Friday, August 31, 2007

Frida's in Beverly Hills

We went to San Diego and LA for our first wedding anniversary in 2006. Abhijit and I drove out to LA, and decided to try this place after reading a rave review in a guide book. It has a wonderful location - right in the heart of snazzy Beverly Hills, and people-watching in this fashionable area is a treat if you manage to get a window-facing table. Parking was relatively easy to find - there is a public parking lot practically next to the restaurant, which is free for the first hour, then a dollar per additional hour. A bargain!

Even though it was a Friday afternoon, we didn't need a reservation. But the place was becoming progressively busier with time. Now for the food. The menu is a far cry from your average mexican fare of burritos and enchiladas. Think more exotic and authentic instead. We had a wonderful starter of shrimp tacos smeared in a tangy orange sauce, and my entree of sesame-encrusted chicken with Chilean chocolate sauce was simply divine. Service was snappy and courteous, and the portions very generous. If you're after more authentic mexican cuisine in smart surroundings and the chance of a celebrity sighting, then this is a must. Our total bill, including superb margaritas, came to approximately $70. Well worth every cent.

Frida: 236 S Beverly Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Proms 2007 - London

The Proms is a series of classical concerts which take place at The Royal Albert Hall or RAH as I will call it from now on, during the summer in London. I was first introduced to it while watching BBC 1 in 1992, the year we moved back to England. I remember being completely transfixed by the music and the formality of the event. Little did I know then that in a few years time, I would be living down the road from the RAH, and would also there for two of my own graduation ceremonies at this absolutely regal venue.
Coming back to the music, my parents owned several LPs of western classical music, one of which was Andre Previn's conduction of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. As I child growing up in Kolkata, one of my passions after getting the homework done, was to plug in the headphones into my Dad's Sony Music system, and listen to music from far way - be it pop, rock or classical.

The Proms is always telecast live on TV from London. Covering a wide repertoire of music and showcasing well-known as well as new artists, this is really a treat for all classical music fans.
However, somehow, I never actually got to go see the Proms, even as a Chelsea resident. I suppose it was because school was out and I was away from London most summers, or because I thought that I could go the next year. As a London resident, I never made it to the RAH and the Proms. Not until July 2007. As a tourist.

It was totally spontaneous. Abhijit and I were lazing in Richmond, South London, and I had heard of these 5 pound tickets (standing room) for the Proms. We traveled to South Kensington, walked to the RAH, and got the tickets. It was a weekday so there were no lines. For five pounds, you may not have plush seats, but you have a choice of standing right at the front in front of the orchestra, or right at the top at the gallery. We chose the latter because we could see all of the hall in its splendor, and one could sit or even lie down and snooze to the strains of the music. It was wonderful. Check out the video clip coming later, capturing the last few bars of Sibelius' Tapiola. You can find details at this website.

Chicken heaven in London

Everyone who isn't from London is always complaining about how bad or expensive the food is blah blah blah. But if you know who to ask and where to look, nothing could be further from the truth.

Nando's is a chain, but a pretty good one. Food is good and inexpensive. They are all over the city and country; just check out the website below. Chicken is grilled in lime & herb, hot, or extra hot sauces, whatever takes your fancy. Peri Peri chips, spicy rice or corn on the cob are just some of the sides that come with it. You can choose from a range of different portions: 1/ 4 chicken, 1/2 chicken, full chicken, salads, burgers etc. At this point you're probably thinking , "what is she rambling on about? Sounds like Steak n Shake to me." Well, trust me, it is not your average fast food eatery. It's all about the marinade here. As far as I am concerned, Nando's have perfected the art of commercially available spicy multi-toned marinade. It is simply delicious and healthy too. Add to that the inevitable cheery environment, Portuguese music in the background, and delicious drink and dessert (love the rum and raisin ice cream, and the sangria, of course) menu, and you have a winner.

I had my first Nando's in 1999, and they are still opening up all over the United Kingdom. Abhijit and I had our first meal together at a Nando's in London, when we first met. It was love and chicken at first sight! I was mortified when I found out that there were no restaurants here in the US. Finding the sauces in the local supermarket was hardly any consolation. I got to the point of desperation of mailing their PR department about any restaurants opening here, and was told that one was due to open in the DC area in November. I wait with bated breath (and appetite). No better reason to use those air miles....

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On the 95th floor....

Abhijit took me to the Signature Room for dinner on my birthday last year. Rarely has an evening been so well spent. They do the most sublime green apple martini ever concocted, and I have had a few of them before, believe me. We had Lobster bisque for starters, and it was simply a creamy dream in a bowl. Abhijit had got us a table near the window, and you can imagine how stunning the views from the 95th floor must have been. Chicago looked absolutely glorious. Expensive, but totally worth the food, the views, and the romance it creates. Great for big groups too.

The Signature Room is located in the John Hancock building:

Superb Iranian food in Central London

My first choice is Bosphorous Kebab on Old Brompton Road, a short walk from South Kensington tube station. Again, a staple favorite of all IC (Imperial College) students, especially after a wild night out, their kebabs are juicy, spicy, wholesome and filling.

Bosphorous Kebab: 59 Old Bromptom Raod, London, SW7 3JS

Patogh's was a place I found in the 'Time Out London' magazine a good few years ago, and I've recommended it to everyone since. It is tiny, shabby and nondescript from the outside. The food, however, will blow you away. This is fine Iranian cuisine. I remember the taste of succulent lamb kebabs on a bed of fragrant Iranian rice laced with saffron as if it were yesterday. The highlight is the amazing hand made bread that they make for you front of your eyes. It is huge, and I mean huge. And so tasty! You can have a fabulously satisfying meal at a very reasonable price, and in the heart of London. Try it.

Patogh: 8 Crawford Place, London, W1H 5NE

London's pubs

Leaving London without sampling a pint of a local brew or traditional british grub such as 'fish and chips' or 'cumberland sausage and mash' is as insane as visiting Pisa without going to the Leaning Tower or Paris and not doing the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre.

One of my favourites include the Zetland Arms on Old Brompton Road, popular with postgrad students and professors of Imperial College (I am an alumnus). I remember spending many a Friday night there with fellow students. It was especially convenient because home was only 5 minutes away so I had no worries about getting drunk in a strange place and not finding my way back!

A couple of fine pubs I went to recently: Ye Old Mitre and the Cittie of York, both near the Chancery Lane tube station. The former is fascinating in that it is nearly 500 years old! You walk in through a tiny lane and boom! into a one-room establishment with low ceilings and old timberwork. Being in the City and so secluded, it is relatively tourist-free except for the times when the walking tours descend on the place. It is very popular with the local workers, discussing the latest merger or the state of the stock market. The local brews are very good indeed. Because of its meagre size, most punters flow into the surrounding narrow lane. The atmosphere is excellent - it you squint your eyes, you may just be able to visualize the 1500s, the pub awash with highwaymen and smugglers doing shady deals in equally dark corners, drinking pints and laughing raucously.

Being on the main road, the Cittie of York may seem a bit more mainstream, but it is also not on the typical tourist route, and attracts throngs of financial and legal workers from the surroundings. It is deceptively large and also reminiscent of older glory. I love the little booths which give you that much more privacy. Again, nice local brews.

To experience more authentic pubs, try taking a walking tour which takes you on a pub crawl. The London tourist information centre (search online) should have brochures and ideas.

Drink up!

Cittie of York: 22 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6BS Ph: 020 7242 7670
Ye Old Mitre: 1, Ely Court, Ely Place, London, EC1N 6SJ Ph: 020 7405 4751
The Zetland Arms: 2 Bute Street, Kensington, London, SW7 3EX Ph: 020 7589 3813 just 2 mins from South Kensington station.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jin Ju, a Korean pearl in Chicago

5203 N. Clark. 773 334 6377

'Jin ju' means a pearl in Korean. We had never tried Korean food or heard of Jin ju when my hair stylist (who is Korean) recommended this place. Located at Clark and Foster in the trendy neighborhood of Andersonville, we were wowed from the start. I have a thing for moody restaurants and clubs/lounges with their low lighting and ambient music, and Jin Ju fulfilled on both counts. Every table was full, and pretty boy waiters completed the place.

We had no idea what to order. The menu was manageable however, with English explanations for all dishes. We started off with plum wine, which was delicious. It helped us to drink in the atmosphere as well. Looking at the starters, barbecued pork or Daeji Galbi sounded great. It was mouthwateringly good!!! It seemed that it had been marinated in the richest of spices for days and smoked for hours. Hot and sweet exploded on the tongue!!

Pleased with such a success, we felt confident to move on to our entree orders. Dak Bulgogi (spicy marinated chicken) for me and Dak Dori Tang (spicy chicken stew with potatoes) for him. Oh my god!!! Perfection on a plate (or a stone bowl in his case!). Let's start with Abhijit's Dak Dori Tang. Chicken stew sounds mild, but this was the spiciest and most wholesome broth we had tasted in a restaurant. Dark red and inviting, the ginger, jalapenos, red pepper, sesame oil and the vegetables would clear blocked nasal passages in a jiffy! I was in love with my dish too. The chicken seemed exquisitely marinated in sugar, soy sauce, garlic, pepper, to name but a few recognizable ingredients. It had a mean kick to it and was utterly divine. Ummmmmm.

Ginger and green tea ice cream were just the things to calm down our excited taste buds. Wow.

We had no idea that Korean food could be so spicy and exciting. The ambience and the quality of food here has delivered every time we have been since (we have been seven times already), and this is undoubtedly our favorite hotspot in Chicago.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bombay Brasserie, Indian dining in London

Location: Courtfield Close, Courtfield Road (opp Gloucester road tube station), London, SW74UH. Ph: +44(0)207 370 4040

Sandwiched between two premier hotels of the 'Millenium' group, and opposite Gloucester road station, this fine treasure's prime location is just one of 'the good things going for this restaurant. Given the plethora of eateries in this magnificent city, not to mention the 'authentic' Indian joints which are either called 'Raj Tandoori' or 'Raj Mahal', it can be very confusing as to what Indian food actually is, and whether that on offer is any good. The age old adage 'you get what you pay for' does seem to hold true when it comes to excellent Indian food in this city.

Bombay Brasserie is expensive. But it is worth every penny you pay. The environment changes dramatically from the doorstep into the main foyer. You find yourself in a bar furnished in old colonial style. The sights and sounds of the outside are already a distant memory. I recommend that you enjoy the bar before dining, its plush seating and the regal black and white photos of a bygone era.

It is surprisingly big inside, once you step into the dining room. An electronic and automatic piano plays popular tunes softly, as we are led to our table for ten. The service is impeccable.
My husband chose an entree of Goan halibut, which was not hot, but wildly aromatic. Creamy coconut and chillis made this a superb dish. My choice of Prawn Balchao was equally delicious, but hot. If you like your food nice and hot, this is the classic to go for at the Brasserie. Succulent and juicy, I could also taste the undertones of mustard and ginger which were married so successfully with the heat.

The wine list is extensive, and even has a wonderfully crisp Indian sparkling wine by the name of Omar Khayyam. It complemented our choices beautifully.

We spent about three and a half hours enjoying our meal, and never felt rushed. The friday evening had the place buzzing, but attentive waiters always checked in with us periodically. The only criticism I would have is the portion size, which is on the smaller side. However, somehow, the flavorful dishes seemed to distract me from this. Who needs large portions when the food is this exquisite? The bill including service, wine, starters and dessert came to about 60 pounds per person. As I said before, it was worth every penny. Definitely an establishment worth revisiting.

London...and not a tourist in sight!

We arrived at London Kings Cross early afternoon on the 31st July and went straight to Bobby's place in St Johns Wood to refresh ourselves before we unleashed ourselves on the city. What a joy it was to soak in the sounds and sights I was so used to for 11 years. Abhijit and I decided unanimously to head out to one of our favorite hangouts in the city: Richmond. Tucked away in zone 4 on the District line, Richmond is a haven for young city types who want to have the city life but one with a fabulous setting and devoid of tourists, as well as the arty or rich types who want a laid back lifestyle in a city that rarely sleeps. The place to be is the beautiful river-front, just a mile's walk from the train station. Trendy wine bars and traditional pubs line the picturesque bank, where personal boats lie anchored, and the occasional rower passes by. Beautiful flora and old red-brick mansions adorn the other bank. Nothing beats having a large glass of crisp white wine while sitting on one of the many public benches facing the Thames. All the pubs and restaurants offer outdoor seating for punters to enjoy the rare summer sun. And when the saxophone comes out to play, nothing is better. Abhijit and I came here when we first started dating, and fell in love with the place instantly, after with each other of course. We spent a good couple of hours that day sipping wine and enjoying the view, and will continue to cherish this place every time we come to London. Sheer bliss.

Kittichai, a Thai gem in NYC

Location: 60 Thompson St, NYC 10012

As I delved deeper into the recommended restaurant list in the Lonely Planet guide, it became increasingly impossible to find a restaurant which would satisfy my impulse: sharp & sexy ambiance, food to wow, cocktails to enthrall. After all, I was treating my husband and brother, and I wanted it to be super-special. Suddenly, I read the review. This was it! I proceeded to make my reservation for the night.

It was a late summer Friday evening, around 9 pm. Kittichai was as I had envisioned it. A magnificent Thai restaurant and bar, which was something out of 'Sex and the City' with ethereally beautiful people in Gucci floating around, but was at the same time, completely accessible and friendly. Soft romantic lighting and modern jazz set the tone. Populated mainly by well-heeled locals, there were a couple of tourists like ourselves, and the waiters were very warm and welcoming. The bar was lively and my lychee martini was to die for. Abhijit and Bobby took an immediate liking to the place, much to my relief. Their martini and mojito was equally mouthwatering.

We were seated soon enough. Spicy fishcakes with onion chutney, Chilean sea bass, and barramundi (A delicious Australian fish) with chilli -tamarind sauce tantalized the senses. Music and conversation was excellent, and the evening got dreamier with every bite. Or was it with every sip?

Sure, the bill was far from average, but such a dining experience in the heart of Manhattan is one to be cherished for a long long time. It's all about the experience, and the company. I would do it all again, and again. Once I saved up of course :). Go check it out. It's worth every penny.

Monday, August 20, 2007

New York: Alluring busy...

...So we walked towards Wall Street, hungry as hell but content with drinking in the sights and sounds around us. Throngs of tourists crowded around the 911 memorial center, another directed towards the Trinity Church, armed police at every corner, cranes and construction everywhere, suits munching on hot dogs. It was wonderful. We boarded the 'Hop on Hop off tour at Battery Park for the downtown loop. By the way, this is a great way to orientate yourself with NY if you are new to it, and at around $49 for the uptown, downtown, Brooklyn and night tour, it's a steal. The next two hours were spent pleasantly as we let the tour guide do all the work, and watched envious New Yorkers gazing at us tourists, trying to get through rush hour hell......

New York: checking in

We checked into the Embassy Suites downtown. Might be a little on the pricey side, but with a cooked-to-order breakfast and a manager's reception including two complimentary alcoholic drinks every day, we were pretty happy with our choice. Not to mention the cosy suite with a living room and pull out bed, which is ideal if you are traveling in a group. And it's the closest we can get to apartment living in downtown Manhattan till we put our deposit down on that brownstone mansion near the Waldorf Astoria. Jokes aside, I would definitely recommend the hotel to you. It's within walking distance of the subway, and steps away from a serene riverside walk.

Fascinating New York

If I had to pick between living in a mansion with a pool, a maid and a Maserati, and a two bed condo in the upper East Side of New York City, I would choose the condo. Forget a two-bed condo, or even the posh hoods, a studio in Brooklyn would do me just fine. Any real estate in New York City would keep me smiling for the rest of my life. That's how much I love the Big Apple. Well, maybe the Maserati....

We arrived in Manhattan on the 14th June - myself, my husband and my brother. It was a frenetic Thursday afternoon near our hotel in the financial district; bankers on their lunch break opting for a smoke instead, secretaries in Manolo Blahnik rip offs venting about their co-workers, the incessant sound of construction around Ground Zero, and the welcoming whiff of hot dogs from the street vendor trolleys - I loved it all.

We got on a 48 hour hop on-hop off bus even before we checked in. If you're new to the city, this is really the best way to get your bearings. For $49, you get the downtown, uptown, Brooklyn, and even the Night Lights loop for two days. We did the downtown loop amidst rush hour, ubiquitous yellow cabs and yelling people, japanese tourists getting photographed with the Naked Cowboy in Times Square, and an overwhelming police presence in pretty much every block we turn. After about two hours, we decided it was time to check in.

More soon....