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Am a contradiction of sorts. i love going out and having a good time with friends, and i can also stay home chill out over a book or a movie.. Am very passionate about writing, so give me a topic and watch me float away into wonderland... I Am crazy about music,books,friends and my doggie... :)

Friday, March 31, 2017

Va Pho, Asian Canteen, Chennai

Pan Asian flavours are my favourite  followed closely by Italian. And so when I saw the bright lights of Va Pho, the newest to join this league, I had to drop by for a visit. Aptly titled Asian Canteen, the name is a play of words. Ph [pronounced Foe is a Vietnamese soup] while it could also be the Va Po [as we say in Tamil- which translates to come and go]. There were no doubts in my head with reference to the food or flavours as this was another feature in the Oriental Cuisines's hat.  

As I marched up the two flights of stairs, the stark grey walls kept me company. But the minute you walk in, you are hit by the burst of colours, the vibrant decor and the glittering tuk tuk near the entrance. We took the table at the far end , with high chairs. Two others near us were enjoying their plate of momos while playing a game of Jenga. I spotted a corner on the other side with shelves lined up with merchandise and one of them vintage radio units as well. The walls are all brightly decorated with murals, the monkey being the highlight of it all.  Some of the light fittings look like cameras set up for a photo shoot and there are round tables with seating on three sides, perfect for large groups. It had a very casual relaxed feel to it. 

I also spotted a Roulette and quickly made a beeline to check it out. They were just sorting the game out and hopefully on my next visit it would have the cards and tokens. I had seen this only in movies and so the curious me wanted to play.

Time to get down to the food, right? the menu is simple, all of 4 sheets and the Chef told us it would change periodically. They had a Chef from Malaysia overseeing the kitchen for the time being.. all of which meant the food was going to be spot on and delicious. Here is what we had,

Miloni crush [Melon and pineapple based] and Royale Madras [ with Tender Coconut as base]

Broccoli stir fry of sorts - just yummilicious 

Veg dim sums

Chilli Tofu Satay 

The Bao- it had spicy Tofu . My first experience digging into a Bao and this was light, airy and went well with the filling. did not need a dipping sauce at all. 

The Vegetarian Soup - the broth is poured on the vegetables at the table. There is a side of lemon, sprouts and chilli sauce to add based on your preference.

Since Mangos are in season, here is a Mango based drink that was thick, creamy and refreshing

Japchae- Glass noodles salad with crunchy vegetables and variety of mushrooms.

A Chef's special rice bowl- with beans, garlic and thai flavours 

A melange of veggies stir fried

Chocolate Mousse- it was fun to open the dome and dig into this dark chocolate heaven

Burmese Falooda- There was ice cream, chia seeds, and so much more in this tall dessert 

Sticky rice with peaches, a twist on the traditional sticky rice and mango.

Tender coconut ice cream stick served with coconut cream that had saago in it along with light flaky biscuits on the side. 

What was amazing about the place was not only was the food good, it was also priced very reasonably. All dishes were between 140- 350 bucks. The most expensive item on their menu was a main dish [non veg] and a dessert- Vapholicious [that would be a fun dessert if you are a group of 4 or more] priced @Rs499  

While the flavours in all dishes were familiar, quite a few were new to me [I have heard of the Bao and glass noodles salad, but this was my1st time digging into one]. I know for sure this is going to be one of my favourite places to head to ... 

Va Pho is located behind Hot Breads ,Copper Chimney and Sera Tapas bar. 
No: 6, Cathedral road, Chennai: 86. 
Ph: (044) 48566555.

They are open from 12noon to 11pm all days. 

The reviews posted on this blog are based on my personal experience. Also remember that restaurants and eat outs sometimes change with time, so does their food and service. So, kindly consider these factors while visiting the places. Remember, no two palates are the same. Bon Appétit  :) 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Avartana unveiled, ITC Grand Chola, Chennai

are terms that once upon a time used to go over my head.. Now I know what they mean, and I know what to expect when a dish is placed in front of me. But then there are times when I falter and assume what I see is what I get, well those are times when am in for a surprise..  It is like the dish does a one up on me, giving me a jolt and shaking things up a bit. :-) 

Tonight we were there to explore the newest restaurant in the block, Avartana. "Avartana", the name is  derived from sanskrit [means rhythm, mysticism and magic] 

As we walked along the familiar corridor at ITC Grand Chola towards the new restaurant [located near Towers Lobby],  I could not help but wonder what Chef Ajit Bagera has whipped up.    We had reached the end of the corridor and were guided towards the left, into the restaurant.  The first thing I notice is the rotary evaporator sitting there on the table. When enquired, I was told it was for rasam.. My mind was starting to wander into the world of its own where food was similar to what I have read in Willi Wonka’s Chocolate factory- fun & playful, yet true to the flavours. 

The carpet has banana leaf patterns, the walls have Kerala boat style lighting etched on them, there are glass panels all around with banana flower styled fittings on them, the lights on our table were inspired from the tender coconuts… I could go on and on. It was amazing to see the attention to detail. Oh and this is probably the only South Indian restaurant with an open kitchen.

We had the privilege of being seated in the private dining area [it can accommodate 10 pax, overall capacity of the Restaurant is 60 covers]. I see my plate, and a green blob of sorts on my knife. I wonder if it is a macaron or something else. Chef Harish Rao [ of Park Sheraton’s Dakshin] fame walks in with a grin with a “gotcha, you guys did not know I am here now didja” ..  And thus began our WOW evening.

A flower arrangement with what looked like macaroons on a stick, which turned out to be Fennel & pepper Air with Avocado Fluff [the green blob from my knife] that melted in our mouths… Tomato rasam that was poured into a French press containing herbs, tomato and poured onto martini glasses- it was filled with flavour and fun[ I would have happily had a pot of this]… 

Fluffy little idlies served with a Sweet pepper & Eggplant stuffed Ridge gourd sitting on a sesame & peanut curry.  The rice & Madurai Chutney [ a version of Kuzhi paniyaram served atop hot red chilli chutney] , Jackfruit and vegetable congee served with brinjal raita.. Butter milk noodles dish, a take on our curd rice perhaps where the sauce was poured on and it had a tiny pippet containing lemon pickle. To finish it off there was Finger millet vermicelli served with tender coconut ice cream and caramalised milk sitting pretty on a plate resembling a bird’s nest with some edible art work around it…

Along with the food there were a few interesting drinks- Mocktails & Cocktails as well. I had Mouth Road 63 [which is the address the property sits on] and Gooseberry Margharita served in one tall glass, both of which were absolutely divine. For the others there were a range of Mocktails- Nannari based, Paneer soda, raw mango drink served in a traditional Bharani, mint-coriander and many more.

The dishes were not only a treat for the eyes, but for the palate as well. During the course of the evening, Chef Bangera shared the journey behind the restaurant, and how the team has been at it for a while, working on the dishes and presentations. He was clear he did not want to reinvent South Indian food, but he was here to give it a twist and add a surprise element for the guests. Well, must say he has done exactly that.

All during the evening, I kept thinking of my granpa. He was one of those always open to new flavours and would have loved this place.  He is one of those true blue South Indians who will not tolerate any mucking about, especially with traditional dishes.  It also makes me happy to note that my city has now opened doors to such new restaurants and the fact that the restaurant is sold out the 1st few days is heart warming~ 

The restaurant is open for dinner [7pm to 11pm] and offer only tasting menus.
Prices begin at Rs. 2000 approx [per pax] for a 7 course-tasting menu.  
[All you need to do is tell the Chef if you have any allergies or don’t eat certain items.]

Address: No., 63, Anna Salai, Guindy, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600032
Call 044 2220 0000 for reservations.
Website :

The reviews posted on this blog are based on my personal experience. Also remember that restaurants and eat outs sometimes change with time, so does their food and service. So, kindly consider these factors while visiting the places. Remember, no two palates are the same. Bon Appétit  :-) 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Kase Cheese tasting session...

All I knew about cheese was what I had seen on TV and heard from Chefs at various restaurants. Remember the Show "Cheese slices:" on TLC? - Oh yes... we all love cheese, be it in our salad to toast or even a good baked dish. Over the years, I have seen different kinds of cheese, tried a lot of them but was always curious to know what went on behind the scenes, how did they get their texture and flavour. Cos before these shows and sessions,  I always thought cheese came in small cubes  or slices [ amul cheese cubes/slices]and that was it. Or there was Tom & jerry telling me cheese had gazillion holes in it [ why? - I had no idea]

And so when an event labelled "Cheese tasting session" caught my eye, I knew I had to check it out. This is a brand I had met a few months back at another Artisan's event in the city, I had the chance to interact with the two lovely ladies- Anu and Namrita of "Kase" as well. I left with two packets of cheese and ideas running through my head that fateful afternoon. 

About Kase:

Kate is a brand that is into cheese making the traditional way. All the cheese is handmade, with raw cow's milk and the products contain no preservatives.  It is all about Fresh cheese, with flavour combinations.  

Almost all their cheese is creamy, slightly crumbly and fresh, since they do not have a rind and  are not aged for too long.  

 [from their Fb page] Cheese at Käse is handmade - the cheese production follows western traditional methods that were adapted to the Chennai weather conditions. We do not use preservatives, artificial flavors or colors. Neither do we use emulsifiers commonly used in industrially produced cheeses to retain moisture and fat. Our methods strive to retain authentic texture and taste of traditional farm cheese and guarantees the natural balance of vitamins, proteins and fat which gives cheese its unique characteristics. However, weather conditions and the raw milk lend our cheese its own unique characteristics.

The event: 

As always, I was the 1st to reach the venue and looked around at the array of cheese lined up along with relish, and various dishes made using the cheese while waiting for the others to trickle in. This also gave me a chance to interact with the ladies, sneak in a few questions and well chew their brains a bit. 

Soon the spell was broken and in came the others participating in the session. We all gathered in the 2nd room where the ladies went on to tell us more about the cheese, the brand and give us the opportunity to sample some of the cheese- in the true form, with other flavours blended in, and as part of dishes [ranging from Breads, dips, salads, baked dishes and desserts as well]. 

I learnt their cheese was made with raw cow's milk, which is considered illegal in a few countries, including America. They also told us their cheese did not contain any preservatives, which meant the shelf life was short and it was the reason for the creamy smooth texture. 

It was also an afternoon where I learnt that Paneer and Cottage cheese were not the same. Imagine my surprise! We in our country use the terms interchangeably all the time and here I discover they weren't the same. The process to create the final product was different even though their texture and flavour profile was similar. 

Another interesting fact was that dry cheese does not mean low fat or vice versa. The texture has nothing to do with the fat content on the cheese. This came about during my conversation about how lot of people are moving to Keto and Paleo diet, showing off recipes with slabs of cheese being grilled with spices/condiments... 

We were talking about the splitting of milk when the topic of "whey" popped in. Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is a byproduct of the manufacture of cheese and is quite high in protein. This liquid is packed with health benefits... 

  • Builds muscle strength [no wonder Gym buffs drink protein shakes]
  • Improves immunity.
  • Lowers blood pressure to healthy levels without side effects, unlike blood pressure medications.
  • Cleanses the bladder and helps prevent bladder infections.
  • Corrects hormonal imbalances.
  • Promotes weight loss.
  • Improves digestion, in a manner similar to fibre.. 
Soon, we were let scot free in the room to go ahead try the cheese and the dishes made with cheese. oh, my, I was in some kind of heaven. Loved the Feta with beetroot and roasted garlic, the fresh mozzarella served with Basil & Toasted walnuts...there were three types of breads that had cheese in them, served with 2 kinds of dips- roasted red pepper and caramelised onions. The baked dishes were- quiche and potato layers. Finally, the desserts were flour free brownie and salted caramel pudding. 

I bought a packet of Feta with beetroot and roasted garlic and another of Mozzarella with Italian seasoning. Oh did I mention they had fresh cheese with apricots soaked in honey? It was divine..

They have also introduced a subscription.. Yep, you can now order cheese once every month or so.. Do check out their Facebook page and reach out to them.  

Pssst- While I do love cheese, I am a big of smelly cheese- gorgonzola, blue cheese and such.. :D 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Food tales...All about Asafoetida

At home, there are quite a few spices that fill our cupboards. and then there are others which we use on and off. But if you were to look at our daily cooking, there is not item, a condiment that is quite integral-- especially if you are gonna make sambar or a variety of it or one of the many Curry [ these are not the North Indian gravies but dry sautéing of veggies with spices]. I am talking about Asafoetida or Perungayam as we call it out here in the South. 

A gum from a tree, this has quite a strong pungent flavour and you are bound to find in almost all kitches. Heck, it is used even in Daals made here at home. 

For as long as I can remember there was just one brand that dominated the shelves- LG. We would pick up a box of Compound Asafoetida and another of powdered format. The compound version would be like a small brick of sorts. Gramma would tear it into small pieces, lightly dry saute them and place them in a metal container. This would then be used for Sambar[and varieties], or Koottu[semi gravy where coconut+red chilli/green chilli are ground to a paste and used], certain Greens where it would melt and add flavour to the dish. 

On the other hand for vegetable curries, we would invariably use the powder format. It is added to the vegetable or to the tempering .But if you were to forget this ingredient, you would be caught and reprimanded.. lol..

In the recent times with the advent of the new brands, one of them that we have tried out and liked is Patanjali. I was tad sceptical, but a friend said their Asafoetida is good, and contains less flour[ yes, Asafoetida is adulterated with flour] and thus began a new relationship with this brand. We do tend to use lot more of this Asafoetida but the flavour is spot on. 

Whenever I went on a trip, especially to the hill stations, I have managed to bring back a small packet of Asafoetida  from that region- Ooty, Kodaikanal & Coorg. Mom says the one from Ooty was quite good.  Similarly, Granpa used to travel to Flower bazaar and beyond to a small vendor who would sell these in wholesale. These were fun trips, we would drive down, park the car and walk into the narrow alleys looking for the vendor. I would be fascinated the way he made conversation with them....quite an experience!

Over the years, I have also learnt that this condiment has quite a few health benefits as well. Some of them are,

1. It helps control Blood pressure and prevents blood clotting

2. Helps prevent indigestion and is a good Laxative [thereby preventing constipation]

3. Helps deal with the pain related to periods..

4.Asafoetida helps pancreatic cells secrete more insulin, thereby decreasing the blood sugar levels

Do you know of others? 

Also, what is that one ingredient/spice/condiment that your kitchen MUST have? Do share your tales...