February 19, 2007

Foreigner's Registration Office

I'm now an officially registered foreigner. After having heard innumerable horror stories about the bureaucracy in India, I have to say this was completely painless. I had the help of a relocation service (Ikan) and they took care of all the paperwork. The entire process took less than 1/2 hour. I walked next door (the FRO is next door to Embassy Icon) met the Ikan rep, and he walked me through the process. Two windows to submit paperwork at, three individuals whose signatures we needed to get with me there in person, that was it. I daresay it would have been much more painful without their help - my office mate said that it took him 18 months including a full day to pay a US$30 fine for registering late. The fine having to be paid at an obscure bank located 45 minutes away.

The waiting room for the office did meet all my expectations of what a scary bureaucratic office should look like though. Ancient metal seats, peeling paint, obscure notices on the wall, faceless people behind rows of windows... but it was fine.

Arriving in Bangalore - Restaurant Reviews part 1

Sunny's

Sunny's restaurant is supposedly one of the best Italian places in Bangalore, and a foodie "destination" restaurant. It's definitely good, and one of the few places we've gone to more than once since arriving. It helps that it's on Vittal Mallya Road very close to the Google guest house.

Sunny's lets the flavors of the ingredients show through with simple but interesting preparations. I had roast lamb chops (prepared rare, as I asked, with no arguments or questions) which were served in what appeared to be a reduced balsamic glaze with sprigs of thyme and whole rosemary. Quite tasty. Debbie had penne in a gorgonzola cream sauce that was also very tasty, though I commented that while the penne was properly "al dente" the cooking water hadn't been quite hot enough - the pasta was a tiny bit gummy. We were brave and had this with a Ceasar Salad.

The second time we decided to try the pepperoni pizza. Since I make pizza myself I was interested to see what I would be up against. Sadly this was a disappointment. The crust had a soft bread-like crumb, not nearly chewy enough. It was relatively thick, but most disappointingly it had been baked on a perforated metal pan so that it couldn't brown properly or crisp up. The sauce was flavorful, and the mozarella was good but could not make up for the crust.

However we had ordered a fresh tomato, onion, mozarella appetizer that was dressed with a good balsamic and that was quite excellent.

We'll be back.


Spiga

Spiga is another restaurant on Vittal Mallya, a little further from the guest house. We tried to go there on the 14th, not remembering that it was Valentine's Day and it was mobbed. So we went to Sunny's instead. We tried again the next day and had no trouble.

Spiga has an interesting menu, a combination of Mexican (!), Italian, and some Indian. I'm not generally a fan of "multi-cuisine" restaurants or their cousins "fusion" restaurants. I'm also wary of any Mexican restaurant outside of Mexico, or a Mexican barrio, so we didn't try the Mexican dishes.

I had pasta (fusili) in a tomato/garlic/basil sauce, while Debbie had fish in spicy sauce. The food was uninspired, the pasta overcooked and the sauce had neither the brightness of fresh tomatoes, nor the deep caramelized sweetness of a long simmered sauce. The garlic had been burned, not browned, and I didn't find much basil flavor. A big disappointment. Debbie's fish was similarly uninspired.

This is supposed to be one of the best Italian places in the city! I'm very worried...

Cafe Coffee Day

We started our quest for excellent coffee at one branch of a well known chain of coffee places. Cafe Coffee Day has locations all over Bangalore, but we visited the one on Lavelle Road (at Vittal Mallya Road) I had a double espresso, while Debbie had a macchiato and a chocolate croissant.

Let's get one thing out of the way right off. This is no Blue Bottle Coffee or Tartine Bakery. On the other hand, the coffee was decent - for an automatic espresso machine. We had a little trouble at first ordering the macchiato "I'd like a macchiato." "Ok" [comes back] "You want a mochachino?" "No a macchiato." "We don't have that." "See up on the menu, Espresso, Double Espresso, Macchiato. The third one down." "Ok." I get the feeling that either they don't get many people ordering macchiati or my pronounciation was confusing. In any case we straightened it out.

The "chocolate croissant" was not a traditional pain au chocolate (and if anyone reading this knows where you can get a pain au chocolate in Bangalore please tell me and I will be eternally grateful) but instead it was more of a rolled sweet yeast dough filled with chocolate, and coated with chocolate at one end. We enjoyed it, but I had hoped for a flaky crispy chewy thing and this was not that. Ah well, it's good to have goals in life.

Despite all that we definitely enjoyed it, the coffee was drinkable, and I have no qualms about hanging out at other Cafe Coffee Days when I find them.

February 18, 2007

Arriving in Bangalore - House Hunting

One of the things we've been doing this week is looking for a permanent place to live. We have a real estate agent hired by Google, and filled out a big check list of what we're interested in and what's important. What we're interested in is a place that's walking distance to work, and costs less than Rs 50,000/month. We'd like 3 bedrooms but we'll be happy with 2 - but we have to have at least 2 because we want to have guests. We want furnished because I don't want to deal with having to buy a bunch of stuff only to sell it again in a year - though we may go that route by buying a houseful of stuff from someone else in the corresponding situation who's now leaving.

Anyway, when I first filled out the questionnaire I thought we'd be working first at the one Google location at Embassy Icon and then at Prestige Sigma so I wanted a place that was walking distance to both. The realtor started by showing us a bunch of places in Richmond Town (all of which amazingly enough were going for exactly Rs 50,000!) and all of which were unfurnished. He seemed a little grumpy when we said we wanted places that were walking distance from Embassy Icon (he tried to tell us Richmond Town was "close") and that were furnished, and preferably were somewhat cheaper.

The next day he did better, showing us places mostly along Infantry Road, and a few on Ali Asker Road. Two of them were actually furnished, and he admitted that while the prices were still all amazingly exactly Rs 50,000 per month that some were "negotiable." He showed us one place that was one lakh (100,000) Rs per month and we were frankly unimpressed. For over US$2000 per month I'd expect something totally fabulous - and this wasn't.

We did five or more places each day, and after two days he tried to tell us that this was all there was that was close to Embassy Icon and if we wanted anything else we'd have to look further out. Debbie had been talking to another couple staying at the guest house and they had six real estate agents, and they were talking to three of them each day with at least five places each and there were plenty more places in the nearby neighborhood still in our price range. So if he tries to play hardball, I'm prepared to discuss it with him - but we did like one of the places.

It's a furnished place, decorated by an interior designer. It was immediately obvious when we walked in that the place had been decorated by someone with a sense of taste and had a coherent esthetic. What's more it was an esthetic that not only could we live with, but that our pieces would fit with nicely. I'm optimistic. We "negotiated" a little on price, so we'll see what happens.

I decided to hedge our bets and see how much it would cost to furnish a place. It looks like you can get a decent bed set for on the order of Rs 16,000 and a dining room set for on the same order. I didn't check sofas and chairs, but it looks like you could probably furnish a place for on the order of a month's rent plus or minus. So we might consider furnishing a place if it comes to that.