To review…

Whether by the mysterious weave of the looms of Fate or by sheer, dumb luck; I find that the bulk of my life has been spent in two very foodcentric cities on two different continents. Both Bombay and San Francisco celebrate their love of all that is eatworthy through some awesome food establishments. The citizens all have their own favourites, and rightly so. In the rich tapestry of the food scene of either city, there are brilliant threads that sometimes get lost in the overall fabric, so it is a good thing that there are several voices championing them. In that vein, the question that I think I’ve been asked the most is “What’s a good place to eat?”. Tough, because this is probably the one question that will get the longest-winded answer from me.

In this new series I’m starting, I’ll review some of my favourite restaurants, bakeries, roach-coaches (Yes really. I’ve eaten the best food through some of them), indeed any place that serves something you can eat. The focus of these will be San Francisco and the surrounding Bay area, though if I travel to Bombay, you can bet my childhood loves there will be covered with unabashed glee. (I hope they are all still around, I cry rivers when I hear one of them has shut down.) The reviews will by no means be comprehensive of the menu, centered as they will be on my own personal experience. I know what I like. If you’ve been reading my blog for sometime and have maybe tried a recipe or two, hopefully our taste in food travels in the same direction and my suggestions will work for you. They seem to for friends and family.

When possible, the reviews will be accompanied by photographs. But these will, in no way, compare to the food photos you’re used to seeing on this site. For the most part, the photos will be taken on my Iphone. Most of my eating out happens around dinner time and the romantic (bordering on slasher flick) lighting most restaurants use around here aren’t conducive to photography, so the photos may not be genius. They will also be quick since I don’t think it’s fair to make my friends and family suffer for my art when we’re outside. They have to at home anyhow. I’m also going to use that page as a place where I’ll be listing restaurants that I want to try, which will get reviewed as I do.

I also plan to review all the cookbooks I own/use. Somebody has to and all signs point to me. I do this in the hopes that it will help me downsize my burgeoning collection of books and get rid of the chaff, while retaining some choice prizes. The only two ground rules I’m setting myself for the book reviews are whether the recipes work (if it is a cook book) and if the book is a fun/educational read. I think these are key to the success of a good book about food.

My ratings will be in the form of red & blue stars upto a highest possible of 5 stars. Red stars trump blue ones which means a restaurant or book with ★★★ is rated higher than one with ★★★. Consider it a way for me to award half stars in a sense.

These ‘Cheeky review’ posts (thoughtfully tagged with a CR prelude) will show up when I have a place/book to tell you about. Eventually, I hope all my food related knowledge will find a home on this blog. To clear these things out of my head is one of the big reasons I started this blog. I’ll start it off tomorrow with a really good restaurant I want to tell you about (hint: the address is on that receipt in the photo). If you love Mexican food, stay tuned!

Quick Chicken Biryani

Stop and stare on any street in Bombay and your eye is likely to register at least three places to eat in any direction, be it the ubiquitous sandwich seller or chaat house. (I don’t suggest you do this though. You’re likely to get shoved about and cursed at in seven different languages if you stop longer than 5 seconds. Just like in New York, waffling about in Bombay will raise temperatures faster than the heat of the summer.) Bombayites, present and former, love food. We love eating it, arguing about it and seeking it out. You will be spoilt for choice with all that the city has to offer. Naturally, any native will have categorical and vociferous opinions about where the best “insert suitable food item here” is available. It will not necessarily be the fanciest restaurant around, though there are a fair amount of luxurious examples with incredible food. No, sometimes the best of things can be found in street food or in your humble, no-nonsense lunch homes.

One such no-frills restaurant was Lucky Restaurant in the West Bandra neighbourhood. This is where I first tasted biryani and where I fell irrevocably in love with it. When I was growing up, this establishment served some of the best available restaurant biryani around. For the  uninitiated, biryani is one of the most delicious things you could eat. There is stewed meat cooked slowly with yoghurt and spices, along with the irresistibly fragrant basmati rice. The resultant dish is a thing of delight, a delicacy of dreams. Over the years, the quality of Lucky became a bit unreliable. That you had to be ‘lucky to have a good meal at Lucky‘ became a standing joke. I hear it still has its good days along with its bad ones, but the good ones are pretty great.

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Chocolate Brandy Truffles & Smitten Kitchen’s Homemade Marshmallows

In the new movie Valentine’s Day, there is a scene toward the end between Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher, who play long-time best friends in the movie. It is one to which Amey and I can relate. Being married to your best friend means there is almost nothing that you cannot discuss with your other half, whether it be the dissection of a ‘moment’ or an irrational obsession with all things marshmallow.

It’s pre-Valentine’s day and a gorgeous, sunny February day in NorCal. I should be outside, revelling in the light and soaking up the sunshine. Instead I’m sitting here, glued to my computer and feverishly tapping away on the keyboard. Why? Because the marshmallow made me do it. It was aided and abetted by the chocolate.

That is how intensely good these homemade marshmallows are. If you are a sucker for these soft white melting pillows, and I am, you will be riotously giddy about how easy this recipe is and how entertaining they are to make. I haven’t had this much serious fun cooking since I made plasticine pies when I was five. There is the same sort of creative discovery and satisfaction to be found here. An intensely childlike glee takes root in you as you watch the alpine white fluff come together around a whirring whisk, which is weaving meandering furrows through it.

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Annie Somerville’s New Mexican Border Stew

There is grating sanctimony in the general intent that you must eat something because it is good for you. Taking this quite rigourously to heart, well-meaning yet hapless parents have urged scores of chilidren over millenia to tuck into things that they have no natural affinity for. Unfortunately, the things children do make a beeline for, like sugar and chips, are quite bad for them. This makes for the eternal tussle between harried parents and their stubborn progeny who firmly refuse to open their mouths when they see suspicious and unknown things on their plate. Most children must feel that there is an inescapable, unseen plot to ensure their gastronomical suffering. As a child, I know I often did.

Eating a thing just because it is good for you makes little sense to me, though it is a sentiment with which I’ve made peace with some difficulty. I’ve been taken in by needing to eat purely for health, forcing myself at one point to try to eat fish. It was an experiment that ended in disaster, as it was doomed to from the start. We refuse to eat lots of things as children, sometimes growing to like them as adults. Yet grown-up children all around tell me that they do not like something because they were force-fed it as children. I suspect this is only half true, as I had to admit after my tryst with “chicken of the sea”. The moment you step out into the world on your own, you take the reins of your life into your own hands. This includes what you will or won’t eat, and honestly, how long are you going to blame your palate on the actions of a well-intentioned parent?

‘Calvin & Hobbes’ comic strip by Bill Watterson

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Nigel Slater’s White Chocolate Cardamom Mousse

I have hopes for getting a few things done this year. There are aspirations to be travelling more, cooking more, writing more, learning more. I aim to get my architectural license before the year is through. I aspire to meet up with my friends more and call my mom more often. Well, I’ll have to watch that last one carefully. She might begin to suspect I’m terminally ill if I don’t ease her into it. Don’t want to ping her sonar for no reason. Nothing good has ever come of that.

Time has soared by quickly. We are already at the end of January.  The cold winter means no long walks on the beach, my primary place for random thought. Without them, thoughts have no focus or room. They crowd into my head and push everything else out. Amey has caught me staring into space more often than usual this month. Only two things have really kept my attention. Architecture and cooking.

Taken together, they aren’t quite all that diverse. Here’s how the charge sheet would look if you tried to compare.
☕ Both respond to basic human needs, cooking is to food what architecture is to shelter.
☕ Both aspire to do so much more than just fulfilling a need.
☕ Architecture is both an art and a science. So is cooking.
☕ Either one of them revels in experimentation, often with fantastic results.
☕ Both have a long history and have evolved in response to period and place (Up to a point in time. Both have felt the effects of globalization.)
☕ Never were there two art forms that, as a whole, focus on the person who creates them as much as on those for whom they are created.
☕ A good example of either will satisfy you to your very soul. You may not recognize it immediately but your day will be so much the better for it.

My friend once mentioned that he has never seen a more contented lot than architects. Before all the unhappy ones out there rush to argue this, allow me to explain what he meant. Architecture pales in comparison to the initial monetary compensation of investment bankers, or those in technological fields (the aforementioned friend’s profession). This results in tons of frustration for some, and those who are conflicted about this, leave. This is not a profession you stay in lightly. It is your life.
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