Ping’s Cafe Orient, Lodhi Colony – a preview

Skeeter raises a brow when another restaurant starts serving ‘oriental’ slash ‘Pan Asian’ slash yada yada. Let’s begin with the food. Predictably so, it’d be a mix of dimsum, soups, noodles, tasting similar to that served by other establishments and even bearing similar or ‘inspired’ names and we could go on. Ping’s Cafe Orient at Lodhi Colony Market serves Oriental food. But they attempt something different. For one, Ping’s Cafe Orient opened to public in their ‘trial’ phase where the printed menu says ‘sample menu’ and is available for the public to walk in and they seek feedback during the meal (not the best thing to be subjected to) and at the end of it. The menu promises that when they launch, they’d have some Korean dishes and a lot else on offer. And then Ping’s Cafe Orient opted out of the tried and tested ‘Japanese, Thai and Chinese’ route to venture into serving a good mix of food from Japan, Phillipines, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea et al. They have even christened the dishes after famous cities and rivers of these countires. It’s fun identifying them on the menu!

Ambience

The decor is different too! A refreshing break from the regular stuff. Thankfully there are no bulbs with filaments staring at you or bare walls (these are best left as signatures of the restaurants that started the trend). Rather, Ping’s Cafe Orient is a dim lit place which has these cute ‘Pings’ or buttons which switch on coloured bulbs hanging on your table when you want to ‘ping your server’ (the staff gleefully informed us on our arrival of this feature as we walked in). Interestingly enough, Skeeter managed to annoy a cozy couple on her first Ping as the bulb or the Ping light was shared by our tables. Curios are strewn all over but not overdone and that gives Ping’s Cafe Orient a very non-intimidating and comforting feel. Ping’s Cafe Orient utilise the restaurant space better than their predecessors Ploof, but some tables on the ground floor are placed a little too close for comfort (especially those that seat twos). The first floor is a more eclectic space where you walk up and stare at an installation of denims drying on wires, walk past a mini salon to enter the loo. Don’t miss the quirky loo signage! There is an extra long table on the slightly undone terrace which Skeeter could immediately imagine being held by a gang of youngsters having a wild time out!

The Grub & service

The menu is divide into Nibbles, Salads, Ping’s signature salads, Soups, Highway Style Appetisers, Dock side Appetizers, Mains, Ping’s signature dishes, Noodles, Desserts and Cocktails. A bottle of Sriracha on each table assured us that good things will follow. We started with crackers, sambal (the staff did not inform us that it contained fish sauce, thankfully we knew) and a fantastic house made black bean jam that called for repeats.

Skeeter picked Bamboo forest style Edamame Sea Salt (Rs 245) from the Highway Style Appetisers section. These were seasoned with good quality sea salt but were a tad overdone. The Edamame come in a Wok Tossed Chilli flavour too. 

Makati Manila’s Pomelo Salad with roasted Pine Nuts was no less than a rockstar except that it contained peanuts and not pine nuts as promised on the menu. Segments of Pomelo danced their way into Skeeter’s mouth with a refreshing burst of a variety of flavours that came together well, yet held their own. The citrus of the pomelo, the heat from the bird’s eye chilli, the freshness of julienned red and yellow peppers with a dressing that matched it all and finally the crunch of roasted peanuts – all made a very promising salad. 
Cebu style cheese Lumpia rolls with a twist were next. A generous portion of 8 rolls were served with the in-house black bean jam rather than the usual nahm jim. Crunchy rolls oozing with cheese & some veggies with a prominent hint of lemongrass make for an instant lift-me-up appetizer on a weekday. Yum! Service gets slow as we saw many people anxiously awaiting their food when the restaurant was running packed.

Skeeter loves a place that serves good appetisers and could make a meal of those. But she went ahead and ordered the Pho, the vietnamese noodle soup that comes in a vegetarian option at Ping’s Cafe Orient. 
Skeeter just had to try it and she’s glad she did! Pok Choy, broccoli, snow peas, shiitake and oyester mushrooms with some more greens and flat noodles come floating in a fragrant broth and topped with fried garlic and onions, something that’d be so comforting on a damp rainy day or a cold sunless one. Nevertheless, the Pho was hearty and a gigantic portion, that! For dessert, the coconut-jaggery icecream that Skeets tried was nothing exceptional but ended the meal on a pleasant and sweet ‘oriental note’. Will Skeeter go back again? Hell yeah!
Meal for two: Rs 3,000 (including all of the above plus 1 non-veg starter, 1 non-veg main, 1 mocktail)
Address: 13, Main Market, Lodhi Colony, New Delhi
Phone: 9999447977

Chor Bizarre- Pop-up

Kashmiri spread reminds Skeeter of Haak/Haaq that she makes at home, of Rajma that the relatives generously share on their trips back from Jammu, of Kehwa (Kahwa) that she loves brewing at home. Chor Bizarre reminds Skeeter of all these and more. When CP was the hub of all good restaurants and malls hadn’t made a debut, Chor Bizarre at Daryaganj was buzzing with activity, enthralling expats and Indians alike. Skeeter still gets nostalgic about their salad cart set amidst a vintage car. At Chor Bizarre (literally meaning thieves’ market), no cutlery is alike and the decor is a mismatch. Yet, it all comes so beautifully together. There may be restaurants serving better Kashmiri fare, but Chor Bizarre stands tall. It has stood for 25 years to tell its tale and even gone international (they are now in London). As they celebrate 25 years of serving Delhi, a selection of Chor Bizarre signature dishes can be sampled at Drift, Epicentre, Gurgaon where they have appeared in a pop-up format. Chor Bizarre serves dishes from other parts of the country too, but on the day Skeeter was invited they were showcasing Kashmiri fare apart from few starters.

We started with the Kurkuri Makkai and Dahi ke Kebab. Both reiterated that Indian food isn’t all about lots of spices. The Kurkuri Makkai was extra crunchy on the outside and soft inside, making a perfect match. Dahi ke Kebab were subtle and flavourful. Nadru or lotus stem chips coated with a little spice and served with muj chatin that were a showstopper. Muj Chatin is a condiment made with grated radishes tossed in greek yoghurt, chopped green chillies, salt and sprinkled with walnuts. The two make an awesome pair.

Nadru chips with mooli-akhrot chutney
This was followed by a lavish Wazwan (multi-course meal served during Kashmiri weddings) served in a Tarami (an embossed Kashmiri Thali). Of course the non-veg Wazwan is what people make a beeline for, the vegetarian one that Skeeter sampled was equally good. Tamatar Chaaman, Dum Aloo, Khatte Baingan, Nadru Yakhni, Haaq, Rajmah, Mooli Akhrot Ki Chutney & Laal Pyaaz were served on a bed of rice. The highlights for Skeeter were the Dum Aloo pricked a 100 times, deep fried and then, cooked in a spicy gravy. The Rajmah were unputdownable and the Haaq was flavourful with a bite, just the way it should be. 

The meal ended with Shufta and Phirni followed by Kehwa. Phirni is the Kashmiri take on kheer. Kehwa is a warming brew made with green tea leaves, sliced almonds and some spices. It is traditionally brewed in a Samovar. 
Kehwa served from a traditional Samovar

The Shufta is something Skeeter tasted for the first time. Shufta is a dessert made with nuts tossed in a sugary saffron syrup and has a hint of cardamom. It provides much needed heat to the body in the cold climes of Kashmir. Delhi could borrow it too, for its harsh winters or whatever is left of them.


Shufta
At: Drift, Epicentre, Gurgaon from August 16 – September 30, 12noon – 3:00pm / 7:00pm – 11:00pm

Artusi Ristorante: An Italian sojourn

If there’s another country whose citizens are as passionate about their regional food as India Skeeter would vote for Italy. Though Italian visa has not been stamped on Skeeter’s passport yet, Italy remains in top five of the travel bucket list. Till then Skeeter keeps satiated by sampling Italian culinary offerings in Delhi. Let us be frank. Skeeter was a wee bit shy trying out Artusi Ristorante simply because Diva is practically next door. Ritu Dalmia introduced Skeeter to Italian food (as she did to most of you Skeety believes) few years ago and Skeeter has NEVER gone beyond Diva. Not a wink.

An invite to sample food by Artusi kept sitting in the inbox. There were heaps and heaps of praises in the social circles. Skeeter was growing restless and finally gave in to the temptation. Artusi is a quaint restaurant with limited covers and welcoming interiors. It features food from Emilia Romagna region in Italy and is named after Pellegrino Artusi, one of the founders of Italian cuisine, who penned the first Pan-Italian Cookbook. The owners are Gurpinder and Oscar Balcon, a well-travelled couple who globetrotted before settling in India. Oscar tells that a lot of the food featured on the Artusi menu is just like his mother would prepare.

One walks into the restaurant through a bar that has a deli corner too. The bar is designed such that one can overlook passers by on the street through a full sized glass wall while enjoying their drink. Very European. The lighting was a bit harsh but it could in no way dampen the experience.
The first thing that would strike one is the freshness of the ingredients used. The Rape e Noci salad came first. Roasted deep red beets, water cress, crunchy and juicy green apple slices and walnuts dressed in goat cheese, finished with croutons and balsamic made for a pretty plate and pleasing palate. Emilia Romagnia happens to be the place where the first Balsamic vinegar was aged. The region is also famous for its Parmesan cheese and Parma ham.

The Tomino came next. An Italian cheese roundel (a very generous portion that) melted over a bruschetta that was drizzled with fragrant truffle oil. There were sauteed mixed mushrooms (Skeeter’s favourite Enoki too!)for company. It was a dish that relied on the star ingredients than anything else and worked very well for Skeeter. By now Skeets was very full but she had to sample the pasta and so she called for a small portion of Paglia e Fieno Aurora. This handmade white and green angel hair pasta was a treat to the eyes and was set in a pink sauce with shallots, mushrooms, tomatoes and cream. Skeeter cannot even begin to write about the freshness of this one. The pasta was al dente and the sauce beautifully complemented its texture. A must try.

The meal ended with Artusi signature dessert which was what pulled Skeeter to this Ristorante in the first place. The Panna Cotta Fichi e Mandorle. Panna Cotta with caramelized figs and fig sauce in a lush pool of caramel and beautiful almond slivers. As Skeeter writes this post she cannot but help think of when she will get another bite of it. Soon, very soon.

Deep fried delights from Old Delhi

The delayed onset of Delhi winters had Skeety huffing and puffing, till she got a call from a friend who wanted Skeety to take a few friends on an Old Delhi trip. Skeets only likes going to Old Delhi alone, so this was a first of its kind trip. It brought much needed cheer and we were soon walking past Red Fort and entering Old Delhi. Though Skeeter did not have much time to plan this one, but she tried to make the visitors take back with them some happy Delhi food memories.
At the first halt, we had bedmi puri and a spicy aloo sabzi with a tangy, crunchy instant carrot pickle, kachoris at the mouth of Kinari Bazaar. Old marwari delicacies, these. No onions and garlic are used in the preparation of food in marwari/Jain households and yet it is so appealing to the taste buds. We proceeded to have kesar pista milk (we Delhiites call it bottle wala doodh), which is boiled with nuts and saffron and then chilled and poured into the classic old (recycled) bottles. Moving on, we had some fabled “banta” or lemon soda from the very famous Ved Prakash lemon wale. The bottle here again is iconic. Skeets read a story about the banta bottle here and would love to share it with the readers and especially Anita (the mastermind of the trip), Nandini & Ajit, Manisha who were with Skeeter on the trip.

At the onset of winter, most residents of North India begin stocking on their favourite revris and gajjak. These are sesame seed and jaggery brittle preparations (some call them nut bars/energy bars) in various shapes, sizes and flavours that keep you going when the winters unleash their cruelty. They are healthy when had in small quantities per day and well, keep you warm and going. We get ones with peanut too! Some have rose petals thrown in and others have pistachio or cardamom and other spices. You get to choose your flavour but all of them have a distinct taste that keeps your craving another bite. Inside Kinari bazaar, there are two shops that stock gajjak from Meerut. We stopped and bought our share before proceeding to the famous paranthe wali gali. We met Khemchand, the Daulat ki Chat guy on our way and everyone loved it. Manisha who had “seen” it on on of her earlier visits, got to taste it as well! You can read more about it here
Ajit really was in the mood to sample some paranthas and none of the party wanted them, but we stood by him, and helped him polish off his paranthas. He got a little shock when the parantha people told him he cannot order a single parantha. He had to order minimum of two! He observed many a things there, one them being that they “actually use shuddh ghee” in Old Delhi. He was amazed to see large cannisters of shuddh ghee or clarified butter being poured out for use. Here’s some more of his observation in his words, “Lot of the base items (paranthe, bedmi puri etc) by themselves were mild (little seasoning). But when you have them with the accompaniments, they’re heavenly.” He observed this as he got spicy aloo sabji and instant carrot pickle with bedmis. Also, with his deep fried, artery clogging paranthas, he got Aloo matar sabji, pumpkin or kaddu sabji, meethi chutney with slices of banana, khatti chutney, some more instant carrot pickle! His Sunday was definitely made! 
It was our turn now, as Ajit wiped his hands and we went across the road for Natraj Dahi bhalle and some HOT aloo tikkis. Skeeter feels the Natraj Dahi bhalle have lost their old glamour, taste and quality, nevertheless they were soft and appetizing.  The HOT aloo tikkis made Skeeter’s Sunday. 
So while our stomachs were begging for mercy (no more food please), we went to Ballimaran to see the celebrated poet, Ghalib’s haveli. On our way we stopped for some shakarkandi chaat (sweet potatoes tossed with a tangy masala and some lemon). What is a visit to Old Delhi in winters without sampling some of it. Nandini hit childhoood nostalgia on having it and told us how it was a common breakfast treat for her as a child and how we take such delicacies for granted and later, grow up to blog about them. Eh Nandini?! 🙂 On our way back we tried some Tiwari ke laddoo, some kulfi falooda and even packed some assorted savouries and Daulat ki Chaat for unaccompanying family members.
And last but not the least, thank you for what I call my baksheesh 😀

Of jams and post-its


Dear readers,

It has been a marvelous journey on Delhi Foodies’ Zone so far. Skeeter loves the appreciation mails, the queries and feedback that you guys keep sending every now and then. Keep them coming. It is fun to interact with you and this communication gives Skeeter a perspective on what you want to read and what you don’t. Today, Skeeter wants to share with you a really cute and heart-warming post-it that a dear friend sent across. Thank you!

When Skeeter baked

Skeety put this baby in a newly acquired loaf tin and then the oven…it started to rise in a few minutes and rose even more and MORE. She was scared it would explode right there in front of her eyes. But it didn’t. Turned out nice and lemony. A little crunchy on the top. But, heck it was cake! Devoured to the last crumb. The lovely eggless lemon pound cake with a drizzle of cane sugar and some more lemon.

The Dirty Martini

Reading NCERT text books and watching the Mahabharata, (the fancy war gear, shallow water pools that camfoulaged as well-laid carpets, a palace made of Lac to burn people alive) while growing up, I’d often fancy living in the past. What did the Red Fort look like when it was occupied by the its rightful owners. What Mandu (in Madhya Pradesh) was like when the hamam baths (that are now home to bats), were live and functional. This was the India story or some of it. Cut to the US.
Picture Prohibition era, picture Speakeasies. What plagued the past (remember crime peaked during Prohibition) is being celebrated today. Skeeter was delighted to have been invited to one such party that revisited the past. Sabyasachi Gorai or Chef Saby as he is lovingly called along with his team – chef Dhruv Oberoi (who has returned from his stint with Ferran and Albert Adria on one of their projects), Noor Al Sabah (who comes from Dubai to follow her passion-food), Astha Mittal (who loves to work around food), Harish (at the bar) hosted us.

The Dirty Martini at Olive Qutub, which is a Speakeasy-inspired bar recreated blast from the past. Speakeasies used to be illegal bars that thrived in the US in 1920s when there was a national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol. The entry to these bars was through a lesser known path, often a dirty dingy alley and a clandestine entrance which required passwords to let you in. Since there are no dingy alleys at Olive Qutub, we were led through the kitchen and ushered in through a shabby looking door. A welcome drink called The Chai-Wala (Mulled wine in a mitti ka kulhad), warmed us up to the evening. And as the evening rolled South Side (cocktail made from gin, lemon, sugar, mint) was dished out in intricate tea cups, ideally suited to a High Tea. It was served to keep with the Speakeasy theme of The Dirty Martini. Next up was an excellent Cherry Wood smoked Gin tonic served in a wine glass topped with an Amuse Bouche.




Then came the wicked jello martini shots. Real fruit was scooped out and skins were retained to be filled with jellied martinis. Skeeter is a sucker for gorgeous looking food and always has a hard time thinking of destroying (read eating, okay drinking such glam things). Beer came hidden in brown paper bags and a lovely Sangria made Skeety’s evening. 

The vegetarian bites that were served with the drinks included Dive bar croistini (Ratatouille and gruyere), Big boss toast (Goat cheese, chilli jam and berries), the Rum runner (Mushroom burger, manchego) and a lovely Sheeben sandwich which was a Harissa spiced artichoke with feta and apricot chutney. It was Skeety’s favourite from that night. Godfather’s stew was a seven vegetable stew served with country style bread. Vegetables could not get better. 
The evening ended with Nutty Auntie, a sublime baked apple and walnut tart with a dash of maple syrup and The Smoked Cigar which was live Churros served in paper cones (A Spanish deep fried party served with molten chocolate). Interestingly, the first time Skeeter tasted Churros happened to be at Olive itself. It may be a breakfast/snack item in Spain, but ended our night on a toothsome note.


Zomato Restaurant Summit 2013

Last week has been full of good food and sweetness. Amid the hustle bustle, Skeeter sneaked out to attend a fun and enlightening half-day event by Zomato– Zomato Restaurant Summit 2013 at The Leela Kempinski, Gurgaon. 
Zomato’s been anyone’s first stop at putting to rest the ‘where and what to  eat’ question in many states of India. So it is always good to know that they are expanding to London, Sri Lanka and UAE. Would not be fair to comment on UAE, but London and Sri Lanka definitely are great food destinations for Skeeter as all others. If someone can tell Skeety where to find the best bakeries in London or where to get good hoppers, sambol, devilled vegetarian food (okay SL food is that and much more!) in Lanka land, she would be a happy person!

(L to R Mayur, Sanjeev Bikhchandani, Rashmi Uday Singh, Deepinder Goyal, Pankaj Chaddah, unknown, Sameer Kuckreja, Manish Mehrotra, Rocky Singh)
While, the Lanka portal makes searches available only for Colombo, the UK one is better in terms of the number of restaurants covered. Two restaurants covered on Delhi Foodies’ Zone turned up at a click – Spaghetti House and Govinda’s. Skeeter’s other favourites in London – Prezzo, Chennai Dosa,  Tamarind, Pizza Express, Veeraswamy (on the hit list) and many more are on the rolls. Thumbs up to that! Next time Skeety is in London, Skeety definitely knows where to direct the search button.
Moving on to the most interesting part of the event, Rocky & Mayur (Zomato’s brand ambassadors and hosts of Skeeter’s favourite show Highway On My Plate) were there to unveil The Connoisseur’s Guide To Eating Out 2013 (Delhi,NCR). The guide, unlike others, has reviews by commoners who love to eat out and give unbiased opinions. 
Post the launch, Skeeter spoke to Mayur (as he is a vegetarian too), to know his favourite places to eat out in Delhi and the whole of India. Here is the list for Delhi:
Naivedyam, Andhra Bhavan, Indian Accent, Amici (in no particular order of preference).
And Mayur’s favourites in the rest of India are Ummiya Kathiawadi on NH 8 in Gujarat, Kesar ka Dhaba in Amritsar, Mother’s Kitchen in Kerala and Paradise in Guwahati.