Chef, Chef's Special, Chennai, Eating out, Food Festivals, Fusion, Indian, Pop Up Dinners, South Indian

Big Bandha takes a walk in The Park

A few months ago there was a tiny stall at a food exhibition that emitted some damn good smell. Intrigued, we walked in and sadly very few items were left. Clearly, the aromas reached more nostrils than I thought. Baked Parota. Lasagna styled Parota. Paya Ramen. Mexican Bhel. Clearly the guy who is doing this was nuts, I thought. We got the baked parota and as we dug in, we couldn’t wipe the smile off our faces. Soaked in a ‘salna‘, a form of thin gravy found in South Indian households, the parota was fabulous. Plus it had a smoky cheesy notes that probably came from the oven in which he baked something else before our dish.

Three days back, I met the guy behind this. He is nuts. What else can explain a finance company’s CEO with no chef training going around creating confusing flavours that is supposed to be the exclusive property of molecular gastronomy? As Manoj and The Park hosted me for dinner, course after course, came dishes with varying influences connected by two things. A story and no compromise on flavours. Everyday Exotics at The Park, curated by Manoj is an exotic take on every day dishes, but each one has been loved by somebody before going on the menu.

Like the Bombay Toast stuffed with chicken and pickles. Uh? Yes, uh! A sweet bread dish with pickles and chicken? Inspired by his son’s breakfast. That is the story. A Panko fried idly with spicy molaga podi (spicy chilly powder mix). Idly and Panko? Like really? I missed the Mexican Bhel at the exhibition, but thankfully it was on the menu here. All things Mexican tossed in Indian Bhel puri style.

Jack Slider. While I would call any vegetarian burger as Vada Pav, Manoj’s burger made me eat my words. A beautiful vegetarian slider. A Thai inspired burger, it had jackfruit in it and the lemongrass in the bun. In the BUN! So the flavour of lemongrass was unmistakable and overpowering, like it should be, but the jackfruit held its own as the patty. This is a vegetarian burger! Something that doesn’t have to be called the Vada Pav.

A vegetarian paya. Simply, that cannot exist. Cooked the ramen style, this had top ramen noodles in a paya. While they have the mutton paya, the veg paya was able to bring the soothing elements that the mutton paya brings. I almost wished I had fever, to relish it. Since a paya goes great with idiyappam (String hoppers), the stringy noodles were able to do justice.

The baked parota. Yay! As I was digging in, I could not but notice the smoky cheesy smell. I looked up. Did he bring the same oven? Or did he cook another dish that the parota took up the flavour? Apparently not. Apparently, it was intentional. To have a smoky flavour? A parota lasagna is creative enough, but to add a smoky BBQ flavour to an already Indo-Italian fusion? Are we aiming for World war here? So, Manoj keeps visiting Nagoor Dargah and in the streets of Nagoor, apparently they dole out parotas using stones that have been smoking for over two or three decades. And that infuses a smoky flavour into the parota that he wanted to recreate. Now, I want to go to Nagoor and eat that parota. More importantly, I could sleep. The baked parota at the food exhibition wasn’t a borrowed flavour.

I was too full for dessert, so I just picked a spoonful of the beautiful saffron ice cream and the chocolate, but was too overwhelmed to judge it. Maybe I will go back and have that. And the jack slider. And maybe the parota as well. Let’s see.

On till the 31st of July, Every Exotics is available both as a four course degustation and a-la-carte. At 899 for a four course degustation, it is ridiculously priced. A 5 star four course for under 1k? Awesomeness.

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Asian, Chennai, Eating out, Food Festivals, Pop Up Dinners, Vietnamese

A whiff of Vietnamese

I love pop ups. Without having to worry about markets and sustainability, pop ups allow a peek into various cuisines that otherwise may not be feasible to operate in a city. Over the last few years, Ashvita Bistro has been bringing in chefs from around the country, both semi-professional home chefs with catering businesses and professional hotel chefs, to set up pop up festivals. When invited for their Vietnamese pre-launch dinner, I went waiting to be blown over by Vietnamese flavours and Phos.

Dinner started well, with a some Iced Vietnamese iced coffee. Though a tad on the sweeter side, it was refreshing and set the tone for the rest of the dinner. The first two courses arrived in a single plate. Fresh lettuce leaves with minced chicken and beautiful glass paper rolls stuffed with prawns were the two. The glass paper rolls had nice Asian flavours with loads of crunch and screamed the flavours out aloud.

And after that, it seemed like the rest of the dishes did not hear the first two courses and went off on their own journey. The soup bowl, while having a lot of elements, missed the most important one in a Vietnamese soup – a good broth. Clearly, this wasn’t cooked for long and with chicken in it, it probably can’t be cooked long enough for the flavours to embolden the broth. No amount of elements and condiments could make up for the carelessly prepared broth. Beyond a couple of spoons, I found it hard to keep going.

The next course tried to bring thing back on track, but barely managed it. The rice, again with a lot of Vietnamese elements, was a miss, but not as bad as the soup. The meat balls with whiffs of Asian flavours were the saving grace. I didn’t recognise the dessert, but it was very nice, though not Vietnamese at all. At this point, it didn’t matter anymore.

The chef at the end of the meal was super honest to say that this was her version of Vietnamese. She said that this was Vietnamese inspired at best, in trying to replicate plating and elements, but was also open to saying that there were limitations with ingredients and cooking techniques, so all the while, I was expecting a bold Vietnamese meal, but got just a whiff of it. Unfortunately this is what it was all about and if I had known that this was a Vietnamese inspired meal, I might have enjoyed it a lot more that I did.

The drawback to pop ups though are that some are great and some miss the mark and there have been some really good ones in the past. I’m looking forward to more pop ups and hoping more hit the bulls eye! A pop up, ideally should! A restaurant can customise to a palette, maybe even significantly customise to a community palette, but a 3 day pop up, shouldn’t. That of course is my POV! 

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