Thursday, December 07, 2006

Birthday Cakes

The kind of birthday cakes you get in Chennai have improved tremendously. Unless you had a mother who baked wondrous cakes for you as a kid, you never saw anything very fancy. Nowadays you get all shapes and sizes and types and flavors. The nicest ones I've seen are from Taj Coromandel and Park Hotel (the pastry chefs at Park are Mr. Krishnakumar and Mr. Santosh - both incredibly talented).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dinner on the Beach

Yes, ON the beach, with the crabs scrambling around your feet, your toes in the sand, the waves about 20 feet away! It was an incredible setting!

Fisherman's Cove has a mediterranean restaurant called Upper Deck which now offers a special dinner on the beach experience. The table is laid out on the beach and there are 2-3 servers standing at a distance who bring your food, course by delicious course. We even had a little bell on our table to summon the server!

We started with cheese and crackers, and went on to a mediterranean appetizer sampler plate - grilled cottage cheese with harissa, mushroom and cheese bruschetta, falafel and hummus with pita, olive tapenade and fresh mozzarella with cherry tomatoes. The harissa was especially good.

After that, we pretty much couldn't eat another bite! But forced ourselves to sample the entrees. The vegetarian plate was skewers of grilled veggies, corn risotto and fusilli with an arrabiata sauce. The veggies were very good but the risotto was downright bad - made from long-grained rice and not arborio (basic mistake!!). The seafood dish was lobster (apparently very good!), shrimp and potato wedges.

This was followed by a dessert plate of brownies, tarts, cakes...They aren't really known for their desserts!!

And I want to add that the service is very good - they were incredibly fast for the fact that they had to run up and down to the restaurant kitchen and back to the beach! Kudos to them. All in all, a fabulous setting for dinner. And if the conversation isn't too interesting, you can always watch the waves that come almost up to your table!


Lunch at Benjarong is really nice. They have an executive lunch menu that is excellent value for money, and the choice is quite varied, from roti-curry to pahd thai to thai-style indian biryani!

The highlight of any meal in Benjarong is the complimentary appetizer called Mein Kam. Its a plate of spinach leaves accompanied by little pots of various fillings - small pieces of lemon, peanuts, onion, red chilli, ginger, flakes of dry roasted coconut and a base paste made of palm sugar. Its much like eating Paan - you fill in the ingredients that you want and fold it and pop it in your mouth. I must say, its delicious!

We ordered the roti-curry, the crispy vegetables with red chilli and sweet basil, chicken in oyster sauce and egg fried rice. It was a little too much but we tend to want to taste a little of several dishes. The roti-curry was very good.

I do recommend the executive lunch menu. Where else can you have a 3 course lunch meal in a upscale restaurant in Chennai for approximately Rs. 300 a head? Its a great deal! For dessert, the Tub Tim Siam (water chestnuts in chilled sweet coconut milk) was super!

At the end of the day though, I prefer Lotus for the food and the ambience. But Benjarong is a close second.

FYI, don't use the restrooms. They are downright atrocious.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thai Green Curry

Made a simple enough Thai green curry for dinner. Was craving Thai food but knew we wouldn't be going out because of the India-South Africa match. So this was the next best option. Well, it turned out better than going out! (except for India's dismal performance)

I used the Taste of Thai Green Curry paste, and it was all ready in a jiffy. Just add a tbsp of oil to a saucepan and saute the paste a bit. Next add any (parboiled) veggies you like - I added babycorn, red peppers, potatoes and onions. Brown the veggies a bit in the paste and oil. The whole kitchen will smell of garlic! Mmmmm.... Next add 2 cups of coconut milk (the Lite version is fine too) and let it simmer until the veggies are completely cooked - about 10 minutes.

Garnish with basil leaves torn into the curry. (I remember to never cut basil leaves but tear them instead to get the full taste of basil - I think it was Rachael Ray who said that. Something about how her grandfather considered basil holy and that you shouldn't cut it blah blah)

And serve with noodles or rice. Delicious.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The French Laundry

After eating at The French Laundry, you know you'll never have such a meal again in your life. Its a treat, a very rare treat that is only appreciated by those few who truly enjoy food. Chef Thomas Keller is a miracle-maker.

Its been over two years since I ate there, but I remember it like it was yesterday. We arrived at noon, 15 minutes early for our reservation. The reservation, btw, was taken 8 months prior. That is the scheduled waiting time they had given us. Needless to say, the lunch was much-awaited. While we sat outside enjoying the weather in Yountville, we sipped Champagne and made ourselves comfortable in the rustic cottage-like setting.

We then proceeded to the dining room, where we went on to sample the chef's tasting menu. Each morsel of food dazzled not only the palate, but the scent as well. I can still remember the aroma when a server grated fresh trufffles over our risottos. Now everyone has heard of Keller's "icecream cone" of salmon tartare and his other signature dishes, but when you actually see it and taste it, they elicit surprise and delight.

Being vegetarian was not a handicap here. Every course was so cleverly executed that you could not decide whether to be excited about the next one or disappointed that this one was over. It was a marvelous experience. Four hours later, we were finished with the meal, but two years or so later, and I still remember every bit of it.

French Laundry was by far the most expensive restaurant I have been to. But would I go there again? In a heartbeat.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Travel Log - "Do-Buy"

Do Buy - thats my new name for Dubai - the Las Vegas of the Middle East. Everything is geared for the shopper - endless malls and a mall for every block. And the malls are beautiful, you could actually spend a day at each one!


The most breath-taking mall that we went to is the Ibn Battuta mall. Each part of the mall is done up in a different architectural style from various countries. These photos are from inside the Persian section.

Every mall has similar stores. You can find the Pradas, YSLs and Guccis alongside the Forever 21s and Aldos. We spent 4 hours and saw 3 sections - out of 26 sections! As I said, you can spend an entire day...


Everything in Dubai is the tallest, biggest, widest, most ostentatious than anywhere else in the world. And they are very proud of that. They are right now building the tallest building in the world at the rate of a floor a week! And they are also building office complexes in the shape of musical notes! And the reason I compare it to Las Vegas is because its all right there in the middle of the desert - all built where only sand existed earlier.

Skyscrapers are everywhere. Our hosts even joked that the nearest neighbor isn't the next apartment in your building, but the neighbour in the next building whose apartment you can even reach into if you wanted to!

There are some beautiful mosques all over the city. At twilight, we saw the Jumeirah Mosque, all lit up. Lovely! Incidentally, its also the only mosque that allows non-Muslims to visit inside its premises.


Needless to say, the Middle Eastern food is very good. A special mention for Al Hatam and Automatic, which are available in most places and are Dubai chains. The food is excellent. The only cuisine that I didnt get to taste was the Persian - the man at the restaurant politely said "Sorry. Nothing vegetarian" and went on to the next customer!

We happened on an Asian restaurant called Japengo (also a chain - but a "nice" chain) which served the most delicious buckwheat noodles with beansprouts and tofu. I went back to the restaurant and ordered the same dish in the 5 days that we were there. It was that good! Here's a photo that does not do it justice:

While we were at the Jumeirah Beach Park, we indulged in french fries, sandwiches and some za'atar croissants at Malik Burger. I brought some of the herb home with me and have since used it in slow-cooked scrambled eggs. The herb gives a very mild flavor and can be used for just about any seasoning.

Of special mention from my meat eating husband is Calicut Paragon. The Calicut Biryani is different from others in that it isnt flavored with turmeric, thus making it a white rice and tastes much like a ghee rice. Its quite different.

The desert

The most stunning view is from the flight as you land. You suddenly come across endless sand and all the dunes. Its quite amazing. We don't really see too much desert while in Dubai, which is mostly concrete and glass. But drive 20 minutes out of Dubai and there it is, camels and all.

The activity I most recommend is the quadikes. Just travel down the Hatta road, and it takes about 25-30 minutes from Dubai. They are so much fun and anyone can do them. They rent it out by the 1/2 hour and have different sized bikes - even ones for the little kids. The dunes are high and whizzing up and down them is totally cool!

This is a great article by The Independent on spending 48 hours in Dubai.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Home Alone

Fabulous. After ONE year (and couple of months), i was home alone for the entire day. It had its feelings of "what the heck do I do with myself now?" but that was overshadowed immediately by the "Wow I don't HAVE to do ANYTHING"!

I recommend everyone take a personal day - away from everyone. Its a rejuvenating experience.

Monday, November 06, 2006


The new Cascade is pretty nice. The decor is alright and the view is great (lots of greenery and a little rock garden on the patio). Its in the new Man Mandir building on Khader Nawaz Khan road.

We had a healthful meal of steamed vegetable dimsum, steamed rice and a really nice, spicy vegetable sizzler. It was all of Rs. 600/- or approx $15 for two. The service was fine, except the waiters couldn't speak English and didn't look like they spoke Hindi or Tamil either. That bothers me - why don't they get people who can actually help you and communicate with you - to wait on you?

We doggy-bagged the left-overs and it was a wonderful surprise that they had vacuum sealed the bags for us. Thats just a great excuse to get take-out next time.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Patio

To me it signifies lazy afternoons over a long lunch, lots of wine, great bread and excellent food. Its supposedly a French restaurant but they serve pasta and my favorite, asian veggies with a side of rice.

Today we had appetizers of green salad with asparagus and mushrooms, perfect-for-a-rainy-day tomato soup, and um..cream of celery soup (not so good!). Entrees were grilled veggies with a side of herb rice, veggie crepes and cheese and broccoli phyllo
pastries. And lots of good wine. I also recommend the excellent camembert souffle and if you have room for dessert, the chocolate fondant.

Patio is the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon with good friends. The service is excellent - accomodating, at-hand but not intrusive and very efficient. The decor is inviting, seating very comfortable. Ok, I'll stop!

Drawbacks - a tad expensive and not everyone likes small portions and/or French food. I do. The sad thing is that they are gonna close soon. As I said not many people in Chennai like that kind of food, and they don't serve kids under 18 (plus side - no noise!)

I've suggested to the maitre d' that they start a weekly wine tasting event or even a full-blown wine appreciation course that might attract people to come to the restaurant. Maybe that way they'll stay open. Its my family's restaurant of choice and I would personally hate to see it closed to make way for another run-of-the-mill restaurant.

n.b. The Patio did close down. Under renovation right now. Make way for an Italian restaurant.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Face-Lift for Cop Cars

Chennai's cop cars have had a major face-lift. Familiar, huh? So much like the US cop cars! I think they're fabulous. I hope they attack crime and personal physical fitness next.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The much-awaited Kabab Factory

We've been trying to go to the Kabab Factory at the Radisson Hotel in Chennai for approximately a year now! And we finally managed to go last night. Not sure if it was worth a year of waiting.

The restaurant is unique in that you only get to order a thali - a non-vegetarian or vegetarian thali - and the rest is taken care of.

We got about 6 kababs, dal, roti, biryani and a host of chutneys. And though the 4 (+1/2) of us drove together in one car, we might have needed 2 cars to come back!! We were so stuffed that we actually got up and took a walk in the middle of dinner! The only other time I've done that was at French Laundry - and that was because it was a 11-course, 4-hour exquisite French experience.

The kababs were pretty good - I really cant comment having eaten the veggie version - but everyone else seemed to enjoy it. Except for the lamb that was sent back twice because it was too tough. Let me see, I got 1 piece of paneer, 2 pieces of babycorn, 1 spinach kabab, and 1 sweet potato kabab. I tell you, it was difficult to walk after that meal. Which leads me to wonder, how many tubs of butter goes into the kababs to make them that rich? :(

Would've been nice to partake of the hookah after the meal, but it was only on display. Not like Off the Hookah... :)

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Went for my first halloween party in Chennai. It was loads of fun! The host had gone all out - she had a spooky room (which spooked the hell outta my daughter), lots of crafts (we made a super creepy-crawly) and some great stuff hanging around all over the house. Followed by trick-or-treating! Didn't expect to do it for the first time in Chennai!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Last Night at the YPO event

It was a first for any evening that I have spent in India! (though the current price of real estate in Chennai does make one gasp!).



First off, I can't imagine south Indians like Japanese food very much. They are mostly vegetarians who are quite loyal to their own spices - mustard seeds, cumin etc. Japanese food is *very* different. Still we have TWO Japanese restaurants in Chennai. One is Haka Saka on the ECR, which I've yet to go to, but haven't heard good reviews of. The other is Dahlia.

Dahlia has been in the same location for the last 14 years (yes! 14 years! for those of you who are going - No Way was it there when I was in college!). Its located behind Ganpat Hotel at the end of Nungambakkam High Road. And even the decor has remained the same except for a new tv and a fish tank. The tv shows delightful Japanese programs that I thoroughly enjoyed watching while I was there.

The food was delicious! The noodle soup was great as was the fresh tofu with peanut-wasabi sauce. I enjoyed the stir-fried vegetable+udon though my dining companions complained that it could have MSG. And being vegetarian was not a problem - they accomodated special requests (the sweet potato instead of the calamari) and were very hospitable. Everything went down well with all the sake.... :)
Dahlia Rocks!

Friday, October 27, 2006


No, not the coffee - the Park Sheraton coffee shop.

The restaurant has become a fast favorite of mine. The food is exceptionally good and they accomodate most requests. Try the veggie noodles and chilli chicken. The pizza is pretty good and the pasta is great. The channa bathura, for those Indian-food enthusiasts out there, is fabulous!

This is definitely not the run-of-the-mill coffee shop that serves the usual buffet of left-overs from the kitchen!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Southern not-so-Spicy

We hosted a friend of ours recently from California. It was her first visit to Chennai (she has lovely insightful stuff to say about India in her blog). We went to a nearby southern Indian restaurant, Southern Spice. Let me start by saying that the food was very good. We had a yellow chilies and corn curry which was spiced just right and the appams were crispy at the edges and soft in the middle - just as it should be.

But I think that was all the good I can say about it. The entertainment was first the nadaswaram. And then a 5 minute interval, followed by a dance performance. Both were far too loud. We could hardly hear each other! And since we were enjoying catching up, this was really difficult. We had to wait for the 5 minute intervals, and then start talking really quickly before it started up again.

And next to us was a fortune teller with a parrot that was also making loud sounds, inbetween all the music! I have to say that unless I'm going with someone I really don't want to make conversation with, I won't go there again. Or I will reserve the "inside" room meant for private parties.

On a last note, the food was very good and the wine (though we sent the 1st bottle back), was also very good as was the wine selection.

Rainy Days

Chennai is lovely during the monsoon. You wake up to dark clouds, thunder and lightning. And then sip hot tea while watching the rain and listening to it all around you!

My daughter saw the rains for the first time today and was completely amazed. Kept looking between me and the rain with this delighted look (where's the video camera when you need it?). She wanted to go crawling around in the water and try and catch it in her palms.

Another great thing to do in the rainy season, is curl up with a warm blanket and a good trashy magazine!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Diwali Parties

The city seems to come alive and band together to celebrate Deepavalli. Everyone's in a pleasant mood. A typical party invite says 8-8.30 but people start to arrive at about 10. Dinner is served around midnight. Card tables are set up everywhere and mostly people play with their own sex - ie Girls Tables and Boys Tables. Thats because the boys play at higher stakes and the girls are too "cautious".

Everyone's dressed in their colorful festive wear and everyone takes a mental snapshot of everyone else. I was too naive to think this was true, but after spending much time with the same people, I realize that everyone notices everything! Its amazing! Now, tell me, when there is really only ONE (ok maybe Two) stores for fashionable clothes in Chennai, how can you possibly not be wearing what someone else is? And they do - and pretend not to notice!!

All said and done, the diwali parties are great fun. Playing cards is a riot and everyone is very hospitable and you get great goodie bags to take home! :)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Kiddie Parties

Kiddie parties in Chennai are almost cookie-cutter style. Everyone has a bouncy castle, a balloon-twister, a face-painter. The food is almost always different types of sandwiches, pizza, popcorn, bhelpuri and of course an amazingly-iced birthday cake in various shapes, colors and sizes.

Are birthday parties the same in every city? Maybe they are, but we really need to change things around a bit here. Atleast for the sanity of the mothers!! :)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Global Chennai

One just cannot complain in Chennai anymore. Some time ago, I really wanted this Shiseido face powder and had it specially brought from the US. The next day while I was in Lifestyle, there in front of me is the Shiseido counter with the same powder as well as other shades suited for Indian skin.

Then I had some really cool baby cups with straws flown. And yes, today I found the same in Lifestyle. AND I love Act II microwave popcorn and found it today in Amma Naana - now, thats nothing exciting - I knew they had it there - but did you know they had it in Indian Masala, Jeera Masala and Green Chillies! Can you imagine how good that popcorn would be?

Everything is available here and indian-ised! Its great!

UPDATE: Just tried to link directly to the Lifestyle website and can't find one. Welcome back to Chennai - a huge Dubai-based store owned by the Landmark group, but no online presence!!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Einstein's Bagels

Einstein's toasted Everything bagel with Jalapeno Salsa. And Noah's - our very own Einstein's in the Bay Area :)

'Nuff said. Can't even remember how it tasted, just remember it was so friggin' good.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tomato Sandwiches

I discovered the perfect tomato sandwich totally by accident. I just cut thick slabs of soft Madras Club bread, and spread it with butter, thin tomato slices and sprinkled pepper and salt on top.

It all looked very good but the problem was the bread was still slightly chilled from the fridge. So I popped it in the microwave for a minute, since I was too hungry to wait. And it was delicious! Warm but not toasted, thats the key.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Surprisingly, a plug for Chennai!

Eventually after living here a year now, I've come to appreciate the short distances one has to travel in Chennai to get from point A to B. After the bay area traffic, and long drives down 101 and 280 just to get for dinner or lunch, I love the fact that I'm home in 7 mts or, if its "far" away 15 mts! And let me say, fly private! :)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Steamed Wontons and Pahd Thai

Granted the wontons were a bit tough and the pahd thai a tad sweet, but Lotus still has the best Thai food in Chennai. Benjarong is a close second though, and they are opening another fast-food Thai at Chennai Citi Center. Hmm Thai fast-food?

Wouldn't mind getting the recipe for the sticky rice pudding though.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Maison de Gourmet

Bought some great string beans today at the new Maison de Gourmet, and sauteed it with pepper, salt, garlic and butter for dinner. Accompanied by a basic angel hair pasta of tomatoes, basil and garlic.

Delighted that these basic ingredients are available in Chennai. Three cheers for Maison de Gourmet!


After having lived away for several years, I have returned to a much-changed Chennai. In this blog I hope to rediscover Chennai and fall in love with it. The easiest way for me to fall in love with a city is through the food and restaurants. So here goes.

Had the Golden Curry brand Japanese Curry for dinner. Loaded with MSG but oh-so-good as comfort food. Very simple with some carrots, onions, potatoes and served with rice.