The Gumbo Shop, New Orleans

It's been over two months since I've gotten back from an awesome few days in New Orleans, which is now one my most favourite cities in the world not only for the beautiful music but also for some of the fabulous food and ales I tried while I was there. It's about time I cleared out the backlog and shared some of my experiences of the city before I set off on another international adventure.

Renowned for its Creole and Cajun flavours that are a combination of the best of French, Spanish and African cuisines, I was eager to hit the streets and experience the same. My first stop after arriving in New Orleans was the renowned Gumbo Shop. Established in 1948, the Gumbo Shop claimed to offer some of the best flavours of New Orleans. Well, with over six decades of being in the scene, one would expect nothing less. The Gumbo Shop featured among the top two 'must try' places in almost every list I read. I arrived just a little past noon to find the place packed and had to stand in line for about twenty minutes before I got a table. Seated right opposite a large mural of the iconic Jackson Square from way back in the day, I instantly fell in love with the fairly rustic look of the place.



I started off by ordering a small bowl of Chicken Andouille Gumbo, which arrived sooner than expected. The moment it was placed on the table, I had a look and wasn't too sure about what emotion to process. At the risk of sounding uncouth, the gumbo looked like the New Orleans version of the Indian favourite Raajma-Chaawal (Kidney Beans and rice) with sausages thrown in. While I was disappointed by the appearance, the flavours were something else. The gravy was packed with strong spicy meaty flavours of the andouille, a cajun styled chicken sausage and the chicken broth. The okra seasoning brought some relief with its impactful herbal flavour.  It's a good thing I ordered a small bowl because anything larger would have filled me up.



For the main course, I ordered the Jambalaya, another dish I've heard and read so much about with a side order of Alligator Sausages with a spicy orange marmalade dipping sauce. Yes, you read that correct - Alligator sausages. While the dish looked like any other regular sausage, the flavours of the meat with the spicy-sweet-citrus kick of the dipping sauce made me fall in love with the dish instantly. Alligator meat is a white meat that has a flavour that finds a place somewhere between chicken and fish. High in protein, with the right amount of gaminess, alligator is a staple dish in creole cuisine. The sausages were mildly spice with the cajun flavour and smoked perfectly. What took the sausages from a good dish to a great dish was undoubtedly the spicy orange marmalade dipping sauce. I shamelessly asked for another helping of the dipping sauce to polish off just by itself. The folks at the Gumbo Shop were kind enough not to charge me extra for that.



The Jambalaya, a rice-based dish cooked with smoked sausage, shrimp, and chicken was a bit of a disappointment in terms of appearance and in terms of flavour. Drawing parallels with saambar, the dish reminded me of the saambar-rice that would be packed into lunch boxes during school and would end up being completely dry by the time lunch came around. I did have to throw in the towel halfway through because the dish did nothing for me. I ordered a second plate of Alligator Sausages.


Dessert included a relatively simple Praline Sundae. Two scoops of vanilla ice cream with a lovely caramel sauce, topped with praline and pecan nuts was just what the doctor ordered after a meal packed with the mighty flavours of gumbo and alligator sausages.


While the meal worked out to a little over $40, it was completely worth it. The Gumbo Shop set the stage for all the lovely creole flavours I was going to experience in New Orleans. I returned to the Gumbo Shop three more times during my trip just to have a plate of the Alligator Sausages.

Mikkeller Bangkok... 30 brews and a 12-hour Braised short rib.

Besides food, a new addition to my ‘must-try’ list whenever I’m in a new city is a local microbrewery. On my first day in Bangkok, as a small celebration of my first ever solo backpacking trip in a foreign country, I decided to indulge myself and went over to Mikkeller Bangkok (MB) in the evening. Located in a more fancy part of the city, MB impressed me from the moment I stepped in. The first thing that hits you is the chalk board that showcases thirty varieties of home-brewed beers. Yes! THIRTY! I knew I would be leaving a bit disappointed not having tried all thirty flavours. This is one of the drawbacks of travelling by oneself, no company to try out more food and drink.

30 varieties of beer
After a long day of walking around in the humidity of Bangkok, I ordered the strongest beer that they had on the menu. I started the evening with a glass of the Big Worster BA Chardonnay, a barley beer with wine, strength at 18.3%. While I give the beer full marks for being strong, the taste was a bit confusing as the brew combined the flavour of both beer and Chardonnay. Not the best thing I’ve had, but definitely the strongest. I switched to a more familiar flavour with the Georgen Imp Stout, 12.12%. Now this was something in familiar territory. With a dark cocoa flavour suppressing the previous brew, my evening was back on track. I ordered a plate of Pizza Dip, which was Paprika beef, marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese with some nice crunchy bread on the side. The dish was essentially pizza made into a dip. While the quantity was a bit much for one person, I took my time as I let the flavours of the marinara sauce and the beer play around with my taste buds. It was early evening, and I had a long night ahead of me.

Big Worster BA Chardonnay

Pizza Dip

Georgen Imp Stout

The next beer I tried was the Nuclear Hop Assault DIPA, 8% which was a light Indian pale ale with a very refreshing taste. I ordered a salad which consisted of scallops, fresh watermelon and goat’s cheese dip. I’m not a big fan of salads; but I simply loved this particular dish. Absolutely refreshing in taste, the saltiness of the scallops with the fresh water melon just melted away in my mouth, cleansing it of the taste of the strong marinara sauce from the previous dish. Absolutely elegant in flavour, this simple salad got two thumbs up from me. 

Scallop and Watermelon Salad

While I waited for the main course, I got a little adventurous and sampled the Raspberry Tripleback, 13%. Let me put it this way, a bottle of beer got drunk one night and totally did it with a bottle of Raspberry Jam. Nine months later, the child of that one wild night was what this beer tasted like. I’m delighted that I took only a sampler and not an entire glass. Clearly, as far as experimenting goes, the night was not going my way.

Raspberry Tripleback
The main course….oh, the main course! I’m drooling just thinking about it. My main course was a 12-hour braised short rib with pumpkin done three-ways with lentils. If one ever wants to appreciate the beauty of braised pork, this is the dish to have. Braised to sheer perfection, the pork could be had with a spoon almost as though it were some sort of a dessert. Yet, the juiciness of the meat once you pop it into your mouth was ….. OMFG, I died! Giving it a lovely contrast was the excellent pumpkin done three-ways. Nice salty pork with sweet pumpkin…. This dish is definitely among one of the best I’ve had. I paired that with a Beer Geek Imp Stout,10.9%, which had a lovely coffee bean after taste to it. 

12-hour braised short rib



If I thought the main course was going to be the highlight of the meal, I had no clue what was going to hit me when I ordered dessert. Yes, I ordered dessert. Yes, all that food and beer went into one person. I don’t care if you judge me. I was having a ball. Dessert was a recommendation from the owner – Warm doughnuts. While the name comes across as boring, the dish was the crescendo of the good food at Mikkeller. Filled with a dark beer chocolate that simply oozes out as you bite into it, this dessert had me forget all my table manners. I munched away at the doughnuts allowing the filling to run over my fingers as I shamelessly sucked on them to ensure that not a single drop made its way to the napkin. The sheer joy of having this dessert cannot be captured in words.

Warm Doughnuts


Before I hit the road, I chugged down a final glass of the Arctic Sunstone APA, 6%.

Amen...

Overall, this was a fabulous evening at Mikkeller and I only wish that I had familiar faces to experience all the great food and beer of the place. But not regrets of going there. Mikkeller Bangkok is on the pricier side and those on a budget vacation may want to rethink going here. But if you are going to spend good money on a night on the town, this place would be my first pick. Kudos to the folks for setting up this fabulous watering hole with some fantastic food which set the tone for the rest of my vacation.

Street Food in Bangkok

For those of you who haven’t been following me on other social media channels, I spent 12 glorious days backpacking all by myself through Thailand. And by through I mean that I went to more than one city. Besides being a budget destination, one of my biggest attractions to head to Thailand was obviously the food. I spent the entire four hours of my flight to Bangkok imagining all the delicious street food that I would get to savour and make inappropriate noises of appreciation. The moment, they let me into the country; my sole purpose for the day was to find some Thai street food. I freshened up and went over to the Reclining Buddha temple where I spent a few hours before I stepped out and sampled some of the glorious flavours of authentic Thai food. And by George, I wasn’t disappointed at all.

The Reclining Buddha

Tuk Tuk

I kick started my vacation with a Raw Papaya Salad. Coming from India, one tends to be a tad arrogant when it comes to one’s ability to handle spicy food. But I was quickly brought down to earth with the first bite of this salad. The first flavour that hit me was the sweetness of the papaya; I thought to myself that this was going to be a breeze. A couple of seconds in, the spice kicks in….and oh what a kick it was. Parts of my tongue were enjoying the sweet taste while the rest was on fire. And yet, I went back for more. This absolutely contradicting flavours of sweet and spice kept calling me back for more. Pretty soon, I was sweating and had water coming out of my nose, but I still kept gobbling away at that salad. What a way to start off my vacation. I cooled my senses down with a nice cold bottle of fresh pomegranate juice. 

Raw Papaya Salad

Fresh Pomegranate Juice

Next up was the grilled chicken which was cooked really tender. Fresh off the grill, the chicken was as soft as a lightly toasted marshmallow and wasn’t spicy at all. Just meat with the natural flavours of coal made this a super addition to the meal. 

Grilled Chicken

Grilled Chicken
I still needed some time to allow my taste buds to regain their sense of flavour, so I walked about for a bit before I came across this stall selling fresh crunchy banana spring rolls. While the spring rolls themselves were sweet, the chilli-honey—garlic sauce that accompanied it was the kicker. Lovely contradicting natural flavours hit all the right spots. 

Banana Spring Rolls
Lunch was the very famous Pad Thai noodles at an adjacent stall. To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the flavour. I’ve had more impactful and aromatic Pad Thai back in India and this one was quite bland. Missing a lot of the spiciness, the only flavours that came through were that of the vinegar, palm sugar and the peanuts.  It could be thanks to a large group of Spaniards at my table who asked for no spice in their Pad Thai, and I got served from the same batch. But it wasn’t the end of the world. I was in Thailand where Pad Thai stalls can be found at almost every corner.

Shrimp Pad Thai

Shrimp Pad Thai
My vacation was off to the kind of start I expected it to be with regard to food. There’re a lot more blog posts coming up over the next few days.

Food Mood: Chilis, Phoenix Market City Bengaluru

I’m normally a very forgiving person in my reviews, but the latest visit to Chilis at the Phoenix Market City mall in Bengaluru left me quite miffed. The quality of service was extremely disappointing. Since the indoor seating at the restaurant was full, we were given a table outside. While I can’t hold that against them, I was annoyed that it took nearly 15 minutes for them to get us the menu and water....and another 15 minutes to give us attention so that we could place our order. While the place was full, there did seem to be a decent ratio of waiters to tables. 

We did inform the waiter that we would like a table inside once one was available. However, people seemed to be leaving the restaurant and newer customers seemed to be getting tables ahead of us. I ultimately ran out of patience and had to intervene to get a table in the inside. More annoyance.


Since we had already placed the order, the starters arrived almost instantly to our table. We ordered a Triple Decker which comes with a helping of Fried Chicken, Chicken Wings and Southwest veg Rolls. The Fried Chicken was done very well and left us craving more. The Southwest veg Rolls were alright. What did stand out was the assortment of dips they gave us. We savored almost every dish during the entire lunch with those dips. 

Southwest veg Rolls

Watermelon Mojito
After having to grab the attention of a waiter and have him take another 15 minutes before he paid us any, we ordered a plate of nachos. The nachos were quite soft and the cheese seemed stale. No amount of sour cream or dip made me enjoy the nachos. My guess is that the same might have been prepared much earlier, but forgotten on the kitchen counter for quite some time, resulting in the cheese drying up and the chips losing their crispiness.

Veg Nachos

While my friends ordered the Fried Chicken Tacos, I ordered the Old Timer Burger. The burger was the saving grace of the meal. The fries accompanying it were perfect and the meat patty was cooked to perfection. The cheese had the right consistency making the burger absolutely delicious.

Crispy Chicken Tacos
The Old Timer
We hadn't the heart to order desserts considering the quality of service we were given. Overall, it was a terrible experience in terms of slow service and cold food. I hope this is a one-off affair because I've really enjoyed my meals at Chilis ....until now.

Food Mood: Punjabi by Nature

I made my first visit to Punjabi by Nature last weekend and was quite impressed with the food. The restaurant is very well spread out and has seating arrangements both inside and outside. Despite being located near the fairly busy Diary Circle road, very little noise travels into the restaurant.

 The troupe and I arrived there a little after 1:30 in the afternoon and considering Bangalore was having a good weather day, we decided to sit outside. A major annoyance as we took our seats was the fact that the outside area was infested with flies. Those pesky little creatures have the ability to destroy even the best dining experience.

 In under a few minutes, we had to request to be moved indoors as we couldn’t take it anymore. While there were no flies inside, we were witness to leaky air conditioning at a lot of points, forcing the staff to keep empty ice buckets to collect them. The beautiful interiors were reduced to shame thanks to poor architecture.
Luckily, those were the only two sore spots of the afternoon and we quickly forgot about it once our food arrived. The waiters were extremely courteous; they knew the menu card and made some very good suggestions on what we could eat. Punjabi by Nature also has its own microbrewery. We stuck to beer all afternoon as the taste was quite good. The mead and the ale especially stood out.

Beer
We started with the Kastoori kabab and the Dahi ke kabab. The Kastoori kabab was a nice spicy chicken kabab that complimented the beer real well. It came with a small helping of a tangy carrot salad which really accentuated the taste. Coming covered in a layer of egg whites, the kabab was grilled almost perfectly and left a nice spicy taste in your mouth. 

Kastoori Kabab
The high point was the Dahi ke Kabab, which as the name explains is a vegetarian kabab made out of curd. The cool taste of curd occupies your taste buds just as you bite into the mildly spicy exterior. Apparently, available in the northern parts of India, this was my first exposure to the dish and I simply loved it - a must-have at Punjabi by Nature.

Dahi ke Kabab
Before we hit the main course, I felt adventurous and tried the Golgappa Shots. These golgappas are your traditional ones, but have vodka mixed in with the jal-jeera water. While I had only two of them, the combination of spice and liquor hit me almost instantaneously. This is one for the more adventurous folks who visit.

Golgappa Shots
Our main course was fairly simple which consisted of a Paalak Paneer, Daal Makhani and a plate of Chicken Sheekh Kababs. The true nature of Punjab is summed up in this meal. The entire meal was delicious and extremely heavy on the tummy. The daal was well cooked and the chef was not frugal with the makhan at all. While some found the Paalak Paneer to be spicy, I rather enjoyed the taste. The Sheekh Kababs were very tender and heavy at the same time. We had these along with some Indian bread which were quite large in size. Pretty soon, most of us were overcome by the richness of the meal and had to considerably slow down our pace. (That might have been just me) The servings of food here were quite good and even had enough left for me to parcel and take home.

Daal Makhani

Chicken Sheekh Kaba

The lunch ended with a simple yet heavy and delicious Hot Chocolate Fudge. Besides the traditional vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce, the sundae also had chocolate brownie and roasted nuts to add flavour.  I’d definitely recommend this. I suggest sharing it with another person thanks to the size of the sundae. 

Hot Chocolate Fudge
Overall, besides the flies and the man-made interior waterfalls, the food and experience at Punjabi by Nature was excellent. The waiters were courteous and never made us hurry through. It’s a great place to catch up with friends over some beers and kababs. Located near the Bak Bak Bar, opposite the Forum Mall, Punjabi by Nature is a pricey establishment. A typical meal for two would come up to at least Rs.3000. The servings are good and the food is rich, so I suggest you had better skip the previous meal before heading to Punjabi by Nature. 

Food Mood: Boca Grande

I’m a regular patron at Boca Grande and thought it’s about time I do quick review of the place. Located opposite the Police Station in Koramangala, Boca Grande is a laid back eatery offering a continental spread. It’s mostly filled with people just looking to catch up on coffee, a few snacks and cigarettes and generally laze around. I've spent many an evening just playing scrabble and not being pestered to order more than my cup of Hot Chocolate and fries. 

This evening began with a Chicken Macaroni Blossom Salad in a 1000 Island Dressing. The salad contains macaroni with diced chicken, duet zucchini herbed tricolour capsicum & broccoli. I rather enjoy the dressing and have had only that with whichever salad I've chosen. The 1000 Island has more lettuce than I’m comfortable with. It’s high time I move on to a different dressing.

Chicken Macaroni Blossom Salad
We also had a side order of Chilli Cheese Toast. I do recommend this fattening delight should you visit.

Chilli Cheese Toast
The main course for me was the Lamb Geschnetzells which is basically slices of lamb grilled with mushroom & du jour vegetables on a bed of rosti potato. The lamb was well-done and went really well with the sauce. However, having frequented the joint very often, I find that their steaks tend to taste very similar in nature. I had the chicken Pepper steak the last time I was here and it tasted very similar to the lamb.

Lamb Geschnetzells
Dinner concluded with a slice of Chocolate Mousse which was really good - Nothing like a nice cold mousse on a hot Indian summer day. This was by no means the best mousse I’ve had, but it was yummy nonetheless and was the best part of my meal.

Chocolate Mousse
The service at Boca is on the slower side, so if you’re in a rush, I wouldn't recommend the place. It has a nice ambiance to watch a game of football, catch up with friends over snacks and tea. There is no alcohol served which is a good thing because it doesn't attract the typical noisy drinking crowd. Do try it out. I hear their Sunday brunch is quite exquisite; I've not tried it myself yet though.

A typical meal for two would cost you about Rs.1000 which is nominal considering the spiraling cost of eating out.

Food Mood – Benjarong

On Sunday evening, a couple of friends and I decided to get adventurous and try some Thai food. The one place synonymous with good Thai cuisine in Bangalore is Benjarong. 

To quench our thirst, we ordered the Tangy Watermelon (basically watermelon juice with a slight citrus twist to it) and a Summer Cooler. The Summer Cooler was a lovely drink made of tender coconut water, but more intriguing was the presentation which was worthy of any A-star beach resort. Do give this a try.

Summer Cooler

Tangy Watermelon
While we waited for our starter to arrive, we were presented with an appetizer of Miang Kum. This is a traditional Thai snack which involves wrapping various ingredients (ginger,peanut, red chili,onion and more in a sweet sauce) in a leaf. Almost like the Indian Paan, Miang Kum was a wonderful appetizer that left us craving more. The only reason we probably stopped was because we didn't want to stuff ourselves.

Miang Kum
The starter we order was Gai Hor Baitaey – a signature dish of Benjarong which made by wrapping marinated chicken in Pandanus leaves. The outer layer has a nice herbal taste of the leaves while the inside has a nice tender chicken. While the chicken was simply brilliant all by itself, it was made much better by the honey based dip that was served along with it. I definitely recommend this to anyone heading to Benjarong.

Gai Hor Baitaey
We had 3 dishes in the main course. The first was Phad Keemao Woonsen, which was glass noodles mixed with scrambled eggs, bok choy and soya sauce. I don’t recollect trying glass noodles before; I wasn't particularly thrilled with the texture. I don’t believe I would try this again.

Phad Keemao Woonsen
The second dish in the main course was Khao Phad Bai Graprou. This was spicy fried rice topped with hot basil and wrapped in a really thin layer of egg. The rice was quintessentially Thai with spice hitting all the right places. This is probably the type of rice that could go with almost any Thai gravy.

Khao Phad Bai Graprou
No Thai meal is complete without a red sauce curry. The final dish was Phad Prik Khing Chicken. It was a superb spicy red gravy chicken that supplemented the rice very well and even made up for the lack of enthusiasm I had with the glass noodles.

Phad Prik Khing Chicken
We were too full to eat any more, but no respectable meal is complete without dessert. We chose to share a single serving of Sankhaya Fakthong which was coconut pumpkin custard topped with a scoop of coconut ice cream. Sadly, the dessert was a bit of a letdown for the evening. I wouldn't recommend you try it.

Sankhaya Fakthong
Benjarong is a nice place for the occasional Thai outing. The reason I say occasional is that the price is on the higher side for me, but I guess that’s the cost of a genuine Thai meal. The highlights of the evening were the Gai Hor Baitaey starter and the Miang Kum appetizer. A shout out to the waiters who were very knowledgeable about all the dishes; and waited patiently to serve us while I took pictures of the food.

Food Mood – Italian Food Festival at Bene (Sheraton, B’lore)

I must say that I was overjoyed to receive a call from the folks at Sheraton to be a part of their Italian Food festival at 'Bene'. Our culinary wizard for the evening was Chef Paride Noviello who flew in from the Sheraton in Bangkok. The evening started out with an assortment of Amuse-bouche.

The first was a Modern Bruschetta with burrata cheese, anchovies, basil sauce and a peeled cherry tomato. What stood out was the peeled tomato which gave it a fresh flavour quite contrary to what I was expecting considering I’m not a fan of tomatoes. The chef explained that it is normally the skin of the tomato that puts off a lot of people.


Our second entry for the evening was a concoction of tomato (peeled of course), roasted onions, shaved artichoke and bocconcini mozzarella cheese. I don’t particularly like artichokes, so despite the colourful presentation, I wasn't moved. Blame it on the artichoke.


The best entry in this category for the evening was a slow cooked beetroot with orange pulp, walnut and goat cheese. The beetroot was cooked to perfection and lost none of its flavour – something that happens very often while using beetroot. The sweet taste of beetroot along with the contradicting taste of goat cheese was a delight. The taste lingers on for hours. I do wish I captured a better picture for this beauty.


The marinated pachino tomato with buffalo mozzarella, beetroot pesto and olive was an interesting combination. It was unfortunately dominated by the taste of buffalo mozzarella.


The final entry was an assorted mushroom salad with shaved polenta and scamorza cheese. The shaved polenta was a very pleasant addition and something new that I had not tasted before. The mushrooms were very fresh and worked really well.


We moved on to Chef Paride Noviello’s signature soup for the evening. The soup was a “Tuscan” artichoke soup with 24 month aged parmesan. The thought of artichoke had me slightly disappointed, but the end product was sheer genius. I could have this soup every day.


The soup was a fabulous concoction of bay leaf, artichoke, leek, mushroom, fresh white butter and celery (which gave off a fresh mouth watering aroma while cooking). The touch of vermouth (yes, the same one in Martini’s), white French wine and the most minimum amount of salt gave a zing to the soup. Once the soup was ready, it was topped off with parmesan cheese made into a whipped cream and basil. As the chef mentioned, traditionally, he would use nitrogen to make the topping absolutely ice cold giving a lovely contrast to the soup. When it came down to taste, the soup was sheer brilliance. I loved the slight kick it gives at the end while it heads down your throat...definitely a master piece!!!


FYI - Chef Paride Noviello's father was a chemist, so he knows all too well about blending different elements together. This soup was a perfect example of that.


After the soup, we moved on to the Risotto with tropea Onions and apple sauce. If ever there was a disappointing note played that evening, it was probably the apple sauce in the risotto. Call me uncouth, but apple sauce will always be something I associate with baby food. Barring that anomaly, the risotto was alright.


The main course consisted of a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian dish. The vegetarian dish was a Thousand foil carasau Sardinian bread with zucchini, mushrooms and bell peppers. Besides being presented very well, the dish was lovely. As a hard core non-vegetarian, I actually enjoyed this dish more than I did the non-veg one. That’s saying something. My sentiments were echoed by the others at the table too. Kudos to the chef. It’s not very easy to make me love a vegetarian dish over a non vegetarian dish.


I chose the tender chicken breast with olives, roasted bell peppers and soft polenta. The high point of this dish was the tenderness of the chicken that made it so easy to cut through and eat. The olives and bell peppers gave a very familiar taste something that one is very used to when it comes to Italians main courses. If I hadn’t had the vegetarian dish, I would have given this a favourable rating. But alas, in comparison, the chicken left a a little bit more to be desired.


The crowning glory of the entire evening was the Fisherman fresh panna cotta with chocolate espuma. The combination of cold mint and chocolate was divine. It was the perfect closing to a great meal. Words cannot do justice to describe the awesomeness of that dessert. 


Chef Paride Noviello was a joy to listen to as he spoke about the various combinations of food. It was almost like being in a ‘Breaking Bad’ episode of cooking Italian cuisine. Overall, it was a fabulous evening. It’s the next morning that I’m writing this blog and I cannot get the taste of the Artichoke soup (Chef Paride Noviello signature soup) and the dessert out of my head. The food festival is on till the 24th of the month.

Highlight of the evening -  The “Tuscan” artichoke soup with 24 month aged parmesan. and the Fisherman fresh panna cotta with chocolate espuma.