Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dinner at the Sky Grill


I dressed up for the dinner at the Sky Grill !

Yes I did. Unbelievable for people who know me. We got a call from the restaurant that 8.30 pm was perfect time for dinner. We were welcomed by the ebullient Nisha at the restaurant and offered a table for 2 which was close to the performance platform, which was set for a Ghazal night. 

The dinner began with our choice of juice, watermelon it was, both Dad and me do not enjoy wines so we declined the offer.

After which I took a stroll around the entire swimming pool area which is at a lower level than the dinning deck. I took some pics of Vashi before going down for dinner and some of the ambiance of the Sky Grill. I quite like it. I love open terrace restaurants as we have fewer in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai.



The drama at the Sky Grill was just about begining. The high flames roared in the still night. The Kabab chefs geared up the skewers and in they went into a tandoor, filled 1/4 way with red hot charcoal. I could hear the sizzle as it was still quite, of the roasting meat on the skewers and as the drippings fell on to the coal. Just then Nisha waltzed in with two platters, one in the hand and the other on her arm as she declared, "The chef has sent it for you." My reaction was to click pictures immediately and dig in. What you see above in the Paneer hariyali kabab and the Jimikand ke kabab. The Paneer hariyali was okayish but the Jimikand ke kabab were nice light and melt in the mouth with a bite of fresh pomegranates in it. Both were served with spiced onions that I liked.

After enjoying a few ghazals as we ate more kababs served by the waiting staff; I took a look at the buffet. It had green palak dish, veg biryani, Dal makhani and some paneer in red gravy. Nothing looked interesting to me. Yeah the sad thing about buffets is boring food. Then I spotted the Dal aur dhaniye ka shorba. I took a bowlful and grabbed a dinner roll and went back to my table not really expecting too much. One sip and my mouth was filled with a burst of flavours, of nutty chana dal and freshness of cilantro. Delicious! It was an outstanding shorba though it reminded me a lot of our very own Marathi Kata chi aamti except without the coconut paste that we use. 


Then as I was going back to the buffet to pick up the mains, the young lad at the flaming grill asked us for our choice of rotis. We ordered our favorite Butter Garlic naan. I returned with a little bit of the green gloop, the dal makhani and veg biryani on my plate. The desserts were all baked, the usual, cheesecakes, tarts and more whipped cream which I just did not want to touch. The roti basket arrived and I picked some green gloop on it. The Garlic naan was thin, crisp and just the right amount of butter and garlic on it. It was superlative! The real surprise the green palak was laced with kasuri methi, which brought alive my pallete. I did enjoy it finally. I also liked the Dal makhani which was perfectly creamy. So tastewise the food was good but I am really bored with the same menu that haunts restaurants like these so you will understand my initial reaction to the buffet.

To wash down the meal we sipped on sweet lime soda and just then Nisha who had taken on herself to pamper us that night coaxed us into having hot gulabjamuns. Yum they were really lovely, soft and juicy, the syrup soaking right through. 

We were stuffed to the gills and retired to our room to enjoy the night lights of Vashi. 

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The next day we had our breakfast and said our bye byes to the wonderful kitchen staff and all those who attended to us in our 2 night/ 3 day stay. There had to be a picture with the Kitchen team. Look at them, aren't they wonderful!


 Thank you Four Points by Sheraton, Vashi!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

My First Time In A Commercial Kitchen

and other stories of the second day at the Four Points by Sheraton at Vashi.

Views of Vashi from the Comfort Suite

My second day of stay was planned to be exciting! 

I was informed that my request for an experience in the Commercial Kitchen was accepted by the Executive Chef Mukul Jha and yet another bumper, Four Points was hosting a dinner for us!

I slept like a baby cuddled in the super soft bed and in the perfectly controlled ambient atmosphere through the night. I woke up and drew back the curtains, the suite overlooked Vashi, it was bathed in the morning sun and suddenly it looked better than a mere concrete jungle, we could now see the creek in the clear morning.

I decide to take a luxurious bath in the huge bathroom and soak in the tub much like a Maharani! Oh wasn't the research done for Lyril soap from the yesteryears say that a woman's own place is the bathroom and she even goes off into her own dreamland singing La~La la, la ~La la la~ La ~la ~la. Well the result was good, I stepped out truly rejuvenated!

So much that the bed was inviting me right back to curl up under the warm covers and rest on those soft excessive pillows. But then the hunger pangs got me rushing down for breakfast to the Asian Kitchen. While there Exe. Chef Mukul Jha met up and discussed what I wanted to cook later along with him. I said something quick and enjoyable, something I can share with my beloved readers. We froze on a dish which would be colorful, appetizing, wholesome Italian. Chef Mukul surprised me when he stressed that it would be *veg*. The information about me being a strict vegetarian had been cascaded to the team and they never faltered after the pancake incident.

After lolling around some I got a call that the chef was ready for me to go to the kitchen. We walked past the show kitchen into narrow paths passing several pantries and storerooms. Thru a maze of shiny kitchen counters to our work area for the day. The Chef had got the meze ready and introduced the ingredients that we were to work with. Nisha Saran from the F&B was with us and she arranged for an apron and a toque for me. I was trying to suppress my mounting excitement. 

With Executive Chef Mukul Jha, me adorned an apron and toque !

We began by marinating the slices of cottage cheese. Then seasoned the pan with oil and then seared the slices. As I watched I realized that these guys cooked in flat pans and on very high heat. The high heat acted like a flash in extracting the flavors and aromas of the ingredients. After pan searing the cottage cheese we put it on a greased tray along with marinated beetroot slices and put it in the oven to bake at 150 degrees for 7-8 mins so that the fats from searing evaporated. 

Meanwhile we heated the pan and got frying the onions and garlic. Chef Mukul was moving fast and I meddled in between to stir the seasoning and mostly watch him. I realized that working in a commercial kitchen is intimidating when you try to handle the slightly larger pans and ladles that you are not used to handling but the kind chef was very encouraging and said it was only a matter of practice, which I agree. Once the semolina was cooked we tasted it and kept it aside. Then we made the Ratatouille, the veg were diced to perfection as is expected of a hotel kitchen. When ever Ratatouille is cooked the topic of the movie has to come up and the chef scorned at it! both of us ended up laughing aloud. As we cooked I was absorbing the techniques the chef used and benefited a lot from him. A key thing is we kept tasting through the steps we followed making sure everything was salted right and cooked to perfection. This is something we never do at home as we offer Naivedhya to God.

Finally we were ready with all components of the meal and were ready to plate. Before we did it the chef heated up everything and then carefully showcased his finesse in plating a beautiful meal. Though I was more of a observer I felt equally proud of the way the dish had turned out and how Chef had plated it. While we were at it Nisha was taking countless pictures of us in action and would you believe it just when I was to take the camera in hand to click some shots of the Grand finale, the plated dish; the battery died on us!

The thrill of cooking in the kitchen of Four Points, Vashi

Quickly got the staff to charge up the battery until we went looking for a perfect spot and lighting in the Asian Kitchen to shoot the plated meal.


The final strokes of artistry

So as a reward for reading patiently about my adventure, here is the recipe. Tadah!

What's the Dish?

Herbs and garlic crusted cottage cheese.
Served with Semolina Mash and Ratatouille.
Finished with Beetroot chips, Balsamic reduction & Parmesan crisp

Portions : 4 

Ingredients

600 gms Cottage cheese
110 gms peeled garlic
4 gms Rosemary
4 gms Thyme
4 gms Basil
90 ml Olive oil / EVOO
110 gms Semolina
60 gms Onion
60 gms sliced Olives
10 gms chili flakes
120 gms bell peppers
120 gms zucchini
120 gms brinjals
150 gms Tomato Concasse
60 gms Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 no Beetroot
6 sprigs of parsley
15 ml Balsamic reduction

Preparation

Cut out 12 pieces of cottage cheese in triangles. Marinate the cottage cheese with 1/4 of the amount of garlic, herbs and keep aside.

The semolina mash : Heat a pan. Add 30 ml of Olive oil. Saute chopped garlic, onions, olives (I used black) till light brown. Add the semolina saute till toasty and follow in with salt, black pepper and chili flakes. Add 250 ml of hot water. Stir till thickened and cooked. Remove the pan from heat and keep aside.

The Ratatouille : In a new pan add 20 ml of Olive oil. When the oil is heated saute the garlic till nicely browned and aromatic along with a little onion. Now add to it brinjal, bell peppers, zucchini and give it a stir. Cook and then add tomato Concasse and seasoning to the mix. Remove from heat when done until soft.

Now pan sear marinated cottage cheese and bake in the oven at 150 degrees celcius for 7 to 8 mins.

Slice the beetroot thinly and season with Olive oil and salt and bake for 3-4 mins.

The oven helps to evaporate the oil from the cottage cheese and gives wonderful browned edges. Once you see those and the beetroot slices are cooked yet crunchy, remove from the oven.

To make the parmesan cheese crisp, grate parmesan cheese and melt it on a non stick pan. Remove from heat and let it cool and firm up. Cut out 4 triangles from the round.

Plating 

In a plate layout the beetroot chips in a circle or semicircle. On top ladle out the semolina mash. Top it with 3 pieces of cottage cheese. Above it layer the Ratatouille mix.

Garnish with parmesan crisp, basil and parsley. I did not have parmesan on hand so I grated just a little bit of cheese over it and stuck in a fried basil leaf.

I recreated that meal in my own kitchen and I think I was able to achieve a very close remake in taste but need to work on my plating skills a bit. Like Chef Mukul said practice makes perfection.

How would you rate me Chef Mukul? and how would you rate me readers?

An enormous thanks to Chef Mukul and the entire Four Points team who made this experience memorable for me!



How was the taste?

Its an Italian meal that Indians will love, a complete balanced meal. It tasted absolutely delicious each morsel different. The semolina mash has olives so it was salty, The cottage cheese beautifully crisp on the edge and garlicky. The Ratatouille was of course with notes of basil, thyme, rosemary and garlic. The beetroot chips like the salad. The balsamic reduction like the chutney or a palette cleanser. I loved it as I ate this portion and felt satiated and did not even crave for a dessert.

My Sky grill story will have to be yet another post...

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Vacationing in Vashi at the Four Points by Sheraton

The welcome

I am a traveler at heart but who would have thought I would vacation in my own city. I was the guest of The Starwood hotels at their Four Points, Vashi property recently and had a fantastic time there. This after brushing off the idea several times and you won't believe how memorable it turned out to be!

It was a promise of 2 nights/ 3days. I called up to confirm my stay and right from that moment I received delightful service from everyone of the staff.

I was put up in a Comfort suite that was smart yet cozy all at the same time just like a business hotel should be. The bed tempted me to climb on to it immediately and just cuddle up with a book instead we kicked up our shoes and settled down on the sofas to snack on some cookies and fruit that the hotel had laid out for our welcome and there was Syrah sitting pretty on the table too.

My first need is to connect to the internet, as that is where all my business happens. The Wifi was free and worked well through the stay. I immediately posted a few pics on my FB page for my family, friends and readers to see as this was a much needed vacation for me after my Diwali Hamper season got over. This stay was a reward for blogging and it was just in time to celebrate the 8th anniversary of AnnaParabrahma which was started on 9th October, 2006 in Bangalore. Plus the AnnaParabrahma FB page reached a milestone of 500 Likes just recently, its been a 100% organic growth. What more I drove only 15 mins to reach the hotel. Stayaction it was!

After an hours rest I was met by Arartika Samanta and Monika Tomar from the Sales and Marketing team at the high ceilinged reception. They gave me a tour of the entire property and facilities available. The most impressive was their gym which is very well equipped and run by the holistic living guru, Mickey Mehta. What's nice is it is not just for their inhouse guests but even Navi Mumbai residents can sign up for memberships. I also got a sneak peek of their spa facilities, they have several packages that follow Thai practices and all oils and packs for therapies are made inhouse. There is a salon which is run by a third party which has reasonable rates, should you need a haircut or some pampering.

Since this is a business hotel I took a look around for the business facilities available, there are atleast 4-5 conference rooms with on OHP, network and screen. The Banquet hall was familiar, I had been there for a conference 2 yrs ago. They also have a business center where you can avail facilities just incase you are not carrying your devices or incase you need get work done on the computer when your phone or tablet is inconvenient or need a print out.

We walked in and out thru the restaurant which I was to explore the next day for their cuisines. For a business hotel 4 restaurants are decent options and will talk about their food menu individually. 

I loved the Tipplers lounge, when I visited in the early evening, it had the beautiful setting sun casting rays on this small lounge which has a book case and a bar with high stools and comfortable seating alike. This doubles up as a breakfast area for executives staying the premier suites in the morning.

There is 24X7 restaurant called Wrapped near the reception which I did not get a chance to review but I liked the decor there. Especially in the day time it looked all sunny and bright.

We had our breakfast on both the days at the Asian Kitchen. It is a spacious restaurant with a show kitchen and relaxed seating. There is a huge breakfast buffet which I sampled for everything vegetarian on the menu. The menu is familiar as you would find on any buffet of a business hotel. Worth a mention was the Laadi pav/ Mumbai pao which went with the batata vada for vada pao. The menu may be meant to be comforting in familiarity to the business travelers is what I can say, so there is your standard 2 kinds of idli, uttapam, soups, something chicken, eggs, cheeses, juices, flavored milks, deli meats and what not and bakes that you can expect.

The breakfast

I must mention that we got excellent service from the team. Our favorite pineapple juice was made fresh for us on both days. On one day my Dad who was staycationing with me ordered a masala dosa which was excellent he said. I ordered pancakes and when they were serving realized from the yellowish tinge that I forgot to mention, I did not eat eggs. Chef Vijay was very kind to replace it with made-to-order eggless banana pancakes served with honey but they did provide Maple syrup on request. I quite liked my pancakes for veg pancakes are slightly tricky to make and very easily can reek of soda. But they got them right, fluffy and nice. I enjoyed them on both days.

On the second day the Chef suggested we have a panini and he made lovely ones for both me and Dad. We were delighted with the freshness of the veggies and molten cheese. They were perfectly grilled and the bread felt still soft on bite and not too dried out. Followed by masala chai which we loved. Even on the previous day Nisha Kaur from the F&B team had very sweetly sent masala chai for us to the room especially for my Dad, since he enjoys it more than tea bags.

Since I am a baker myself I was keen on sampling the bakes on display but unfortunately only the breads were eggless. I think I can rate their inhouse bakers good, I enjoyed their breads both the herbed ones as well as the sweet breads even though they are commercial breads and not artisan. I would have been thrilled if I could taste some of their tarts, doughnuts and muffins and that's a suggestion that they should have more of these as an eggless option.

There is a separate egg station which serves you custom made eggs, scrambled or omelette the way you like it. The young man happily flips it up for you.

I also got to look around at their brunch menu but since I was full from breakfast I did not eat anything. Like true Indian hosts since I was not eating they offered me a fresh lime soda which I enjoyed. I did take a sip of a vivid green concoction on the brunch menu which was looking interesting as it was served in a testube. It was supposed to be a welcome drink made of Kiwi which I found cloyingly sweet and reeking of artificial flavor and I don't think even the kids will enjoy anything like it.

 The desserts galore at the brunch

Four Points hosted a dinner for us on the second night and we chose to try the Sky Grill for it. More about it in the upcoming post.

The best thing about my staycation was getting to cook with their Executive Chef Mukul Jha. It was my first experience of working in a commercial kitchen!

And that requires a separate post. Psst, he has shared a recipe with me so I can share it here with you. Come again tomorrow, won't you? You will, sure you will to read about my new adventure, right!

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