Review: Tiger Trail

Our first night on our vacation, we had snacks for dinner on the train. Our first night in Mysore, we had snacks for dinner during the tour. On our second night in Mysore, we had snacks and hotel sandwiches for dinner while waiting for the festivities to begin at Bannimantap Grounds. On our last night in Mysore, we went for fancy dinner at Tiger Trail, specializing in North Indian food.

Tiger Trail is in the hotel right next door to the Southern Star where we stayed, but has an entirely different feel. This heritage hotel was built in the 1920s by the maharaja as a guest house for distinguished British guests. It was built to impress, and we definitely responded appropriately. We also had plenty of time to explore since we weren’t sure what time our reservation was so showed up at 7, knowing that we might not have a table until 7:30. In fact, the restaurant was still being set up at the time, and doesn’t open until 7:30. No problem – there’s a bar right next door where we could have a lovely glass of French burgundy while we waited.

In an ideal world, we would have been seated outside in the gorgeous grounds next to the outdoor kitchen. In the real world, with a sudden ill-timed downpour, we were happy to be inside near the window. We were also all alone in the dining room for at least half an hour. We’ve noticed before that dinner time is later here, but didn’t take that into account when planning.

The waiters were charming and helpful, and clearly wanted to order for us. This seems to be a frequent issue when dining in nicer restaurants, and we’re learning that we have to clearly express our desire to order for ourselves or we end up with enough food for a ravenous family of four. We attempted to order a bottle of montepulciano d’abruzzo which would have been practically our first non-Indian bottle of wine since the move, but they were out of it. Although they suggested Australian alternatives, we opted for ournew standby, Sula cab/shiraz. Our waiter couldn’t resist throwing in one extra starter, which Melissa thoroughly enjoyed: cucumber rounds topped with chopped tomato, grated carrot, peanuts, crispy vermicelli, and a delicious green chutney. Tom enjoyed it, too, but for the cucumber. That was followed by three tandoori grilled types of paneer: one with spicy tomato, one with cream, and one with mint, all served with some roasted peppers and onions. It was all lovely, and we agreed that the tomato one was our favorite. Then came the main course: saag paneer and chana pindi served with garlic naan and paratha (we let the waiter choose our breads). While everything was lovely, it was also clearly spiced for a delicate foreign palate. Not surprising, but we kind of wish we’d said that we enjoy some spice. For dessert, we ordered the payasam, a South Indian name for kheer, or rice pudding. This version was served chilled in a little clay pot and was a perfect end to the meal.

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Overall, we had lovely service and a delicious meal in a beautiful setting, but didn’t leave feeling so loyal that we wouldn’t choose a different place to try next time we’re in town.

Review: Southern Star hotel

The Southern Star hotel is a 4-star hotel in Mysore that had two important things going for it: it is only a 10-minute walk from the train station (which felt important when arriving after 9 pm in a strange city) and it’s very close to the DC Office where we had to pick up our Gold Cards first thing on our first morning. It also had good reviews on tripadvisor with many mentions of both cleanliness and good food – two essentials, as far as we’re concerned.

Our fifth floor room was quite nice, definitely clean, and had a delightfully powerful shower. It also had a comfortable mattress that actually allowed us to sleep in one morning! If you know us, you know what a big deal that is. Of particular note were Kumar and Pooya, the concierges who were there with a smile and a genuine desire to help every single time we popped up in front of their desk. It was a great comfort to feel like we had people to turn to for any questions we might have while exploring this new city. (It was a little disturbing to realize this was true both early in the morning and late at night. At some point we’ll write about the work days people face in this economy.)

Also of note: the breakfast.

Hotel breakfasts included in the price of the room can sometimes be iffy. We would not have been surprised to find dry cereal and boring pastries and fruit as the only offering, in which case we might have sought breakfast elsewhere. As it was, we looked forward to breakfast each of our four mornings there. It was great. Yes, there was dry cereal and boring pastries next to toast and fruit, but there was also a varied array of delicious Indian breakfast foods every day. We had a different sweet pudding each day, different kinds of idli (steamed rice dumplings made plain or with lentils or veggies), different kinds of paratha (wheat flat breads stuffed with onions or cauliflower or potato), dosas (fermented rice and dal flatbreads with tasty things cooked in or on top), sambar (a sort of spicy tomato broth with veggies to put on your idli or other things), vada (delicious little savory lentil donuts), coconut chutney, different preparations of potatoes, and masala omelettes. We could have requested our own masala dosa or visited the made-to-order omelette station, but were so happy with what was in front of us each day that we just didn’t bother. This was all accompanied by sweetened milky tea or coffee – the only thing Tom could have done without, as a fan on unsweetened black coffee.

We hope this is a sign that Indian hotel breakfasts are different from American hotel breakfasts. If other hotels don’t match up, we’ll be back to the Southern Star!

Review: Kamat Lokarchi Pure Veg Garden Restaurant

You know those times where you just kind of stumble upon great food? We did that at the end of our walk down Chamundi Hill. We hadn’t planned to walk so far, so we went and got ourselves a little dehydrated, and we were looking for somewhere to get some water. Google maps had one restaurant relatively close along the way, and seeing as how we were also super hungry, we thought we’d stop in for a bite. It was to be our first truly Indian family restaurant that we hadn’t researched before our experience. We were so glad we did.

We really had three important observations:

1.  The service was fantastic. As with so many places, our servers and a gentleman we took to be a proprietor or manager were crazy eager to please. Unlike so many other places, they also gave us space to talk about what we wanted to order without pressuring us uncomfortably.

2.  Almost all “Indian food” in the States is North Indian food, so that was the food with which we were familiar. We have been so intent on trying new things, we have tended to steer away from the North Indian food. We just wanted something familiar in that moment, so we ordered a North Indian Thali, with familiar dishes such as channa masala, saag paneer, biryani, raita, and some other bits of deliciousness. It was delicious. However, seeing as how everybody else was ordering it, they clearly specialize in traditional South Indian meals like the one we described on Onam, served on banana leaves and with folks circulating with metal pails full of food. Next time we might have to go that direction.

3.  We were reminded of how wonderful it can be to simply take a chance on a place we walk by that might look tasty. We have tried to maximize our deliciousness factor by researching good food before going places. It has yielded great food, mediocre food, and a couple of clunkers. Sometimes, you just have to roll the dice.

 

Birthday Dinner at The Royal Afghan

The Royal Afghan is the poolside restaurant at the ITC Windsor Hotel, a beautiful hotel built to look as though it’s been there for at least a century even though it was actually built in 1982. It opens at 7:30 and we got the earliest possible reservation at 8 pm. A  wp-image-694271644sweet desk clerk walked us through other beautiful restaurants to get to ours where Melissa was greeted by name at the entrance (one benefit of making a reservation). We were led to a table apart from all others, right next to the pool. It was lovely with a nice view of the building and grounds, although the peace was a bit broken by the honking of cars on the other side of the wall.

The waiters were kind and attentive, putting bibs around our necks (for meat-eaters, this wp-image-1741250619is a barbecue place) and bringing an array of wine bottles for us to consider. They actually had Erath on the wine list, which would have been an obvious choice if itwp-image-253249076 hadn’t cost $150. Knowing Erath as well as we do, we also knew just how inflated that was and couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Melissa chose the shiraj sangiovese Vino Della Casa, made by Fratelli, an Indian winery who we think brought in an Italian wine maker. It isn’t necessarily our new favorite, but not bad for Indian wine. They also brought us hand towels and explained that we would be eating with our hands, although they said they could bring silverware if we needed it. We assured them that we would eat the food the way it’s meant to be eaten, which made them happy.

After perusing the menu, we told our waiter what we wanted to eat, and he basically said no. We had neglected to order their signature dish, the Dal Bukhara, a black lentil stew that simmers over charcoal fire for 18 hours, and he was disappointed that we would not be able to taste more things. His solution was to offer half portions of four different

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This is an entirely inadequate photo of an amazing meal.

 dishes in addition to the dal, paneer makhani, and breads.  It was a magnificent, if overly plentiful, meal. Melissa’s favorite was the Tandoori Phool, roasted spiced cauliflower that is breaded, fried, and then finished on the tandoor. It was amazingly delicious with complex, smoky flavors inside and a nice crispy outside. The Tandoori Simla Mirch was unlike anything we’ve had before, a green pepper stuffed with spiced veggies and cashews, then roasted. So good. The Tandoori Aloo was a peeled, hollowed potato, stuffed with cumin-seasoned potato mashed with cashews and raisins, then roasted in the tandoor so the outside became crispy while the inside stayed soft and flavorful. The Subz Seekh Kabob was probably our least favorite, while still being a very tasty blend of minced, rolled veggies, baked in the tandoor. The Dal Bukhara was just as good as our waiter suggested it would be, and the paneer in a flavorful gravy was quite nice.

At dessert time, we were asked whether we would like an Indian dessert or a chocolate dessert. As good as we’re sure the Indian desserts are, Melissa wanted chocolate for her birthday. A woman came out from the chocolate shop with an iPad to show us the chocolate desserts we could choose. They also gave us a quick primer on the growing chocolate industry in India. Apparently, they are still buying the chocolate itself from Brazil, but there are more and more chocolatiers here. There are also some farmers in Kerala experimenting with growing cocoa.  We selected a gorgeous confection of chocolate mousse on a crispy chocolate cookie, coated in dark chocolate ganache.wp-image-1207055169.jpg

It was a perfect birthday dinner.

Dinner at Flechazo

Flechazo means “love at first sight” in Spanish. While the environment is perfectly pleasant, it wasn’t the sight that got us – it was the delicious food and enthusiastic service. The idea of MediterrAsian food lets them effectively cover all bases, which could have meant mediocrity across the board, but somehow didn’t. The approach was clever and fun and tasty.

There were a few signs of the quality that was to come. First, we had both independently found fabulous reviews of the place. Tom went to Melissa very excited to find a good idea of his own only to find out she already had her eye on the place. Then, there were only two reservation times available: 6:30 and 9:30. We opted for 6;30, which also happens to be opening, since we are usually in bed by 9:30. Finally, by the time they opened, there was quite a crowd gathered, eager to start their experience.

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Spiced, grilled pineapple sliced at the table.

Despite two waiters giving us an introduction to our experience, we had no idea what was coming with the starters and were a little overwhelmed as they just kept coming. We had tandoori paneer tikka, smashed potatoes with cheese, breaded cauliflower and mushrooms with a tasty sauce, and a few other tasty treats. They even offered us french fries, which we opted to decline.

wp-image-803713894-e1506088027388.jpgThe sushi-go-round style Asian appetizers had veg items on green plates and meat items on red. The veg sushi had lots of wasabi, and the chaat with crispy crackers and delicious sauces was really tasty. We wanted the garlic spinach served in a little bamboo basket, but kept missing it as it came out.

img_2042The pasta/pizza station was very much the highlight of the kid-friendly nature of Flechazo. Melissa made us a very tasty pizza. The waiter recommended a pav bhaji, a sort of a sandwich on a soft grilled bread with a potato lentil patty. As with everything else our waiter recommended, it was delicious. We ordered pasta from the pasta station – though it sounded delicious, we were kind of relieved that it didn’t show up. There was simply too much good food!

img_2047Although we were getting full, the Indian main courses awaited. We had the familiar — biryani and aloo muttar — and some new to us dishes — such as dal makhani. These were as good as any other we’ve had here. They delivered fresh made butter naan to the table as we returned with our full plates.

Finally, it was time for dessert. They have a huge, colorful, chocolatey display of desserts, but the highlight is the ice cream made to order using liquid nitrogen. Melissa enjoyed the mocha while Tom had the caramello, all while reminiscing of our favorite ice cream back in Portland, What’s the Scoop, made with the same process.

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What Flechazo is all about.

As much as we enjoyed it, it’s probably even more fun with a group. We’ll plan an outing and go back with friends!

Mavalli Tiffin Rooms

In her research about Bengaluru, Melissa kept coming across one must-experience restaurant over and over again: Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR). It was billed as authentic, delicious South Indian food, and a lot of it. Apparently, it is particularly popular around breakfast time; we went in expecting a 45 minute wait for breakfast. As lovers of Gravy back home in Portland, we know that sometimes 45 minute waits happen for breakfast because it’s just good food.

We were not disappointed. The food was delightful, which we’ll get to in a moment, but DSCF0199what made the morning especially great was our dining partner. MTR crams people in as efficiently as they can, so you count on sharing your table with others. Sure enough, the host seated Nagesh with us. Nagesh is originally from Hampi but has lived in Bangalore for 35 years, and MTR is one of his favorites. Today, he came with his kids and cousins. We reaped the benefit of his knowledge. Before Nagesh got there, we were not presented with a menu but were asked to order. We ordered what we know, idli and masala dosa. Once Nagesh got there, he made sure we had the whole shebang.

Eventually, we had six different dishes, each with its own character. The idli itself was much like what Bharti, our cook and cleaning lady, more on her another time, made for us a couple of nights before but had cashews and herbs cooked in. The sambar that came with it was just as delightful. The kharabhath was the first item we had never heard of before and was delicious. It is some sort of a semolina flour cake with all kinds of veggies and spices. Then came the sweets that Nagesh made sure we ordered. The standard jamoon was great, but the highlight was the chandrahara, a hard spiced cardamom cookie in some sort of a coconut custard. Next came our masala dosa, which was as good as advertised, with a nice crispy dosa wrapped around delicious spiced potatoes. We finished with a breakfast dessert called “Fruit Mixture,” basically a fruit salad with what tasted like a mango ice cream topped with more fruit salad. We know a few niece and nephew fruit bats who would have flipped over this.

After a nice cup of coffee, we were so incredibly satisfied with both our meal and our new friend. After a fabulous brunch splurge at the Leela Palace last week, we were also pretty happy with our bill which came to about $7.40 for the two of us.

Here. See for your self. Ogle away.

Let’s just say, we’ll be back.

Chapter 8: Downtown Bengaluru

For our Ganesha Chaturthi 3-day weekend, we decided on a full downtown Bengaluru immersion. And just like that, we fell in love with this city.

On Friday morning, we called Madesh for a ride to our home for the weekend, the Oberoi Hotel. Melissa had requested an 11 am check-in, but the traffic was so light (likely because of the Ganesha Chaturthi holiday) that we got there just after 10. Nonetheless, they had a lovely room ready for us, overlooking the 100-year old rain tree. Check in at this beautiful 5-star hotel was a very formal process that included an introduction to the ipad that we’d use to control the lights, temperature, and TV; order food or special pillows; or request the services of our butler (!).

The hotel is located on the Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Road which was classified as a national highway, and a new law passed last year makes it illegal to serve alcohol within 500 meters of a national highway. While it was unfortunate that our hotel was dry, we were prepared with our own bottle of wine and pleased to have gotten a good deal as a result. (This week the MG Road was reclassified and is no longer a national highway. Huge relief for all of the bars and restaurants clustered around it.)

Our plan for the day included a lot of walking so we could see as much as possible of the downtown area while hitting a number of key places. The plan was to start with lunch at the Mavalli Tiffin Room, famous for huge, delicious, south Indian meals. Luckily (or perhaps sadly), we checked on the way there, though, and determined that they were
closed for the holiday. We hastily looked for nearby options and salvaged the meal with a visit to Bangalore Brew Works, forever on a quest for a good India Pale Ale in India. The 10th floor rooftop pub was perfectly pleasant, if not ecstasy inducing. The best part was the lovely view of the city, really showing what a green city it is.

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View of downtown from the roof top restaurant

The walk gave us exactly the orientation we hoped it would. We walked through a super clean, fancy district, a neglected bit of street, a bustling commercial district that seemed to be mostly car and bike shops, and what seemed like the Catholic district — schools of all ages, a convent, and a church.

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The blue line shows our Saturday walk, while the red shows Sunday.

The next stop on our walk was Lalbagh Botanical Gardens where we spent a few 20170825_152221hours walking nearly every path of the park. The gardens are lovely, and it would have been entirely relaxing if not for the 15 or so “selfie” requests. These requests are difficult because 20170825_143704there is absolutely nothing wrong with any one of these lovely, happy people asking for a photo – it just becomes a problem when we don’t get 10 minutes free between posing. We’re not models.

By the time we left, we were hot and tired and needed a break, so we headed for the Soho Bar and Grill, walking through a really fun and lively bit of town on our way there. Soho, however, is not a place we’ll revisit. Tom’s beer was ok and Melissa’s cosmopolitan was fine, but Soho seems to specialize in hookah, with smoke wafting over both of their otherwise lovely decks. When we finished our drinks and asked for our check, they brought two more and told us it was two-for-one day (or maybe the two-for-one time of day – not totally sure). We had a couple more sips, but didn’t really want two drinks at that point so got going pretty soon.

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From there, we started our walk to the National College. In an effort to avoid the noise of traffic, we went down a quiet alley filled with motorbikes and happened upon a huge Jain temple with service in progress (Paryushana is 20170825_174254an 8-10 day holy event focused on forgiveness, but we didn’t know that when we happened upon the temple). Right next door to the Jain temple was an equally impressive Hindu temple.

 

 

We continued our walk, arriving at the National College Grounds for the Bengaluru Ganesha Chaturthi. Quite a spectacle! By 7:45, the main performance hadn’t yet begun and we were fading after having walked about 10 miles that day so headed back to luxuriate in our hotel room.20170825_175525.jpg

On Saturday morning, we headed down to the hotel lobby at 7:30 to meet up with some of our new friends (Ivana, a second grade teacher from Spain who taught previously in South Korea; Sarah, a middle school teacher from Virginia who taught previously in South Korea and Puerto Rico; and Colleen, Ethan, and their kids who joined us on our outing to the Nandi Hills, from Lopez Island of all places) and Tej, our guide from Unventured Tours. For the next 5 hours, Tej took us on the Downtown Market Tour – it was great!

When we parted company with Tej, we went to Arbor Brewing, an off-shoot of a brewery started in Ann Arbor and finally had a really tasty IPA along with some pretty good food.

From there, we began a crazy odyssey in search of the Zefo warehouse sale. Zefo had been recommended to us as a good place for second hand and overstock furniture. Since we’re in need of a household worth of furniture, the sale sounded like a good idea to us. According to the map, it was in Southeast Bangalore where we had not yet ventured, so we called an Ola (Bangalore’s alternative to the ubiquitous Uber) and piled in with Sarah and Ivana. When we got to the address, it was a residential street, and we pulled up to what looked confusingly like an apartment building. As we were trying to figure out what to do, we asked a passing young man if he knew where Zefo was and he told us it was on the 4th floor of this unmarked building. We unwittingly let our Ola driver go and made our way up to the 4th floor only to discover that these were the offices of the Zefo internet company. Baffled, we asked some folks there where to go and they gave us an address 30-45 minutes further southeast. Sarah and Ivana had had enough and wanted to go home so we called them an Ola and sent them on the 90 minute drive home only to then discover that we couldn’t have two Olas in action at once. Tom downloaded the app and we called another car and then we waited and waited and waited.

Finally our driver came and took us to the warehouse which was a disorganized zoo with most of the furniture still packed up and salespeople showing it to you on their laptops – not so different from what we could have done from the comfort of our homes. Actually, it was less comfortable than doing it from home because the demand on the wifi was enormous, so it was slow and frequently dropped. Then we learned that the “sale” was 5% off which didn’t even offset the cost of the transportation to get there.  On the upside, they did have unwrapped couches and chairs so we were able to sit on them and determine that many were no more comfortable than what we have (although they all smelled better). We picked out a few things, but felt pretty done with the whole experience and decided to head back to our hotel and continue the shopping from home (which we did – we’re expecting it all by the end of the week).

Back at the hotel, we prettied up in our luxurious room and headed down to Rim Naam for a glorious thai meal that concluded with complimentary dessert, a gift of Oberoi mugs, and, yes, a request from our waiter for a selfie.

On Sunday, we awoke just before our coffee and masala chai arrived with lovely little cookies, and allowed ourselves a leisurely start to the day. We slept fitfully the first night in the hotel (I guess we’re just not used to comfortable beds anymore), but the second night was lovely. At check-out (another formal, seated process), we rather awkwardly asked for assistance making a brunch reservation at the Leela Palace where Melissa had previously gone for a meeting of the Overseas Women’s Club. Not only did he make our reservation, but he also offered to get us a cab. He was clearly surprised when we told him we wanted to walk the 3 km, and perhaps we should have paid attention – it was not a pleasant walk. It was long and muggy, not terribly interesting, and required passing a couple foul smelling dumping sites. Such a relief to arrive at the beautiful Leela Palace where we had a little time to explore before our reservation.

Citrus, the restaurant serving brunch, has a really nice outdoor area with live music and a pretty water feature, but we’d had enough humidity to be pleased with an indoor table. The food was incredible and varied, but perhaps the most exciting part was the cheese. Oh, glorious cheese! This is not a land with many cheese options other than paneer. The “milky mist” cheese is a bit rubbery and doesn’t melt. Even the imported cheeses don’t seem quite the same. But at the Leela Palace, they had camembert and provolone and emmentaler and so many more delicious cheeses. So good!

After our very relaxed and enjoyable brunch, we headed out to walk to Ulsoor Lake, but got caught in a downpour and decided that we were ready to return to our little apartment in the north, entirely contented with our weekend.