Friday, February 12, 2010

Wine Paired Dinner by Food Lovers Club at Toscano, UB City


Bangalore has come a long way. Although arts and culture, particularly restaurants and food have always been a big part of the city, now more than ever it can be said that Bangaloreans are conscientious citizens with increasingly developed palates backed by a pro-active stance. Heading up this local phenomenon is Kripal Amana, editor and founder of Food Lovers magazine, the first and only initiative of its genre in the city.

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We have to thank him and his team for giving the city its own food magazine that serves as a guide with reviews, updates, notifications of new restaurants, international food buzz and trends. All in all the man and his magazine are slowly taking gastronomy from the realm of a hobby, regarded as a mere component of entertainment to a more serious interest in its own right, deserving its own niche category.

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2009 was witness to the launch of the Food Lovers Club and a series of wine paired dinners hosted at various venues across the city. Unfortunately since I have been pursuing my Masters in Australia I missed out on all but the last two that spilled over into 2010.

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The second last wine paired dinner was held by the picturesque poolside of The Taj West End’s restaurant Masala Klub mid-January, where at the time I was working, doing a three week traineeship. While I did not sit down to indulge in the wine paired dinner that evening I felt privileged to have been part of the kitchen team however, privy to all the hard work and effort that went into making the fabulous five course wine paired meal a smashing success.

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Toscano held the finale wine paired dinner in the first week of February. I have to confess my personal trepidation owing to a dreary meal eaten at Toscano a week into is initial launch. However, my belief is restaurants have bad nights and thus cannot be judged by a one off bad experience. Along with my two best friends I attended the evening with renewed expectations, needless to say a surmounted sense of anticipation and gusto since it was obviously being supported and endorsed by the Food Lovers Club.

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Our advance booking and confirmation documentation clearly intimated things would kick-start at 7.30 pm, with repeated bold warnings that late comers would not be entertained with regard to courses missed. There was more than ample time to mingle with other guests over a glass of Bouvet sparkling rose and enjoy an array of canapés. On offer were a couple of classic crowd pleasers: smoked salmon roulade stuffed with cream cheese upon a smidgen of apple puree – my favourite of all; a sublime chicken liver pate that was tainted by a rather stale pistachio garnish; a rather dry Emmentaler wedge complimented by two melon balls (rather obscene presentation) and mint on a sunflower seed toast; and a stack of grilled zucchini and eggplant on a cinnamon cookie – a strange combination that didn’t work.




There was an alarming delay in proceedings – the canapés seem to circulate for at least an hour without an sign of refills of sparkling wine offered which I thought to be rather shoddy, especially considering the evening was a celebration of wine and food!

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I literally had to hunt down the source and have the bartender pour me a second round, following several failed attempts to try to get various wait-staff to bring me a fresh glass.

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The evening moved forward but not without one too many self congratulatory long winded speeches applauding the success of the series of wine paired dinners and the Food Lovers partnership with, (dare I mention over used word of the evening, yes, almost ten times and counting) the self proclaimed ‘protagonists’ – Heemanshu Ashar and Abhay Kewadkar of United Vintners, UB group.

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For an evening such as this, where tickets have been paid for rather than it being a sponsored event I thought it rather uncalled for and presumptuous that the organisers hold the crowd’s ears and patience ransom with their endless words. Without exaggeration it was visible how edgy my table along with those around me began to get when what we expected to be a brief summary/ introduction turned into a torturous endless exchange of praise, so much so that at every interval during the course of the evening when someone approached the mike, you could feel the table sink back into their seats as everyone held their breathes hoping this time it would be short and sweet.



Finally beginning our dinner, we were served as an amuse bouche a single spear of sautéed asparagus with a smear of smoked red bell pepper puree, a lone mandarin segment – the most divine element on the plate thanks to its perfumed smoky aroma and flavour. All the while no glass no glass, no wine, no ray of hope in sight!

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Although we were situated right in the centre of the room, ironically our food was always served to our table last. In fact, my friend Swetha and I in particular were the last guests in the restaurant to receive our meals, every single time!



For the entree I opted the Magu tuna encrusted with pistachios and crushed black pepper that was far too overcooked, resulting in a the crumbed exterior yielding a dried out flaky fillet of fish.




Swetha being goat cheese crazed choose the salad that claimed to have incorporated a ripened version of the cheese along with oregano roasted Californian plums, watercress and truffle scented toasts with hazelnut and cider. Ahem, ahem ... unfortunately I seemed to have missed out on the experience of several adjectives and ingredients completely – especially the bit about ripened goats cheese – what I encountered in the salad was creamy yet flat, missing the sharp, zing expected from the description.

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With the entree we enjoyed a glass of Ra Nui Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand that made for easy drinking along with the salad especially thanks to the touch of herby notes on the nose and essence of cut grass.




For the fish course it was a grilled rock lobster tail sourced from Cochin, cooked in a parsley butter sauce and served with vegetables tossed in butter and flavoured with fennel. When seafood is this fresh it is best not to muck around to much – and clearly the chef respected the produce allowing the freshness to come through fully. Undoubtedly it was the best course of the meal and the saving grace. To pair a South African Chardonnay, Montestelle paired nicely crisp and dry with a subtle mineral finish.



To clear the palate an orange sorbet was offered – and this was perhaps the most appalling blunder of all – far too artificially flavoured, reminiscent of popsicles bought from the ice-lolly vendor from my childhood days.



The main course proved to be the penultimate disaster. Now, you may be reading this thinking – whoa, harsh words and questioning the degree of my plight. Trust you me, it was a terrible misfortune to have ordered that duck. I spent a good five to eight minutes trying to gnaw my way into the tough exterior of the duck skin, the duck flesh, anything I could get at, and at that, any which way. I wanted in bad, but nothing seemed to be working. By this stage I felt cheated – my duck went into the kitchen mal-aligned in terms of plate presentation from me wielding my knife, but barely touched apart from a bite or two for it was truly impossible. Fortunately my friends had been luckier with their cuts of meat. It seems apart from unlucky me there was all but one other guest co-starring n same horror flick, ready to go berserk but missing was her hacksaw!

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With my awful luck with my duck I can hardly comment on the suitability of the wine pairing. I slurped all of my Chapters 10 Shiraz down, another South African pick, and given the circumstances I made the most of every sip.



The vegetarian main course option sounded interesting and so the three of us requested to have one to shares, curious about the taste. It was a saffron risotto shaped into a patty with a crisp outer shell like a hash brown, accompanied by a rather refreshing chive crepe with a tomato salsa.


Two more courses to go and hope continued to dwell within me. Out the cheese platter came. It was definitely the highlight of my evening, until sampling the Comte seemed to aggravate my upper palate with an awful scratching sensation. Strange since no food has ever had this effect on me. The aged Gruyere being a hard cheese was way too crusty, with an impenetrable interior thus left almost untouched by our table’s diners. The Reblochon was a hit, the delicate skin yielding a creamy centre with a slight pungency – delicious. The pairing with a local Shiraz by Four Seasons at seemed strange to me at first, but I thought well it’s probably some fantastic pairing that I can’t wrap my head around without tasting. A few sips later... and nothing. The illogical pairing continues to baffle me.



The chocolate dessert was a horrible letdown. And me, being averse to chocolate allowed my choco-phile best friend to do the tasting and take her feedback. Her blunt comment “this could have easily come from sweet chariot”, to add insult to injury, the plating left much to be desired. Bouvet Rubis, a sparkling red however made my evening and temporarily put a big smile back on my face.

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To end on a high note – the macchiato, while served up in a cappuccino mug was enormous, but the grounds used produced the best coffee I have had in a long time. I later found out that Anand Basappa, owner of Dodmane Coffee, Coorg supplies them the beans and is responsible for the robust cuppa Toscano serves up.

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Pros: Kudos to Kripal Amana, his team as well as the associates namely UB for taking a leap forward where the local food and wine community is concerned, coming together with this awesome concept.

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Cons: I am the biggest food porn fan and a huge sucker for flowery language used to create evocative imagery and connotations where elaborately worded menus aim at seducing customers are concerned. However, there is nothing I detest more than false advertising. Literally and figuratively speaking nothing can be worse than having the steam from your soufflé collapse before it gets to your table, if you know what I mean. The only thing possibly worse is that the soufflé was too thick and never rose in the first place – which seems to be the case of the paired meal at Toscano. Disappointment after disappointment where talking up every course was concerned is something that Toscano’s wine paired dinner seemed to do a consistently good job of unfortunately.

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Between the lines: Perhaps an overly ambitious menu given the capacity and capability of the restaurant as well as the availability of quality produce. Why insist on duck if its ‘C’ grade rather than go with a safer option that is usually of superior quality such as lamb shanks. In addition a personal suggestion would be to opt for a cooking method that suits the restaurant i.e the Italian-French euro take and pay attention to the nature of the meat available locally. Perhaps a slow, rich braise for example would have done better and posed little or no risk.


1 comment:

Shantanu said...

Ouch. That didn't go too well, did it? But have to agree, with a more cosmopolitan crowd now living in Bangalore, there have never been more food options.