Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Restaurant Review - The Crown at Residency Towers

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I have eaten several times at the Residency Towers's Main Street buffet. I have always enjoyed the food there. But somehow, I have gone all these years without even realizing that there is a restaurant on the rooftop. This month, I got to eat at, and review the food at the The Crown.

The Crown is named for the dome that caps the building, and the beautiful interior that the dome houses.

The restaurant boasts inside & alfresco dining. The seating outside is just gorgeous, but tonight we were dining in the very opulently decorated inside seating area.

Before we get further into this post, let me apologize for the photographs. I find myself doing that too often. I really out to be better at shooting in low light by now! That said, the lighting at The Crown, while not optimum for photography, is very romantic. Look at our candle-lit table!

The first thing that struck me as soon as we sat down was the place settings and decor on the table. When you look around at the posh interiors, one cannot help but wonder if the glassware, cutlery & crockery was brought from the flea market. This is something that the restaurant should look into.

The alfresco and inside dining areas have different menus and different price tags. You pay more for eating in the fresh air, and there is a different a la carte menu as well. But we were there to sample a set menu designed for those dining under the dome.

The starters started arriving, and all our niggles about the crockery just vanished. That Galouti Kabab knocked everybody's socks off! Melt-in-the-mouth, perfectly spiced cakes of finely minced lamb on a round pastry that did not remind of any other pastry/roti I have ever eaten. The pastry was flaky, tender and absolutely perfect with the kabab. I think I put away quite a few of these gems!

The chicken kabab was also great. Cooked perfectly so the chicken just melts away. Just delicious. The fish was not a big hit with me, but there were others who enjoyed it.

The main courses arrived next. There was a creamy chicken gravy. I honestly don't remember what it was called, but it was yummy. The mutton roganjosh was very nice and the lamb shanks were really well cooked. I was personally very pleased to hear that the chef doesn't use tomatoes in his roganjosh gravy. Perfect!
The naans were just wonderful. Flaky, light and not chewy at all as nanns sometimes tend to be. I loved it! The Biriyani was okay. Nothing to write home about. The highlight of the main courses was the Dal Makhni. Slow-cooked dal laced with generous amounts of butter, the flavor is amazing. The chef shared with us that they cook the dal for over 24 hours at The Crown. No wonder the flavors are so mellow and rich! Just brilliant.


The dessert arrived, and I opted for the Western dessert. It was a chocolate cake-like thing. I don't know the name, to be honest. I wasn't a fan. While the saucy chocolate topping on the cake was nice enough, the flavor and texture of the cake didn't impress me at all. I was surprised when the others at the table seemed to like it! Honestly, I didn't want to go back even for a second spoonful.

Next time, I will just go with the usually safer Indian desserts.

Overall, the food was very good. I would do just what I did this time around - gorge on the starters, top it up with the main course, and pick at my dessert plate. At around Rs. 790 for unlimited portions of everything on the menu, it is a pretty sweet deal. But you should be aware that the menu is different every evening, and if I were you, I would call ahead to find out which day is Galouti Kabab day! :o)
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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Pinwheel Cookies

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Before the Christmas season has passed me by, I want to get a post out.
This has been one of the busiest Christmas-es I have ever had. So many things happening that I sometimes thought I wouldn't be able to get everything done. But here's a gist of what's been happening with me.

1. We lost a friend this year - Thom Petty. You might have seen the tribute post for him. He is having a great time in heaven with Jesus, I'm sure!
2. The band I sing with - the WOW band, has been busy this season, and we've had a lot of fun singing all around the city.
3. I conducted my first baking workshop for a MOPS (Moms of preschoolers) group, and it was sooooo much fun! We made carrot cake/cupcakes with a coconut frosting and it turned out great!
4. I did another restaurant review earlier this month, and I can't wait to share it with you. Look out for that post in a couple of days!
5. We had a really lovely barbecue dinner at church and I marinated chicken & beef for 200 people! It was a lot of work, but SO rewarding & yummy!
6. We had some other fun Christmas dinners/parties (and a few birthday parties thrown in too) and I have been eating way too much good food! Not that I am complaining :)

The only disadvantage of this busy-ness has been that I have hardly had any time to bake, and even less time to blog. Here are a few things I made this season.

Blueberry-Apple Muffins
Scottish Tablet Candy (SOOOO yummy!)
No bake Oatmeal squares
Carrot Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting
Christmas-sy Pinwheel Cookies
Since these are not all particularly Christmassy desserts, I will post the recipes (and better pictures!) for these treats over the next few weeks.

To start off, here's something for the season from our home.

Christmas Pinwheel Cookies
Ingredients
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 - 3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
Green food coloring
Red food coloring

Method
1. Sift the 2 1/2 cups of the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Add the vanilla and mix until well incorporated.
5. Add the dry ingredients and mix to form a soft dough. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. If you use medium eggs, you shouldn't need more than 2 1/2 cups.
6. Divide the dough into two equal sized portions. Divide one of the portions into halves again.
7. Wrap the larger ball of dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour.
8. Add red food coloring to one of the smaller balls of dough, and green food coloring to the other. Knead to incorporate.
9. Wrap the balls of dough separately and refrigerate.
10. Divide the uncolored dough into two portions.
11. Refrigerate one ball. Roll the other portion into a rectangle about 1cm thick.
12. Roll out one of the colored doughs into a rectangle about 1cm thick.
13. Lay the colored dough on a piece of clingfilm, and place the white dough rectangle on top of it.
14. Using the clingfilm, roll the two doughs along the length to create a log.
15. If you desire, press some sprinkles/jimmies onto the outside of the log. Wrap well in clingfilm and refrigerate.
16. Repeat the process with the other colored dough and the remaining white dough.
17. When you are ready to bake, slice the cookies about 1/2inch thick using a sharp knife.
18. Arrange on a baking tray making sure there's at least 2 inches between each cookie.
19. Bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes, or until the sides are just starting to turn golden.
20. Let them rest on the baking tray for 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

These cookies look really nice, and I think next time I will add lime zest or some spice to make the flavor a little more interesting!
From our home to yours, I pray you have a wonderful, happy & blessed Christmas filled with love, joy & laughter. God bless you! :)

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Peanut butter cookies with Chocolate Centers - For Thom Petty

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I thought long and hard about what my big comeback post would be. I haven't had a recipe post out in months, and I figured I should come back with something decadent & mouthwatering. 

Instead, this post happened.

This week, a friend passed away and went to be with the Lord. This post is for you - Thom Petty!
I felt this would be the most appropriate thing to make for Thom. Those who know him know how much of a softie he is, despite his gruff exterior. This cookie is a crisp peanut butter cookie on the outside with a melting chocolate center.

Peanut Butter Cookies w/ Chocolate Center
Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
12 small squares of dark/milk chocolate

Method
1. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.
2. Beat the butter until light & creamy.
3. Add the sugars and continue to beat.
4. Add the egg, vanilla and the peanut butter and beat until light and fluffy.
5. Add the flour mixture and mix well until thoroughly combined.
6. Wrap the dough in clingfilm & refrigerate for an hour.
7. Divide the dough into 12 equal sized portions.
8. Press one square of chocolate into each portion and form the dough into a smooth ball with the chocolate in the center of the ball.
9. Place the dough on a baking sheet at least 3 inches apart.
10. Bake at 200C/400F for about 12 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden.
11. Allow to cool for a few minutes and transfer to a cooling rack.
12. Eat while slightly warm.
This recipe makes 12 large cookies. You could make 24 smaller ones, but the giant portions are intentional. Guests at Thom's restaurant will bear testament to the fact that his portions are huge. I remember when we were sampling his menu items before his restaurant opened many years ago. Most of us told Thom the portions were way too big. And his response was that he ate big portions, and so he wanted to make sure no one left his restaurant feeling anything less than full. Yes, he was generous too.
If you are wondering why there are Christmas decorations in the picture, it is not just because Christmas is around the corner. It is also because Thom LOVED Christmas. His restaurant is without doubt the most decorated restaurant in the city. Maybe even the country! We'll miss him most at Christmas time.
Thom Petty, we are going to miss you! Chennai is going to miss it's un-skinny chef. But I rejoice that you are safe & resting in the Lord's arms with no more pain. See you on the other side!

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Knock Knock

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I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

Whew! What a crazy couple of months it’s been! I am happy to report that we have found a new place, are almost settled in, and are falling more and more in love with our new home.

After living in an apartment for so long, the first week at our new home felt like vacation. This house comes with a yard, a driveway, backyard with trees, dried leaves to kick through, flowers, fruits, butterflies, caterpillars and all the other things that a 2 year old loves! Makes me happy too :)
Here are some pictures of our two babies in our new home.
I have done a little baking in the new place, and will start regular posting in a couple of weeks.If you've noticed, I did some restaurant reviews in this last couple of months that I published earlier today.

Thanks to all of you who wrote to me to see how things are going. I really, really appreciate it! 

You guys are the best! I can’t wait to get back in touch with all of you... Hugs! Look out for recipe posts in the next couple of weeks! Thanks for your patience... 
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Restaurant Review - Azulia

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I was impressed from the moment I walked into this restaurant. This Mediterranean restaurant in GRT Grand Days Hotel has been on my “must-eat-at” list for a while now, and somehow we never got around to it. When I got an opportunity to review it, of course I could not miss the opportunity.

The first thing I must mention is that the ambience and experience of eating at Azulia is just lovely. It is one of those places that make you feel welcome, warm and you settle right in. The decor is lovely too, as is the silverware and crockery. The attention to detail is really good. And I loved these  lamps!

The menus are absolutely like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Designed to look and feel like a coffee table book, the book is chock full of beautiful pictures, history, facts and other interesting things. I think you could spend an hour just reading the menu! The most difficult part of lunch was trying to decide what to eat! With a menu of 165 dishes from 10 countries in the Mediterranean, everything sounded so yummy!

To make things simpler, we asked Chef Etham to just send over some of his best starters, and he delivered! 

I have always been a sucker for a good Mezze platter, and this was one of the best I’ve had. The tzakziki, hummus, babaganoush (which they called mutabal) and moussaka marakkech were all really yummy.

While we were busily digging into the dips with our pita-like kubus breads, we suddenly went, “oh something smells fabulous.” After sniffing a few dishes on the table, we discovered that the source of the aroma was a fabulous plate of crispy fried chicken wings sautĂ©ed with garlic & cilantro among other fabulous smelling ingredients. I thought it was really yummy!

The other stand-out starters were the filo pastry cigars (I liked the cheesy vegetarian version better than the lamb filled ones) and an olive-loaded manakish pizza. The only starter that I was disappointed with was the Fatayer. The description of a spinach and pomegranate filling in a baked pastry sounded really good, but failed to impress. The pastry wasn’t great, and the filling tasted under seasoned. The way the spinach was cooked left an unpleasant after taste in my mouth.

As soon as we were done with the starters, the staff brought around a passion fruit sorbet as a palate cleanser. Oh boy! I could eat a lot of that sorbet. It was pleasantly tart, just sweet enough and absolutely refreshing and delicious. 
After poring through the menu, I finally decided on the lamb chops for my main. The main courses came around and unanimous favourite (among the meat-eaters) were a plate of perfectly cooked, deliciously spiced Marakech prawns. The gnocchi served on the side was just average, but those prawns were just absolutely, positively mouth-wateringly good.

My lamb was well seasoned and tasty, but sadly a little undercooked. I ate a couple of them that were done right, but the other two chops were too rare for my palate. And the red wine sauce on the side was good enough to eat with a spoon! Chef very kindly offered to re-fire my lamb chops but I was already filled up with the yummy starters and was content with just the two that I had eaten.

The other yummy mains were a very messy looking but tasty Yoghurtlu Kebab and a well-cooked beef steak with a pepper sauce.

And then it was time for dessert. I am sorry to say that I was not a fan. This was probably the only part of the meal I didn’t enjoy. They served something called a ‘hot souffle’ which reminded me of a chocolate fondant/lava cake. I don’t know about you, but I like my chocolate fondant to have a thick, gooey filling. The filling in this hot soufflĂ© was way too runny for me. I realize that the way Baklava is made in different countries in the Mediterranean may be different, but I like my baklava crisp & light. This baklava was very juicy, a little doughy and sooooo sweet. There were some people who liked it though. So it’s just a question of taste. The orange cheesecake had a nice texture, but the orange flavour tasted a little fake and over-powering. 

I would have been exceedingly happy to have that wonderful passion fruit sorbet again for dessert. 

All in all, I loved Azulia. The staff is well trained, most of the food is good, the ambience is just cosy & the decor simple and tasteful. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a taste of the Mediterranean in Chennai.
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Restaurant Review - Burgundy

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This was a review I really looked forward to. As a big fan of Tuscana & Kryptos, I really looked forward to eating at this restaurant from the same chain.

Burgundy is located in a beautiful building of serviced apartments in a nice part of the city. The restaurant itself is large, bright - tons of natural light, and airy. I love the open plan layout, and it looks like an absolutely lovely place to enjoy a casual lunch/brunch with the girls.

We were reviewing a buffet lunch, and the restaurant was pretty busy for a weekday lunch. I thought that was a good sign of things to come.

The starters were brought to the table and the variety was what struck me. I did not expect to start with Chaat. You don't often see this street food in a fine dining restaurant's buffet. The Dahi Papdi chat was nice enough, but to be fair, I don't think a restaurant can ever match the roadside vendors when it comes to this sort of food. There were Chicken Tikkas too, and they were very tasty.
I had an issue with the pizza. Tell me if I am alone on this one, but while I absolutely loved the thick generous slices of roasted chicken on my pizza, I did not like the chunks of vein-y, almost raw cabbage that was on there. It may be a question of personal taste, but I had to remove a few very large bits of cabbage from my mouth. I think you can see one of those bits in the picture :).
At the buffet counter, there was a huge spread of food. I loved the portioning of the salads, starters and even some of the mains. They were beautifully plated in small individual portions, and were very nice to look at. I tried a Marinated Shrimp dish, and was pretty disappointed. I felt there was absolutely no flavor or seasoning in the shrimp. I love dips, and the Hummus, Baba Ganoush, Tzatziki and Guacamole (the Guacamole sorta doesn't belong, right?) were very nice.

Among the main courses, I tried a Potatoes Lyonnaise which was nice. The roasted vegetables were really well done - there was zucchini, carrot, pumpkin and eggplant. They were well seasoned, slightly caramelized like a good roast should be, and had tons of fresh and dried herbs. Absolutely yummy!

 I then tried a Stuffed Chicken, Braised Fish on crispy noodles, and some Stir-fried Beef. The Stuffed chicken was very, very good. It was Roulade placed over a bed of beautifully sweet, caramelized onions, and topped with a roasted carrot. The sauce on it was yummy too.
 The stir fried beef was very nice, but nothing to write home about. The fish tasted pleasant and was probably perfectly cooked when it came off the grill, but after sitting under the harsh, hot lights of the buffet counter, the fish probably continued to cook. Despite the good flavors, I couldn't get over the fact that it was overcooked.

As always, I looked forward to dessert, and like so many places, I was quite disappointed. I am not a fan of coconut in desserts, but after that fabulous coconut dessert I had at Crimson Chakra, I was really excited to see the Thai Coconut Custard on the menu.  Unfortunately, the custard, while it tasted decent, had an awful, grainy texture that I couldn't get past. The other desserts were fine, but nothing that made me go 'Wow!'. I was really so surprised because I love the desserts at Tuscana and I expected the same standard here as well.
To give Burgundy the benefit of doubt, it is a different spread on the buffet everyday and maybe the other desserts are better.

Overall, while I liked a lot of the food, I didn't leave the restaurant feeling like that was a memorable meal. I can't help but compare, but the food at Tuscana always impresses me, and maybe after a few more visits, I might feel the same way about Burgundy too.
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Friday, September 23, 2011

Restaurant Review - Fusion 9

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I remember my first dinner at Fusion 9. They had just opened then, and I remember thinking back then that I loved the look of the place, and the ambiance was just lovely.

When the food arrived, I remember how delicious the appetizers were - and I remember a small discussion I had with the maitre d' about the how there was no asparagus in my goat cheese and asparagus salad. The asparagus turned up on a little plate from the kitchen before the end of the appetizer course and all was well with the world. And then the entrees arrived. They were tasty, but didn't quite live up to the appetizer course. Slightly disappointed, I knew that everything would be okay once the desserts arrived. And boy, was I wrong! The desserts - every single one of them - were really, really bad. And I remember writing my feedback on their feedback card, and then watching as a small group of chefs gathered around it in the kitchen (they have a live kitchen), and read my comments card with disappointed looks and turned to look at me ever so often. I felt bad about it, but hey - you gotta call a spade a spade!

Last week, when I was invited by Chennai Food Guide to review Fusion 9, I really did look forward to it. I was sure that this time around, my experience would be very different. Hmmmm.
We were seated in a tastefully decorated private room. The walls and ceiling were embellished in gold, and there were some pretty lamps and candlesticks. The overall effect was lovely. The only jarring thing, IMHO, was the television. Personally, I don't like the idea of televisions in a restaurant, but I understand that some people might. What bothered me more than that was the choice of programming. They had TLC playing, which was bearable, as long as there were cooking shows on. But, when it was time for some travel programming, I felt I wasn't quite comfortable eating in a fine-dining setting, while watching bare-bodied men tackling each other and wrestling in streams of tomato juice on the streets of Spain. I don't know if it bothered any of the other diners. I have been called fussy.

Okay, I've rambled on enough. I'll be quick. We ordered. The food arrived. We dug in. Here are some of the appetizers.
What I ordered, the sushi (smoked salmon, tuna and crab sticks), was average. I was a little disappointed with the fillings. I honestly did not expect the tuna to be cooked.
The best appetizer, in my opinion, was the Iranian Joojeh kabab. I am not sure if that's really a dish from Iran, but it tasted pretty darn good. Juicy, flavorful morsels of chicken with a yummy sauce drizzled over the top. It was memorable. The Guloti Kababs were also quite tasty.

The Pepper chilli chicken fell short for me. It was tasty. But with pepper and chilli in the title, I expected a little heat. Nope. None whatsoever.

The Mezze platter was also okay. The tzatziki was quite yummy, but I wasn't overly impressed with the baba ganoush, the hummus or the falafels.

They also passed around some dimsum, which I was told was made with Japanese flavors. To my untrained palate, all I could taste was ginger, ginger and some more ginger. Not a fan!

The vegetarians at the table seemed to enjoy the funnily-named, Bang bang mushrooms, and the paneer kababs. I think the mushrooms were the favorite.

We also ordered a salad called the Pink Plate - salad leaves with smoked salmon, jumbo prawns and pink pepper corns. The best part of the pink plate was the smoked salmon. I've always been a smoked salmon fan. The prawns were well cooked, but lacked seasoning.

The company and conversation around the table was so good, that by the time we got done with our appetizers, I realized it was time for me to leave! How disappointing. I wish I had kept track of time, so I could have ordered my entree ahead of time. But I couldn't leave without dessert, now could I? I would have never forgiven myself. Also, I was keen on seeing if they would redeem themselves after the terrible desserts from my first time there.

I ordered the tiramisu and another reviewer (she had to leave too) ordered the baked cheesecake with a compote of forest berries.
The tiramisu was below average. The sponge was sorta dry and the creamy mascarpone lacked flavor.
 While the cheesecake tasted fine, I couldn't get over the taste of milk powder. It tasted really, really milky.

Even though I left early, I did hear from the other reviewers who got to eat main courses, and the consensus was that everything was okay. Favorites seem to be the Tenderloin steak and the Arabian platter for the meat eaters, and the Parmesan risottos & the Swiss potato for the vegetarians. The other desserts were also disappointing from what I heard - except the good ol' brownie and ice cream.

Overall, the place has good looks, some average-to-good starters and mains and below-average desserts. Thanks to Chennai Food Guide for organizing this review!

P.S. - Sorry about the sucky pictures! The lighting was so bad in the private dining room. This was the best this amateur could do. I really need to work harder on improving my photography. To do list: 1) Find house 2) Improve photography.

P. P.S. - The house-hunting continues. Will keep y'all posted! Thanks for everything!
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