Monday, February 22, 2010

The (New) India Coffee House: Old Bangalore Series Part III

In the past two weeks, I've visited the new 'avatar' of this institution. (The old one had peeling walls, ancient ceiling fans (which threatened to drop on unsuspecting customers any minute) and waiters dresses in yellowing uniforms (which were once grand) reminiscent of the Raj. It was rather wonderful.)

The premises are spruced up but the menu and the uniforms remain. The place has a number of South Indian snacks and breakfast dishes. They also serve meals during lunchtime. Since eggs are a speciality here, I ordered the scrambled eggs on toast (Rs.35). The offering was floating in oil and I mean this literally. The scrambled eggs were soggy and bland. The submerged toast makes an occassional appaearance but its so drenched in oil that it is a little tough to discern its taste. Copious amounts of pepper and salt make this slightly palatable.

Not to be deterred by this (and not willing to cut my lunch hour short), I proceeded to order the omlette (Rs.22). This was infinitely better. Still oily but the taste was pretty decent. The dosa (Rs.20) here is OK. The sambar was average but the chatni was very good. The sandwiches (Rs.22) are decent but small. Cutlets are quite popular here.

Don't leave here without the coffee (Rs. 8) though. It's strong without being bitter and one of the nicest filter coffees in Bangalore. It's bound to refresh you (And this from me, a lifelong Bournvita girl). They also have Cold Coffee and I can tell you that the lime juice (Rs. 8) is pretty good.

Despite the average food, I recommend you visit this place for the atmosphere alone. It's the sort of place where you can peacefully read a book or have a long conversation. The waiter's here have the uncanny knack of ascertaining whether you are in a hurry or want to read in peace. There is something very 'adda'-esque about this place.

Location: Church Street. Opposite Blossom Book Hous, in the same complex as ING ATM

Pricing: A meal here shouldn't cost you more than Rs. 60

Monday, February 15, 2010

Amruth Ice Creams: Old Bangalore Series Part II

The second part of this series has been a long time coming. Most people in Bangalore when asked about ice creams will lead you to Corner House, Flavours, Baskin Robbins and the ilk. Not me, however. I'm going to take you to the nicest and cheapest ice cream parlour in Bangalore: Amruth Ice creams.

This place has been around for 18 years. Considering that it operates out of the ground floor of a quaint little house in Malleswaram, that's quite impressive. The ice cream machines here (refer to photo) produce 40 litres of mouth watering home made ice cream every day. It's brown shutters open, people crowding around the counter with ice cream cones and a happy smile that only unhealthy food can bring is a common sight.

They have a loyal customer base, yours truly included. (This place brings back memories of birthdays, after school treats and my parents buying empty cones becuase my weird brother insisted on eating just the cone and not the ice cream! )

While your normal flavours of mango, chocolate, strawberry and gang are popular, my favourites here are the 'others': Honey Dew, Manoranjini, Fig-o-Honey, Apricot Marvel, Kesar Badam. Unique flavours and loads of them have nuts and raisins giving the ice cream a wonderful crunchy feel. Manoranjini, their signature flavour, is a pista based ice cream with butterscotchy nuts in it. Honey Dew, a family favourite, has this lovely hint of honey which I have not seen replicated in any other place. The self explanatory Fig-o-Honey is another popular flavour. This place also has wonderful lollies - flavoured ice candies. You can see many school students nibbling away at these after classes (and why not, its incredibly affordable at just Rs.2).

They also have 2, 3 and 4 scoop sundaes where they allow you to choose the ice cream flavours of your choice. This is then topped off with honey, nuts, chocolate sauce and cherries. The great thing about these local establishments is that they go the extra mile for you (like adding extra cherries or nuts).

They have no plans of opening other outlets, so you will have to haul yourself to Malleswaram. But I can assure that this is worth it. It makes for the perfect after meal treat, especially in summers. Amruth ice Creams is the sort of place we have all grown up with and it's heart warming to see an establishment like this amongst soulless chains (not that I'm not appreciative of McDonalds and gang). If you want a taste of cold Old Bangalore flavour, then you must try out Amruth Ice Creams.

Location: 11th Cross, Between 6th and 5th Main, Malleswaram (the lane opposite Vidya Mandir).

Price: A cone costs between Rs 10 and 15. Sundaes shouldn't cost you more than Rs.40 . Family packs are priced between Rs.55 - 70.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Crepe Connection

All this talk about crepes and Paris, reminds me that we have a crepe place in Namma Bengaluru. I went to their Garuda Mall outlet yesterday though I didn't try enough here to write a full post :(

They have a variety of vegetarian and non vegetarian crepes along with waffles, pancakes, dessert crepes and finger foods. I tried the Popeye's Special (spinach and corn in a cheese sauce. Rs 70) and Sweet November (Stewed apples with cinnamon flavouring and vanilla ice cream. Rs. 80). I was a bit apprehensive about the Popeye's Special, having never tried a crepe combo of this nature, but it was surprisingly good. Tasted like a spinach and corn lasagna stuffed inside the crepe. I had high hopes for the Sweet November but that was little bit of a dampner. The apple was a tad oversweet and the cinammon flavouring not strong enough. The quantities are decent and while one crepe might not fill your tummy, it will serve as a pretty heavy snack (Two crepes should easily qualify as a full meal).

They have a variety of other crepes there and I intend to go back and have a shot at trying them all (The place is a tad pricey and my account very empty, so sadly the going back might not happen very soon). They also have some combo deals and breakfast packages. The combos didn't sound great but I must go try them out before condemning them.

Location: Garuda Mall, Oasis Mall
Prices: Crepes are priced between Rs. 50-90. A meal here shouldn't cost you more than Rs.150.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

St Michel: Paris Part II :) :)

In my last post on Champs-Elysee, I missed out one crucial detail. At one end (the end opposite Arc de Triumphe) of this avenue is a guy in a mobile cart who serves the most heavenly chocolate crepes. While roadside crepe vendors are a dime a dozen in Paris, this is the only one (that I know of and I tried loads when I was there) who makes the chocolate crepe with actual chocolate and not Nutella. The crepes were light and fluffy and the chocolate inside yummy :)

Since we are on the topic of food, I'm gonna write about my favourite place to eat in the world.(so far). If you're in Paris and want to eat, head over to St Michel (special thanks to Vikas for introducing us to this food mecca). This place is teeming with food from all over the world - Turkish, Mexican, Greek, Egyptian, Indian - you name it and this place has got it. All these restaurants are crammed into two or three lanes filled with people at all odd hours of the day (I should know, I was here so much!). Each restaurant has a pimp outside who tries to lure all passers-by into eating here. We tried an array of places here and while not all were good, it was definitely interesting and worth the experience. We went into a Turkish place that served awesome khous khous and escargot. It also had a shady room downstairs where a group of murky characters were playing an intense, exotic dice game. (I had dreams of witnessing a knife fight but it was not to be) One greedy night, we pigged out on fondue. The French sure know their cheese (I'm still, unsuccesfully might I add, trying to lose the weight I gained from fondue night) I also tasted some questionable Greek food in one of the restaurants but it was fun.

There is an exclusively vegetarian falafel place at the end of the lane. The bread was soft and nice, and while the vegetables are not always fresh, it tastes OK. The place is called Maoz and they have a branch in Amsterdam too. There's quite a bit of vegetarian food. Even if there is nothing on the menu, ask the chef and invariably he will dish up something for you (they are infnitely amused by the concept though). Right next to the falafel place is the most heavenly Greek sweet shop. The shopkeeper is a portly old Grandpa who distinctly reminded me of Santa Claus. I strongly recommend the bakklava here which is a sweet, gooey pastry filled with honey and nuts (momentary pause to remember and drool over the memory). Stroll into St Michel at any time of the day and you're sure to find a healthy mix of locals and tourists having exotic meals. Oh! and did I mention there is free wine at all these places :)

This place is a foodie heaven and if you love food, I insist that you swing by this place when you are in Paris. Not everything I ate there was good but it was a truly exciting experience. The meals here are expensive though (by the penny pinching, broke standards of Indian students at least). Be prepared to shell out at least 10-13 euros a meal.

Of course, all this is relevant only if you're not traveling with my Mum. My mum's version of eating out involves finding the Little India in the city and ordering from the array of vegetarian (primarily South Indian) dishes. Imagine the excitement! But if you do have someone like this in your party, head over to passage Brandy where you can find dosas. The metro station is Metro Chateau d'Eau or Strausbourg St. Dennis. Paris is also filled with Tamils who are exceedingly friendly. So if you have a bad dosa craving (though why you would is beyond me), it shouldn't be too difficult to wangle an invitation to their houses.

P.S. - If you are in Paris and look Tamil (like I do) be prepared for a lot of Tam bonding. I was assaulted by friendly Tams all over Paris. And I'm not exaggerating. I had long conversations in Tamil at the metro stations, bus station, an Italian restaurant, various tourist places, knick knack shops and at the airport security. I was at one point caught in the middle of a bizarre Italian-French-Tamil-English conversation. On the bright side, I got great discounts and breezed through security :) (In all fairness, this is not an affliction of Tams alone. I had a forty minute conversation in Punjabi at the airport. Now those of you who know me, know that my knowledge of Punjabi extends to the line 'vadde log, vaddi vaddi batein' . Needless to say, I'm still trying to figure out what that woman was saying).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New Shanti Sagar (NSS)

The great thing about eating out in Bangalore is that there is something for everyone - from the ubiquitous darshinis to the snooty, high brow places at UB City. So if you're in Bangalore, looking for a bite outside and don't feel like an idli or like spending big bucks, walk into a New Shanti Sagar.

They have outlets in lots of areas but I have visited only the ones in Vijaynagar and Malleswaram. A word of caution at the beginning of the review, at times this place has atrocious service. I have witnessed many fights at this place and once watched as a normally mild mannered friend had a full blown argument with an incredibly rude manager.

This place serves South Indian, North Indian, Chinese and Mexican food (With much sadness I report that the Vijaynagar outlet, at least, has stoppped the Mexican food). If you're looking for something that's filling but not too heavy, then I recommend the Neer Dosa (Rs.35). It's not something that's easily available otherwise and it's pretty good here: Healthy, filling and very tasty. They serve it with kurma and chatni but will provide sambar if you ask.

The place also likes to experiment with it's dosas - Cheese Dosa, Spring Dosa, Paneer Dosa and many other cousins which I don't quite recall right now. I have fond memories of the Cheese Paper Dosa: Cheesy, Crispy, Oily Dosa. Needless to mention, if you are counting your calories avoid this dish. If you're in the mood for a snack or getting bored while waiting for your main dish, then have a Masala Pav (Rs. 25). It's buttery pav served with a spicy, tangy masala (Not like a pav bhaji but similar).

They serve a spicy, appropriately fried Gobi Manchurian (If you were in Bangalore in the late 90's (and didn't care much for hygiene), you'd remember the mobile carts which served yummy manchurian, fried rice and the ilk). Otherwise, stay away from the Chinese dishes here. I once ordered a gooey, green noodle concotion which still gives me the jitters.

They have a wide variety in the North Indian section. I recently had the Babycorn Masala and the Kaju Masala, both of which were very very good. They have a variety of breads, most of which are good. If you are in the mood for rice, do try the corn rice here. They have a nice Lunch Thali menu for around Rs. 70 which gives you soup, papad, 2-3 sabzi's, roti, fried rice, curd rice and sweet.

I've saved the best part for the last: the Sizzling Brownie. It's the best Sizzling Brownie I've had in the city and insist that all visiting family and friends try it. Chocolate brownie, cashews, melting vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce poured on top - what's not to like?!! When I first discovered its joys the Sizzling Brownie was priced at a measly 55 Rupees, today it is a whopping Rs. 100. If you feel like treating yourself however, definitely order this.

There are tons of other things to order at NSS which I've never gotten around to trying but most things here are worth a try.

Location: Vijaynagar- Vijaynagar Main Road, on the service road. Next to CCD and the flower market
Malleswaram - Sampige Road, 15th Cross

Price: Not more than Rs. 120 for a meal (and a heavy one, at that)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sacre-Coeur and Champs Elysees: Paris Part I :)

Loads of family and friends seem to be traveling abroad these days. That and the sudden realization that the travel section in my blog is sadly lacking has inspired me to post about my second favourite city in the whole wide world: Paris!

I went there in February last year and while the middle of winter might not be the best time to visit the place, the city still won't disappoint you. Excited and ready to take Paris by storm, it took me just a couple of minutes to be gobsmacked. The one thing about Paris that grabs hold of you and slaps you across the face is how well dressed everyone in this city is (especially if you are a bumbling circular mass desperately trying to fight the cold). Fashionable coats, killer shoes perfectly groomed hair and that's just the men. While New York is a teeming sea of humanity ready to take anyone in, Paris only accepts the impeccably groomed. (Imagine my disappointment when clothes which seemed the height of fashion in Bangalore suddenly felt like they had been picked up from a salvation store. I was just glad that for once I had defied my mother's wishes and left the beloved monkey cap at home. Phew!).

But once you get past this little detail, there is tons that the city has to offer. One of my absolute favourite places in the city is Sacre Coeur (Basilique du Sacre-Couer). An incredible white basilica set on a little hill, surrounded by innumerable lanes filled with beautiful paintings, postcards, trinkets and a whole lot of knick knacks. I recommend that you set aside some time just to browse through these shops and soak in the atmosphere. The church itself is gorgeous and I prefer it to the much visited Notre Dame. You should also visit this place in the night. While the religious and upstanding citizens of Paris attend the midnight mass at church, a motley collection of young people sit on the steps dancing, singing and indulging in questionable activities. We bought the cheapest wine that Paris had to offer and watched them and the pretty lights of Paris twinkling below. It's an incredible experience and if you are not travelling with family, you simply must visit this place at night.

If you feel like a lazy walk then stroll through Champs-Elysees. The buildings are historic, beautiful and well preserved. I can quite imagine kings and queens strategizing, backstabbing and conducting torrid affairs in eras gone by. Trees line the avenue on either side, as do a plethora of ridiculously expensive shops which house some incredibly pretty things. I spent so much time staring at a ring in the Cartier shop that the staff began to give me suspicious and slightly fearful looks. Be prepared to be awed by the huge shops and their bright lights (I often walk in, see the wares and watch as the filthy rich spend unspeakable amounts of money on hideous things that often qualify as high fashion. I watched a well endowed, middle aged woman buy a hideous dress in fluorescent orange in a size that was too sizes too small for her.).

What sets Champs-Elysees apart from Fifth Avenue is the number of adorable cafes along the way. It's quite a pleasure to sit there and watch the world go by. And you never know, you might turn out to be a roadside artisan's muse for the afternoon :) On this avenue, I discovered a chocolatier who serves the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. There are a few cinema places here and if you are lucky you may be able to spot European celebrities attending a move premiere.

At one end of this wonderful avenue is the Arc de Triumphe, a majestic monument that honours those who fought the Napoleonic Wars. The monument distinctly reminds me of India Gate. Climb up and you can see an incredible view of the streets and roads radiating below. It's a gorgeous view and I spent much time awed by it.

Some mundane details: Use the Metro in Paris. All the places are well connected by Metro and it is unlikely that your destination is a few blocks away from the nearest Metro Station. They have an Orange Card which is valid for a week and allows you unlimited travel for 10-12 euros. This is totally worth the money. The metro is fairly simple and prominent maps are displayed at each station. Of course, if like me, you still manage to lose your way (and with alarming regularity, might I add) ask the people around you. Unlike the stereotype, the locals are incredibly helpful and some will go out of their way to ensure you enjoy the city :) The last train runs at two but if you miss it, don't worry they have a night bus service. While the night buses are not as frequent as the Metro, you shouldn't have to wait more than half an hour.

While my time there was incredibly safe, I have heard that robbery is a fairly commona and tourists must at all points be cautious. As you can probably surmise, I have a lot to say about this city and I haven't even skimmed the surface. This is just Part I and I hope to post many more Parts in the days to come. If anyone reading this (yes, those of you who I shamelessly pimp my blog to) are going to Paris before the posts go up and have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fresco's/Rahila's: The Cake Shop

This is the much delayed follow up post to Infinitea and the first F&T post dedicated exclusively to desserts (Now, Fresco's also serves food but I have heard that it's not all that great. Having never eaten a full meal there, I can't say for sure). Technically, the dessert is served by Rahila's: The Cake Shop.

While I reserve judgment on the food, this place definitely dishes up some mouth watering desserts. Their signature dessert is the Twenty Layer Cake. Yes, it does have twenty layers and they alternated between chocolate, sponge, dark chocolate, vanilla and more chocolate. I love the different layers and the varying flavours in each bite. If you are an out and out chocaholic, then the Chocolate Knockout might be right up your alley. It's as big as the Twenty Layer cake but out and out chocolate. I find so much chocolate a little overpowering and have never been able to finish the dessert (Some friends think I'm a little loony for this but to each his own).

Another great dessert to try out here is the B-52. Originally a shot, this has been converted into a mean dessert by the pastry chef. A word of caution some might feel a little floozy after this :) (Yes, I do know someone who got high after having this dessert). The Baked Mousse cake is different and very very good. 'Heaven-Can-Wait' is another signature dessert and has rich layers of chocolate and a little bit of strawberry too. If you want a break from the chocolate, I recommend the Apple Pie. It's not as great as the one at the Only Place but it will do. Their brownie torte is rich, decadent and a complete treat for chocolate lovers. Bhavi recommends the mud pie and the caramel-brownie and Sabu suggests the Tiramisu (I think the one at Pizzeria Romano is much nicer though).
I advise you to stay away from the Chunky-Monkey Sundae (or some such ridiculously named concoction).

My one major grouse with Fresco's is most of their desserts are chocolatey. Don't get me wrong, I worship at the altar of chocolate but a true dessert place must have more than just chocolate. Sometimes, a lot of their desserts end up tasting the same due to the sheer overdose of chocolate. While some might not think that's a bad thing, in my books it is. Even their 'new' desserts are becoming incresingly preditable.

While all that gooey chocolate is worth a visit, you might want to go there just to soak in the ambience. Lovely outdoor seating, pretty rice lights strung at night blend in with the muted, comfortable feel of this place. You may also spot minor celebrities at this place (Now, this may not give as much joy to everyone as it does to me but I thought I'd mention it anyways).

The place is definitely worth a visit but I really wish they would try something different (translation: non-chocolatey) for once.

Location: Hathworks Boulevard, Cunningham Road. Down the road from Infinitea
Price: Desserts range from Rs.90-Rs.135. A meal should cost around Rs.650.