...We meet to Eat!

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 ;-)