, they have a pet menu section.  This must be a first! I haven’t seen this anywhere else.We ordered the Cheese Jalapeños Bombs for our starters and it turned out to be as decadent and gooey as its name suggests!I opted for the Crispy Herbed Chicken Burger that had a chicken patty topped with cheese and BBQ sauce.  The burger was pretty well executed and served with a side of cole slaw, but was not as outstanding as last week’s burger at Beetroot.My wife’s chicken dish looked very enticing with its accompaniments and she said it was outstanding.  Overall, we were happy with the experience here and expect to be back.Around the corner, right here in Viman Nagar, Sujata Mastani has opened a small outlet.  For those not familiar with this popular Pune dessert, it is an elaborate version of an ice-cream milk shake.  I had ordered the Kesar Mango Mastani which was made with fresh cream, mango ice-cream, saffron and liberally garnished with a variety of chopped dry fruits.  It was every bit as sinful as you can imagine it would be!Mastani happens to be a well-known name in Maratha folklore. She was the second wife of Peshwa Baji Rao a famous Maratha general during the 18th century.  There is a Bollywood blockbuster on its way that should help popularise her story with those not familiar with this part of our history.  Apparently, the name of the Mastani dessert was a tribute to this warrior queen/consort of yore, as a fellow foodie discovered.I have mentioned London Muffin before.  For those who like high-quality breads, pastries and other baked goodies, this place in Kalyani Nagar is a haven. Run by a Korean family, their breads reflect their love for cream and other fillings popular in Asia. I especially like their custard-filled doughnuts, muffins and pastries.  It is also a lovely place to sit outdoors under the trees and enjoy a well-made cappuccino. [...]

Beetroot and Krusty's


Beetroot and Krusty’s are a new generation of Western-style restaurants that are becoming increasingly popular in a city that was dominated by North Indian and Chinese food until recently.  Clearly food lovers in Pune are finally beginning to experiment and cast their net wider when hunting for a new place to eat. Italian pastas are no longer the only European food they want to try! A decade back I would only have Arther’s Theme to choose if I wanted a European food experience.  Now you would be spoilt for choice. Incognito and The Flour Works (among others) brought Western cuisine into the Maratha heartland successfully. Beetroot and Krusty’s are taking this further ahead by combining Western flavors, ambiance and even infusing them with an Indian ethos.Krusty’s has two outlets in Pune; I visited the one at Koregaon Park during lunch hours.  The restaurant has a well-lit, pleasantly upscale cafe ambiance.  The menu is quite substantive with several interesting appetisers, salads, sandwiches and burgers.  On this day, I decided to try the Grilled Chicken Burger and was pleasantly surprised by both the presentation and execution.The burger was served open-face with caramelised onions over the grilled chicken and melted cheese.  The other half had fresh tomato, lettuce and gherkins making for a very appetising sight indeed.  The fries in a wire-mesh basket completed the presentation.  The burger was very filling and completely satisfying.  Good job, Krusty’s!Beetroot Bistro is a more recent opening in Koregaon Park.  Located on the terrace of an apartment building, the place has a nice feel especially in the evening hours when the rustle of the leaves in the trees around and the blue and white paintwork makes for a nice atmosphere.In keeping with my burger craze, I decided to try their Peri Peri Chicken Burger. However, we also ordered a starter of Beer Drunken Prawns first.  The prawns were crunchy and tasted right, keeping our hunger pangs at bay as we waited for our mains.The Peri Peri burger was a delight.  The spicy peri-peri sauce, the jalapeños and the grilled onions enhanced the flavours and tastes of the burger considerably.  A must-try for anyone who is willing to experiment with their burgers and can stand some heat! Peri-peri sauce is showing up in multiple Western menus in Pune now-a-days. Both Krusty’s and Beetroot use it to make some Western staples more interesting for Indian palates. Peri-Peri originated in Africa (and actually meant pepper pepper in Swahili), but is best known for its use in Portuguese and Goan cooking now.  For a spice lover like me, I don’t mind this recent trend at all.  Keep it coming!In other news, Starbucks opened another outlet, this time on F. C. Road. I love to dig into the tomato and mozzarella on Multi-grain bread when I am in Starbucks during morning hours.  Coupled with a hot caramel macchiato to satiate my sweet tooth, this sandwich makes for a perfectly good breakfast!Finally, The Flour Works continues to do all the right things. From the busy tables all through the day, I can see their patrons continue to appreciate the combination of food and laid-back ambiance this place provides.  I tried the Chicken in a lemon and caper sauce which was served with potatoes and a spinach cake and turned out pretty delish. [...]