Thursday, April 12, 2012

Restaurant Review: Zaica

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This was one of the most mind-boggling, confusing reviews I have ever been part of. Everything about it threw me off - some in a good way, and some - not-so-much. Let me start at the beginning...

So we pull up the front of the restaurant, and I look at this tiny entrance surrounded by high buildings, and I am wondering - how many seats could they possibly have in this tiny place? And then I walk in, and the place is really, really BIG! Lots of little private dining rooms and even a gaming room with game consoles that you can use - free-of-cost - while you wait for your food to arrive!
The decor of the place itself was a little confusing - some modern pieces, some antique looking baubles and a gaming room. But somehow, it didn't feel wrong!

We were seated at a table by the buffet counter. And then we were told that we would be eating from the buffet. I am not a big fan of buffets. But hey - I don't know much about Peshawari food, and I probably wouldn't know what to order! Just based on the names, I definitely would NOT have ordered the dishes that turned out to be my favorites!

While we waited for the starters to be served at our tables, we were given some papads with some very yummy chutneys to snack on (pictured below).
And there was some Papdi chaat. The chaat wasn't impressive, and I was hoping the rest of the meal would be a lot better!

The first course arrived. Soup! If you've read my blog, you probably know I love soup. I usually don't pass up on the soup unless it looks or sounds particularly unappetizing. This one was a mutton based soup called a Yakhni Shorba (pictured below).
It didn't look very appetizing, but since I am a big fan of mutton, I just had to try it! Sigh. I wish I had passed up on the soup. It was really not good. It was lukewarm, with undertones of mutton and overtones of.... not good. The vegetarians got a Tomato Shorba, and that was the first time in my life I wished I was a vegetarian! The Tomato shorba, while not amazing, had flavor and the flavor was well-balanced. I loved the sour notes in the shorba. Really pleasing on the palate. And it helped wash the the other soup's taste out of my mouth.

Then the starters began to make their way to our tables. First came the vegetarian starters. I'm thinking, "Beetroot tikkis? Seriously? I like beets, but honestly - I heard there were some yummy sounding chicken tikkas coming soon! I wanted to save tummy space for those. But I am a food blogger. I need to taste everything, right? Okay, maybe just one tikki so I can write about it on my blog."
The first bite of Beetroot ki Tikki (pictured above) and I was floored. And this time, in a good way. Not just good - great! That beetroot tikki was one of the best vegetarian dishes I have eaten - ever! I asked for more. And I ended up eating about four that afternoon. Oh my goodness! SO good!

Then came a paneer based dish called Gul Gul Fom Ki Paneer (pictured below). The name made me giggle. And then I thought, "Could this one be good too? Should I try it?", and I did. Wow! Another starter that was knocked out of the park!
Amazing! Layers of soft paneer, and sandwiched in between were some sort of mushed up peas, and mushrooms, and covered with a sauce that for the life of me, I cannot identify. All I can say is that it was yellowish in color. But it tasted great! I asked for more. What was happening to me?

Third vegetarian starter of the day was Bhutiyan di Seek. Three for three? Was it possible? Nah! :) While this one also tasted very good, it didn't WOW me the way the first two starters did.

The non-vegetarian starters came next - a sesame based chicken tikka (Murgh Til Tikka), and cream and fenugreek marinated chicken tikka (Murgh Malai Methi - pictured below), and fried fish.
All three were good - the best of the lot being the sesame based one. The other two tasted nice enough and I tasted all three, before asking for more beetroot and paneer. Um. What's wrong with me?

For the mains, we headed to the buffet counters. Nothing really impressed me here.

The vegetarian curries were okay - and marginally better than the non-vegetarian options. My favorite curry was the Vegetable Makhanwala.
The Mutton Roganjosh (pictured above) tasted fine, and the meat was tender, but it didn't taste like any roganjosh I've ever tasted. Maybe that's the Peshawari way of making it? It was nice enough. The classic Chicken Tikka Masala was just okay. Nothing to write home about. The Dal Makhani was nice.
The Chicken Biriyani (pictured above) was decently flavored and you couldn't really complain about it. I personally don't like Chicken Biriyani, and maybe that's why I wasn't impressed. For me, biriyani = mutton! :D

Finally, my favorite part of any meal - dessert!!!

The cake was terrible! The worst part - there was pink layer of 'skin' over the top of the cake. I think there was some sort of gelatin-infused fruit coulis over the top. But the harsh lights of the buffet dried out the layer and it became a sort of fruit leather. Not good.
The Gulab Jamuns (pictured above) were average and were served too hot. If only the soup was as hot as the jamuns, it may have tasted better. Or maybe not. I usually like jamuns and ice-cream, but this time, I passed on the ice cream.

Overall, I can say that my meal at Zaica was a strange experience. I guess the best way to put it would be that the good was great and the bad was really bad! The chef really knows how to cook a mean beetroot tikki. If they increased the standard of the main courses, and totally revamped the dessert section, it would be a lovely place to eat.

The non-vegetarian lunch buffet is priced at Rs. 480 and the vegetarian at Rs. 425, and the menu is different everyday. Zaica is located on Cathedral road next to Zara's Tapas Bar.

Would I go back? For sure - for those righteous vegetarian starters! I feel a beetroot tikki craving coming on right now!!!
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Magic of Spice said...

Another great review! I really want to try that Beetroot ki Tikki now :)

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