...We meet to Eat!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

H is for Haitian...

Niki Sarang was Hostess 'H' and she picked H for Haitian to be held on Nov 8th, 2008. The restaurant we went to is called Krik Krak (which as our waiter later explained to us was the Haitian equivalent of a Chicken's cry. My research though explains it differently. Apparently when Haitians tell a story, they ask "Krik?" to which eager listeners reply "Krak!". Definitely seems, like the more interesting explanation of the two, for sure.)
Krik Krak is a tiny 5-table restaurant, with huge paintings adorned on yellow walls ('cosy' is the word in Manhattan for this scale of space). It is located in the UWS neighborhood of Manhattan; between 101st and 102nd streets on Amsterdam Ave. The neighborhood is not the best in the city, which probably explains why this little place is a discovery of sorts.
Lets face it; few of us would have ever heard of this place, if not for Cuisine Club. What also made this place one-up for us was that it was BYOB, which is always a pleasure for wine-drinkers such as myself, as we get to bring our favorite wine to the table, for a very reasonable damage.
We were 5 of us in all; one vegetarian and the rest meat-eaters. I must admit, our vegetarian friend did have a few complaints and almost took off without eating, as he could sense a sharp 'fish' smell within the restaurant. After a lot of coaxing, he decided to stay and glance at the menu, to see if he had any options for the evening at all.
Although not many vegetarian options, Krik Krak did seem to have some vegetarian fare and we got a mix of it in our order for the night. The waiter was accommodating and incorporated all our special requests, as far as the vegetarian meal was concerned. Among the dishes brought to our table that night, were appetizers such as Akra De Malanga - Fried dumplings of malagna paste and original spices, which were a big hit at the table and we ordered another serving of the same. For the main course, I had Poultet Maison Chicken prepared in a homemade sizzling sauce, which was delicious and well-cooked; just the right amount. Some of us went the seafood way and had the Poission Creole -Whole red snapper, yellow tail or king fish prepared in herbal tomato sauce and the Filet De Poisson- Filet of sole or tilapia cooked with butter and garlic / shallot sauce with vegetable. Our vegetarian friend, as I mentioned before, hesitantly picked Legumes Maison Stew made with mixed vegetables and beef, in which he obviously asked for the beef and eggplant to be replaced with other vegetables. Surprisingly, his meal was quite tasty, or atleast thats what it seemed like when we saw his plate wiped clean at the end of the dinner. We had a big bottle of a Red Chilean Merlot to accompany our meal, which went well with most of the dishes. Some of us also had the Jus Lacaille - Juice (passion fruit, grape fruit, orange, lime) and enjoyed it. Of course, the staple plantains, rice and beans and salad (with a very interesting dressing) were served along with each meal as well. For dessert, we decided to give the Gateau Traditionel ( Le Bon Bonbon) - Haitian pound cake a try and did not regret our decision. It seemed like a desirably sweet end to an evening, filled with much laughter, jokes and silly talk.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this place to someone who is open to trying out a different cuisine in a different neighborhood of the city. I had never tried Haitian food before and while I did not leave thinking I would visit again, I certainly did have a good time. Being in the UWS, in the lower 100's it is kind of out of my way, which is the main reason I dont see myself heading back. But that does not mean the food or the service was sub standard. The waiter as I have mentioned was very accomodating, the ambience quaint and the food was good too. The prices are unbeatable and being a BYOB itself, makes it a winner in my books.
Thanks Niki for organising a fun Cuisine Club and taking us to a place and a cuisine neither of us had experienced before.
Looking forward to "I"....

Monday, September 22, 2008

G is for Greek

Not one for gastronomic adventures, I was a bit skeptical when the my daughter, Namrata, and son-in-law, Akshay asked us to join their Cuisine Club buddies for dinner at a Greek restaurant. I decided to go along, resigning myself to picking on bread and some dessert as is my fate at exotic dining places, having opted to be a vegetarian. As a long suffering only vegetarian in the family I had decided not to be a wet blanket (though I could not help at times murmuring my displeasure) and to allow the family to enjoy pampering their palates!  But hey was I in for a surprise!
 To begin with, Ithaka, situated in Manhattan, seemed an unpretentious taverna, in true Greek fashion. Not very big, the white washed interiors made my mind hark back to our holiday on the Greek isles where little white washed houses stood a startling contrast to the sparkling  blue Mediterranean waters. On the walls were framed paintings of Greek scenes--simple little prints which added to the decor. Soft Greek music played in the background, adding to the ambience. We were shown our place at a table set for fifteen with spotless white table cloth and starched napkins. 
As we waited for the rest to arrive, we started to order our drinks. While all the others had white wine, I was happy to sip plain, simple orange juice. Since we were three vegetarians in the group, it was decided that we order more vegetarian starters and only a couple of non-vegetarian starters. The vegetarian starters had some tongue twisting names like Tzatziki(yoghurt, cucumber and dill), Melizanosalata (smoked eggplant puree),Tirokafteri(feta cheese with olive oil and green peppers). The non-vegetarians ordered Shrimp Cocktail (jumbo shrimp served with tomato cocktail sauce) and sweet bread. Speaking only for the vegetarian starters I can say that they were good. I especially liked the Tzatziki and Tirokafteri. Eaten with soft pita bread, they tasted just right, not spicy or oily. The smoked eggplant was not anything to write home about--a little slimy and not so tasty as the others.
The only vegetarian option for the entree was a vegetarian platter. We asked the waiter if he could switch the eggplant on the platter to okra. He presented us with the platter which consisted of sauted okra with in a little tomato sauce (the best part being the okra was not submerged in the sauce), boiled potato, a spinach filled fillet, beans in a sauce and some crunchy carrots and asparagus on the side. All very tasty and not heavy on the stomach.
We opted for a few desserts to be shared by all of us--- semolina almond cake, milk pudding in a crisp filo and yoghurt with honey and walnuts. Yummmm--that explains it all! And to top it all, the waiter brought us some complimentary dessert--plates of crisp, round fried donuts with a coating of honey and walnuts. 
Too full to do justice to all the desserts, we carried some home and bid a fond goodbye to the waiter who had served us with good humour!
The price was a bit steep at $53 per person.
I must say that more than the food I enjoyed the company enormously. I always feel younger and more full of joie de vive when I am with youngsters!
Ambience: 6/10
Food: 8/10
Service: 8/10
Price: 7/10
Worth a visit definitely.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

“F” for Filipino

“F” for Filipino was the theme of our recent Cuisine Club meet. Picking a decent Filipino restaurant with vegetarian options that could sit 12+ people was a challenge to put it mildly. First I picked Kuma Inn located in downtown, a small joint with good reviews and an interesting chef or at least a well marketed one – “Chef King Phojanakong's "Asian tapas" menu fuses the cooking of his Filipino mother and his Thai father…” so went the New York Magazine’s review. Kuma Inn’s pictures made it seem like a cozy restaurant…worthy of spending a Saturday evening after a rough week. I thought I had a winner but when I called the restaurant the lady on the other end said that the restaurant can seat up to 30 people and reservations are accepted for a maximum party size of 8. I repeated myself “hey, we are 12 which is less than 30 so make a freaking exception”. I even threw in the weight of our famous Cuisine Club, claiming to be the editor-in-chief but they were like we already have reservations for 2 big parties that evening so they could mend their rules for us but just not for the night of 23rd August, 2008.

We ended up at Grill 21 located at 346 E 21st St in New York, NY. It was a relatively inexpensive and small restaurant and there weren’t too many people besides our party when we arrived. We ordered wine, beer and appetizers; mixed drinks are not on the menu. Ambiance was okay, more of a sit-down lunch place rather than a fancy dinner restaurant. 10 of the 12 who rsvp’d showed up and guess what? One of them was Latika, the baby sister of my good ‘ld friend, Satyan Israni, from Greenlawns School on Worli Seaface in Mumbai! (and yes, I am still in touch with Satyan). Latika was at one end of the table and I was at the other end, and for a few minutes we had a long-distance conversation at the dinner table! It was too bad that Latika and her husband didn’t fancy the vegetarian options and decided to have the main course at another place.

The food selection was fairly wide - over 100 items on the menu including appetizers and desserts, of course – and the entrée names were unique. For example, in the chicken selection they offered Ginantaang Manok (chopped chicken cooked in coconut milk), Sinampalukang Manok – how can anyone possibly pronounce that!!?? In the vegetable selection they offered Pinakbet which was nothing else than the dreaded bitter melon (Karela) sautéed with beans, squash and eggplant. Although the waitress recommended Pinakbet as a well made and delicious dish, we decided against it! My opinion on the food was that it is different – not particularly great or not bad either, just different. I think most other people had the same opinion about their food.

It was time to settle the check but an argument broke off when the check arrived. No, the subject of the argument was not the amount of the check or whether did we really order this or that…it was a three letter word “pls” after every dish. The check read “Ginataang Sitaw & Kalabasa – Spicy Pls” or “…With tofu Pls”, after nearly every dish that we ordered. I and another pretty woman sitting on my side of the table couldn’t really buy that “pls” stood for please in this instance. So we ended up laying a bet with people on the other side of the table (Amit, Shweyta and the pretty woman’s husband). Ashish was simply enjoying the show from the sidelines (he was the smart beneficiary of the bet regardless of who won). As is the case often enough, I lost the bet, and “Pls” was short for please even in this instance. I did treat everyone to desserts at Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man on 9th street and 2nd ave. After a wait of 10 -15 mins we were seated, however, the desserts took their own sweet time to arrive. Although Amit enjoyed winning the bet I am not so sure that he enjoyed waiting for the desserts :P Nevertheless, the desserts were great and so was the mojito! With that loss it was time to bid adieu till the next Cuisine Club meet.

Bottom Line

Ambiance: 6/10 

Menu Selection: 8/10 

Quality of Food: 7/10 

Service: 8/10 

Price: $ (relatively inexpensive for manhattan dinners)

Overall: 7/10 (Recommended if you want to try some Filipino food and are in the vicinity) 

Last but not the least, kudos to Shweyta for setting up the Cuisine Club and keeping it running well (even if she spells her name a bit weird). 

Cheers ;-)


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

E is for English

The Cuisine Club recently had it’s 5th meeting; the letter “E” was assigned to me, and I chose to go for an English (clearly inspired by Goodness Gracious Me below). Actually, I agonizingly pored over an atlas for exotic regions starting with “E”, didn’t want to eat Ethiopian food, and English was the only other thing I could think of (off the record, let me just say, I hope I’m not the poor sod to be assigned the letter “Z”)

Tea & Sympathy is located just down the road from Cafe De Bruxelles, and is a small restaurant - nay, an annex - to a larger British goods shop next door. The restaurant seats only 26 people or so, and thus the management has a strict policy of not allowing guests into the restaurant until the entire party has arrived.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

D is for Dim S

The fourth cuisine club was a little different from the previous ones as it was not a cuisine by itself, but a part of various food fares that China has to offer. 'D' was for Dim Sum and I (Karan), chose the place. Being in NYC, and being a traditional type of food, I chose the traditional neighborhood of Chinatown. After researching on the internet, I finally decided to go with Jing Fong. Not only did it sound traditional and very Dim Summy but it had great reviews too.

We decided to do lunch instead of dinner as Dim Sum's were prepared fresh only in the afternoon and there was much more variety to choose from. The only bad thing was that many people landed up dropping out due to the change. We got there around 2 pm and were 9 people in all. We were seated pretty quick as the place was huge (almost a whole NYC block!) and we came in at the tail end of rush hour. Right off the bat we were hit with ladies pushing carts offering us various kinds of Dim Sums and if you know me well enough, I did not say NO for anything!

We had a slight issue in the first 5 minutes as we had 2 people who were vegetarian with us and none of the Dim Sums being offered were veg. We tried ordering from the menu but were told by the person waiting on us (with all the Chinese courtesy possible, which is none!) that we could not order from the menu anymore. But after talking/explaining to someone who seemed higher in ranks than the person waiting on us, they finally decided to take orders from the menu for our vegetarian friends.

Once that ordeal was over, we dug into some shrimp, mixed seafood, pork, beef and whatever else that was steamed or fried and was served to us. They gave us very little soy and a lot of hot sauce to have with the dumplings. We also got the chicken fried rice and some other kind of sticky rice. Most of the dumplings we had were great and the ones that were not so great were only so as they were cold. We tried our best to talk to the ladies serving from the cart to get some hot fresh food, but due to language barriers could not communicate with them. We all decided next time around when we come to a dim sum place again, we need to know some key words in Chinese in order to make it a better experience. Some of those words would be Hot, Cold, Yes, No, Fast, Fish, Pork, Seafood etc. The vegetarian food also was quite good but was in huge quantities!

Since there was not much Alcohol involved, it was not along lunch. We wrapped up pretty quick and then there is only so much Dim Sum you can eat! Next time around one should go before 1 pm and one would possibly get more variety too! We spent the next couple hours in Chinatown imitating some Chinese accents and eating ice cream pedas! All in all was a great lunch and I look forward to E!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

C is for Cuban

Cuisine Club began for me with Shweyta's Google talk status " A for Argentina". Having worked with Cesar Pelli Architects, who is originally from Argentina, I got curious and happen to ask Shweyta was she is Argentina or traveling there. She mentioned about the Cuisine club and at once we (Hemant, my Husband) decided, consider us part of the club.

For those of you who don't know me, Shweyta and I went to the same undergrad school in Bombay ( I still can't say Mumbai), where I happen to be graduate a year before her.

For the third Cuisine club meeting 'C', I chose Cuban restaurant Guantanamera. I was debating between Chilean and Cuban, since I happen to find the only Chilean restaurant in
NYC. I have couple of Chilean colleagues, who raved about the restaurant as the only place in US where you can get authentic Chilean food. But being a vegi, and no veg dishes on the menu, I decided to check with the Chef, who happen to describe dishes that were nothing closer to being Chilean. Chile, or as a matter of fact, most of the South American cuisine is very meat oriented, hence I knew it would be a challenge to find a place that would cater to all types of people. But Guantanamera came as breather where menu had enough veg dishes for us to really go there. Thus 7 of us decided to meet at Guantanamera to enjoy Cuban food.

Guantanamera claims to be a classic Cuban cuisine with Latin dance nights, live entertainment and hand-roll
ed cigars. Its located on eight avenue, NYC and steps away from the Theatre District.

It being Saturday night it was packed when we reached the restaurant. While waiting to be seated we ordered drinks where we started with Mojitos, (the restaurant claims to be the King of Mojitos) and I am sure every one there would agree, or correct me if I am wrong, since we had 3 pitchers of Mojito that night. Though we started with coco flavored Mojito which I really liked, where Hemant, Amit and Shwetya went with Mango flavored Mojito, we ordered the traditional Mojito(White Bacardi rum, muddled limes, macerated mint leaves,splash of soda and garnished with a sugar cane and mint) pitcher, which was the highlight of the night, where M became the bonding letter, where Rochak said, "M for Mojito, M for Masti and M for Mohegun". It has kinda stayed with me.

In appetizers we started with PAPAS RELLENAS (Stuffed potatoes swith picadillo and cheese), which looked like aloo bonda but with cheese filling. We all really like it and did order more of it. I wish I could describe what rest of the appetizers were, but since they were meant for the carnivorous I didn't pay much attention, but members do describe the remaining appetizers. But the focus of the night still was traditional mojitos.

As we were enjoying the mojitos, eating some aloo bonda :) and getting to know each other, the live mambo music band came in where the mojitos really kicked in and lifted our spirits even further. When I described the Cuban dining experience to a collegue who sits next to me, she said, "Americans are suppose to hate Cuba, but this tiny little country and it people really know how to enjoy life". I think Guantanamera proved the point. The band played the song Guantanamera" ("girl from

After a long time when our server finally asked us for food, that we decided to order entree since all of us were really enjoying the mojitos and live music and didn't pay much attention to food. Hemant and I ordered PAELLA VEGETARIANA (Saffron rice with assorted mixed vegetables). It was simple rice and vegetable dish, but tasted delicious and looked amazing. It was served in a sizzler plate, that added in enhancing the colors of saffron rice and all the different vegetables. As fas as I remember we all finished everything we ordered, which is a sign that we really liked the food, or we were just plain hungry. Once again, non-vegs will need to update their dishes, because as usual I dint pay much attention, but they all looked very appetizing.

Lastly, we did order a dessert, but I can't remember what it was, cause I think by then most of us were totally lost in mojitos and music again. But then dessert had nothing to do with it being Cuban.

The live band kicked it again later in the night where people started dancing w salsa. Shwetya and Amit joined the group of dancing couples followed Natasha and Rochak. The four really has some good salsa moves and I think they really enjoyed, we surely did watching them.

Overall, I can say that dining at Guantanamera has given me a slight glimpse in knowing how Cubans enjoy life and I hope the rest of the crowd had similar experience. This is my version of the night, but please feel free to add, subtract, comment and describe Cuban night in your own words.

Thanks Shweyta for starting this, where all of us can add some amazing experiences to our life.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

B is for Belgian

Our second Cuisine Club meeting was at Cafe De Bruxelles - a Belgian restaurant, since B is for Belgian. We had another option - Bavarian food, but that did not have too many vegetarian entrees, so we shall reserve that pick for another time, when we have only carnivores present.

Cafe Des Bruxelles had me skeptical at first, because their website links din't work, and the number listed on that very primitive website was wrong. However, whatever few reviews of the restaurant I read were fairly good and we decided to try it anyway. Using our ever trustworthy and reliable menupages site, we were able to get a reservation for 11.

Cafe Des Bruxelles was truly what you'd call a pleasant surprise - the food was excellent, the ambience great and the service fairly bearable. The restaurant is located in a quieter part of East Village, but was buzzing with activity by the time we got there. The restaurant decor is fairly functional, where black and white picture frames of some famous Belgian landmarks adorn the walls. The restaurant was noisy and crowded and packed with people, which is a fairly typical of restaurants in the city on Saturday night. Cafe Des Bruxelles has a huge selection of imported Belgian beers and we all ordered an average of 2-3 beers through the course of the night. I had a pale ale called Leefe which was excellent and just what I wanted - light and flavorful with my chicken entree.

We ordered appetizers for the entire table including mussels a la escargot - baked mussels with garlic butter (absolutely delicious and not just because it is an aphrodisiac); plate de campagne - homemade country pate; comate au montrachet - baked tomato filled with goat cheese and served with fresh wam basil vinagrette (the tomato was baked just perfectly and with each bite, the cheese melted in our mouths) and the feuillete de champignons suavage - wild mushrooms baked in a puff pastry - all of which were delicious. The portions were small, but with these many appetizers, it was enough to go round the table. The dishes that really stood out were the mussels and the goat cheese filled tomato. Cafe Des Bruxelles claims that mussels is their speciality and they also claim the distinction of having been the restaurant that introduced mussels to America. Now I don't honestly know or care if that's true, but what I did learn is they sure know how to make those mussels tasty!

After that very fulfilling first course, we ordered entrees for each of us and beers to go along with our food. I stuck with my Leefe, but the men tried darker ales that might go along well with red meat and seafood. I ordered a chicken entree - the Poulet Facon Du Chef - chicken breasts filled with sweet peppers, onions and wild mushrooms. Each of our entrees came with pomme frittes or french fries. The chicken was very well done and came in six round portions filled with the onions, peppers and mushrooms. I couldn't taste much of the mushroom but the sweet peppers finely complemented the onions and whatever mushroom were baked into the dish. All round the table, each raved about their particular dish and the choice of beer, and so my conclusion is that it was definitely worth making a trip to this restaurant.

For dessert, we were too full and in too much of a hurry to catch that weekend's new flick, so we decided to order just a Belgian chocolate cake to share. It was a good sized portion that could be shared by all, but although appetizing, what disappointed me was that it wasn't warm..it was cold and crumbly to the taste and any good pastry chef, heck, any good eater, would know that chocolate cake, especially, gourmet chocolate cake, must never be had cold.

Apart from this small disappointment, I must say that Cafe des Bruxelles exceeded all expectations - the food was very good, the ambience perfect for a Cuisine club outing and the service fairly prompt (and I say "fairly" because occasionally our server would disappear and we could never find him when we needed to order!). It was a fun evening, filled with good conversation, better company and great food. Cafe des Bruxelles is a restaurant highly recommended for the Belgian experience.

PS: I might have honestly left something out, so others, please feel free to chime in with their comments.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A is for Argentinian....

Cuisine Club started off with it's inaugral meet at Estancia 460, in Manhattan's trendy, Tribeca neighbourhood.
If you've seen our first post, you probably already know how Cuisine Club works.
The responses to the idea of the Cuisine Club have been tremendous, so far. If I have to go by the number of people who've claimed interest in attending atleast some of our meets', we are on the right side of 20 already. Although we do thrive on the "bring as many as you please" mantra, we are also relieved by the fact that not all members will make it to all the meets', since we schedule to have them on alternate Saturday nights. And so, after a lot of contemplation and one postponement, it was decided that Cuisine Club would hold their first 'm(eat)ing' (No, I dont mean we are all non-vegetarians. It's just my attempt to amalgamate our club punch-line above) on Saturday, April 12th, 2008.
Shivnarayan Singh was picked 'Organiser A'. As you may have already gathered, his task included making two choices; picking a cuisine from the letter 'A' and then picking a restaurant where we could go try it out. Using his 'Zagat' membership, Mr. Singh figured A is for Argentinian-Italian and thus picked Estancia 460.

(Restaurant trivia: Previously known as Sosa Borella, this place was one of two restaurants run by the Argentinian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sosa. However, when they split, Mrs. Sosa made a few changes to the decor and the name, but retained the menu more or less and now runs the place single-handedly. She also established a web presence for Estancia, in the form of a an informal blog, probably in-keeping with the similar spirit of the restaurant. Mr. Sosa runs 'Sosa Borella' in Midtown.)
Our unanimous vote goes for the humble yet stylish decor; as though we were dining in an 'Andy Warhol' painting, surrounded by stacks of branded beer/coca cola/ wine bottles around us. Quaint yellow bulbs with shades, suspended from the ceiling, floated over our meals as we were in a space that was part-restaurant and part-bar. People seemed to be at ease, some regulars, some newbies like us, all seemingly comfortable in this rather informal setting. It could have been a house-party at one glance, a trendy Manhattan night-out, at another.
Moving onto the purpose of the evening; a wine was a must. And it obviously had to be an Argentinian one. So we picked a bottle of the 'XUMEK Syrah‘04, Argentina' - a subtle yet unique flavour that went very well with the diverse fare on our table. I lost my heart to the excellent pesto, that must have been made from basil, freshly picked probably from their backyard.
Our Argentinian - Italian meal for the evening, from the well balanced menu, included the following dishes:
- Bruschetta Trio tomato with basil, grilled shrimp & white beans on toasted ciabatta
- Roasted Beets walnut crusted goat cheese, savory lentils and mesclun greens
- Parmesan Crusted Chicken with roasted tomatoes, zucchini & roasted sweet potatoes
- (The 'Special for the day' which we just had to get) Stir-fried Shrimp with zucchini, tomatoes dipped in Hot Salsa sauce.
Every dish re-affirmed our faith in this place. By Dessert time, we were convinced that no one dish can be better than the other, so we eased ourselves into the 'Dessert Platter' which offered an assortment of crepes con dulce de leche, strawberries, chocolate cake, hazelnut ice-cream etc. A perfect end to a perfect evening!
Cuisine Club Meeting 'A' thus, was an absolute success, living upto the basic ideology of the club. Kudos to Shiv, for a job well done on this one! Not only was the place picked with careful consideration and substantial research, keeping in mind aspects such as the budget, ambience and location but also, the cuisine for the evening was one which none of us had tried before. Needless to say, we emerged from Estancia (meaning a 'home' or a 'temporary stay' in Argentinian), as four happy souls, knowing that the bar, for meetings going forward, had been set really high!
Here's to Cuisine Club Meet 'B' on Saturday, April 26th....