Tag Archives: restaurants

Dakshin Restaurant: South India’s Finest, in the North

^ above: a selection of chutneys (coconut, tomato, coriander, ?) with crunchy fried things to dip in them. Delicious as these are, don’t fill up – there’s a lot more food coming! While in Delhi I spent a morning working at Sun’s office, which is such a hive of activity that desks are at a Read More…

^ above: a selection of chutneys (coconut, tomato, coriander, ?) with crunchy fried things to dip in them. Delicious as these are, don’t fill up – there’s a lot more food coming!

While in Delhi I spent a morning working at Sun’s office, which is such a hive of activity that desks are at a premium! Then Ritu, a colleague, accompanied Ross and me to lunch at Dakshin, a restaurant in the Marriott Hotel in the Saket area of south Delhi.

Dakshin means “south” in Hindi, and the restaurant features premium versions of the foods of south India, in a beautiful setting with excellent service.

We ordered the vegetarian thali, a traditional Indian style of meal which works very well as a tasting menu. This began with rasam, a traditional accompaniment to every south Indian meal: a thin, spicy soup served (in this case) in gorgeous heavy brass bowls.

rasam

I don’t have a lot of experience with south Indian food, but this was the best rasam I’ve yet tasted – a rich, aromatic broth, probably less hot than real south Indian norms in deference to the tastes of foreigners (and, for that matter, north Indians – real southern cooking is too spicy for many north Indians).

After that the main meal arrived: the thali is the large, round tray, in this case with a banana leaf perfectly cut to fit inside, with little bowls of goodies arranged around the rim.

south Indian thali

From bottom center, going clockwise: tamarind rice, plain rice, lentils, a curry made from gram flour and coconut milk, potatoes, dal (lentils) with spinach, coconut curry with vegetables, something veggie which I couldn’t identify but liked, raita (yogurt). This menu will change according to season and what the chef finds in the market that day.

In other thalis, you might leave the space at the center free for a mound of rice, so that you have room to mix it with the dal and other goodies.

In this case, the center is occupied by appam, a bread made from rice flour and coconut milk – spongy on one side, crispy on the other, light, fluffy, delicately flavored, and thoroughly yummy! South Indian cuisine features many variations on breads made from rice flour, such as dosa and idli.

All in all a very wonderful meal, even though Rs. 1000 or so per head is extravagant by local standards – prices have gone up shockingly in Delhi, especially against the weak dollar.

An Over-the-Top Italian Restaurant in the US

I usually avoid Italian restaurants in the US – why bother, when I can get far better Italian food from the grocery store at home? But during my last US trip I did end up going with friends for takeout to an Italian chain restaurant, Buca di Beppo (whose name is already funny to an Read More…

I usually avoid Italian restaurants in the US – why bother, when I can get far better Italian food from the grocery store at home? But during my last US trip I did end up going with friends for takeout to an Italian chain restaurant, Buca di Beppo (whose name is already funny to an Italian speaker: it means “Beppo’s hole'”). The scallop-and-shrimp pasta was more than decent, with just enough spice to make it interesting. The grilled vegetables were good. The garlic bread, while not resembling anything you’d ever see in Italy, was tasty.

But what really got me was the decor. You just never see anything like this in Italy. Never.

For starters: the restaurant is hung with banners and scarves from several different Italian football teams (besides Inter and Roma seen below, there were also AC Milan and others in other rooms).

This just ain’t gonna happen in Italy. You will occasionally see places, more often bars than restaurants, decorated with memorabilia from ONE football team – the one that the owner supports (sometimes defiantly, in the teeth of local prejudices). No one would dream of hanging a banner for an opposing team: that would risk bringing bad luck (sfiga) to his team, or would be like a devout Catholic putting a garlanded Ganesh in his place of business!

Dan Maslowski

(No, that is not the proud owner of the restaurant- it’s my friend Dan.)

Dining in America (and Italy)

I instinctively dislike chain restaurants: when someone says “Let’s eat at a [name of chain restaurant],” I wince. And it’s getting harder and harder to find a restaurant in the US that isn’t part of a chain. However, my instincts may be out of date: chain restaurant food seems to be improving. During this recent Read More…

I instinctively dislike chain restaurants: when someone says “Let’s eat at a [name of chain restaurant],” I wince. And it’s getting harder and harder to find a restaurant in the US that isn’t part of a chain. However, my instincts may be out of date: chain restaurant food seems to be improving. During this recent trip I ate at TeKei’s (Chinese/Thai), Razzoo’s (Cajun), Sarovar (north and south Indian), and something else with a southern (American) theme. I think they’re all chain franchises, but they were also all good. I still prefer to support local and personal cooking creativity where possible, but… sometimes you gotta make do.

What puzzles me is the concept of waiting to get a seat at a restaurant. In 15 years in Italy, I have almost never waited for a restaurant. I’m sure it must have happened once or twice, but I can’t actually remember a single instance. The handful of times I can remember arriving somewhere and finding it full, there was always someplace just as good nearby to go to instead.

But, in the US, no matter how saturated with restaurants an area may be, it’s not uncommon to arrive at a restaurant and find you have to wait half an hour for a table – even though American restaurants are usually HUGE compared with Italian ones, and manage several seatings per table per night, as Americans rarely linger over their meals. I can’t figure it out. Maybe Americans simply eat out more often than Italians (with today’s prices at Italian restaurants, that wouldn’t be surprising).

Restaurant congestion is so bad that, throughout my recent trip, everyone I had lunch with wanted to eat at 11:30 am to avoid the rush. If I hadn’t had jet lag, I would never have got used to this, but it was good preparation for CES, where, if you don’t eat early, you don’t eat at all.

America seems to be obsessed with eating. You can’t go anywhere without being bombarded by advertising for food. It’s effective, too: hearing or reading adjective-stuffed descriptions and seeing perfectly-staged food photographs (there’s an art to it), I always get hungry.

I can’t remember ever hearing food advertised on Italian radio (not that I listen to it regularly). Nor are restaurants advertised on TV in Italy, except McDonald’s. I guess that’s because there aren’t any non-fast-food restaurant chains in Italy (well, there is one, Pastarito – I don’t recommend it), and it doesn’t make economic sense for a single restaurant to advertise nationally.

In America, the marketing doesn’t stop once they’ve got you in the restaurant. The typical American menu is larded with sensual adjectives: “creamy this, delicately folded into tangy that, with a hint of zesty the other…” Some menus include photos, though the food on your plate rarely comes out quite as beautifully. All of this – words, pictures, page layout, fonts – is designed to encourage you to buy the items on which the restaurant makes the biggest profit margin. The waiter may also, asked or unasked, recommend those high-margin items.

There’s no art of selling in Italian menus: they generally only give the name of the dish and a price. In most Italian restaurants, this is all that’s necessary, because most stick to well-known classics with maybe one “house specialty” dish. In the rare cases that you don’t know what a dish’s name means, you ask the waiter, who gives you a bare description: “pasta with sauteed eggplant and salted ricotta.”

The fancier restaurants do tend to be more creative and therefore need to explain their dishes, but the explanations are usually simple statements of fact: “sauteed local trout with diced vegetables” – which hardly does justice to one of Lanterna Verde‘s amazing dishes. But then, the food at Lanterna Verde is so good that you need not be seduced into eating it, and you will certainly not be disappointed, whatever you choose.

Ristorante Belvedere: A Gem on Lake Como

We set out for a lunch somewhere along Lake Como, knowing only that we wanted a view. After pulling into a few parking lots and then changing our minds, we climbed the hill towards the Monastery of Piona, following signs for Ristorante Belvedere – with that name, it had to have a view. The Belvedere Read More…

We set out for a lunch somewhere along Lake Como, knowing only that we wanted a view. After pulling into a few parking lots and then changing our minds, we climbed the hill towards the Monastery of Piona, following signs for Ristorante Belvedere – with that name, it had to have a view.

The Belvedere advertised fish as its specialty and, like most Italian restaurants, had a menu posted outside. I was at first confused by the strange prices, not rounded neatly off to the nearest euros.

€ 4.13 for a first course? Then I realized that the prices were also given in lire, printed alongside their exact conversion into euros. This appears to be the only restaurant in Italy which did not take advantage of the change to the euro to gouge its customers. Before the euro, 8,000 lire for a plate of pasta would have been considered middling-reasonable. When the euro came along, most restaurants simply lopped off the extra zeroes to arrive at 8 euros for the same dish, an extortion to which we consumers have meekly consented. Ristaurateurs claim that their costs have risen, but Ristorante Belvedere has somehow managed to keep prices low, without compromising on quality.

Although the specialty was fish, I had a starter of homemade liver paté – I can never resist paté – which was good, mild-flavored, and creamy in texture. For a first course I had home-made pumpkin gnocchi, whose slight sweetness contrasted nicely with the home-made pesto they were dressed with. I didn’t have a second course, but the rest of the party had fresh-caught lavarello (a white fish native to Lake Como), simply baked in the oven, and freshwater shrimp braised in butter, all good.

My dessert was something special: locally picked wild blueberries with ice cream. They were probably the best blueberries I’ve had in my life.

Between the four of us we had two appetizers, three primi (pasta), three secondi, two desserts, three coffees, water, wine (a good Soave served by the liter), and a Limoncello. The total cost was about €97 – cheap at the price! We’ll definitely be going back to the Belvedere. (And the view was indeed spectacular.)

Il Capriolo: A Wonderful Restaurant in an Italian Alpine Village

Saturday Enrico and I were restless and decided to go for an outing. We visited the abbey at Piona (a small town at the northern end of Lake Como), then headed up the mountain. We had a booklet listing restaurants in the province of Lecco, including one more or less in the area where we Read More…

Saturday Enrico and I were restless and decided to go for an outing. We visited the abbey at Piona (a small town at the northern end of Lake Como), then headed up the mountain. We had a booklet listing restaurants in the province of Lecco, including one more or less in the area where we were. Turned out we hadn’t looked closely enough at the details – it was way up the mountain at 1100 meters, and took quite a while to reach over a narrow, twisty mountain road. We had to call several times for directions and to ask how long the trip should take, and we almost turned back several times.

But Il Capriolo turned out to be worth the trip. For primo, we shared a dish of gnocchi (potato dumpling pasta) with sweet gorgonzola cheese – creamy and rich with just a hint of gorgonzola sharpness. For secondo, we had the local buckwheat polenta, with generous portions of three different kinds of meat: brasato (braised) beef, spezzatino di vitello (small pieces of veal) with porcini mushrooms, and pork loin cooked with pancetta (bacon). The brasato was good, almost black on the outside from long, slow cooking in red wine. The other two meat dishes were even better, each with just enough gravy to add flavor to the polenta.

For dessert we had panna cotta (“cooked cream”) with a warm berry compote (see the video). All this, plus over half a litre of the house wine (a more-than-decent Cabernet), came to 40 euros for the two of us – cheap at the price!

Il Capriolo is also the local hangout for the inhabitants of this tiny mountain village, so there were people playing cards, watching TV, reading the newspaper, and a father came in with his kids to buy popsicles.