January 03, 2008

Just Oriental

The owners of T'Chi (previously reviewed) have closed that location and opened a new place on Brigade Road - called "Just Oriental." Last night Gautam, Madhu, and I checked it out.

It's a relatively small place, up on the first floor of the big mall near Residency Road (I think of it as "the Coffee World mall" but I'm sure that's not really its name.) The decor is quite nice, lots of plain wood, simple tables, with a decorative screen covering the windows that overlook Brigade Road. It felt elegant and restful.

I arrived early, and ordered a bottle of wine while I waited. The wine selection is nothing special, but the Grovers Viognier was pleasantly crisp and dry. We started with steamed dumplings which were reminiscent of shiu-mai, open on top and filled with spiced minced meat and vegetables. It was served with a custom made chili sauce that complemented it nicely. They were served VERY HOT which was good, but caused us a small round of "ow! That's hot!" and reaching for water glasses.

We asked the chef to just serve whatever was good, preferably Chinese style. He graciously agreed, and proceeded to bring us braised pork spare-ribs in a savory five spice sauce, glazed deep fried prawns with orange peel, ginger, and peppers, seared shredded beef in a Taiwanese sauce, Buddha's delight, braised pork belly, and Singaporean style noodles.

The braised ribs were tender and tasty, but as Gautam put it "this was a very small pig." Nevertheless I found it satisfying as a starter. The brown sauce had a lot of star anise in it and the dish was nicely complemented with fresh bean sprouts and slivered green onion. I find many braised spare rib dishes to be overly sweet, but this was not sweet at all - a welcome change.

The prawns on the other hand, were covered in a crunchy sweet glaze over batter fried prawns. The batter was a little thick, disguising the otherwise tasty prawns. The sauce included fresh orange peel, dried red chilis, and fresh ginger nice clean citrus flavors to complement the sweetness and bring out the prawn flavor. I'm sure this will be a crowd pleaser, though as I said I'm not really a fan of super sweet dishes (though I certainly ate all of mine!)

The shredded beef was tasty, with a shrimp scented Taiwanese sauce. The beef was unremarkable, which is remarkable in itself. Often beef here is tough, stringy, and overcooked. This was not. It was fairly tender, without gristle, and not dried out.) The sauce was interesting. I first misidentified the flavor as oyster sauce, and I'm a fan of beef in oyster sauce.

Buddha's Delight is a vegetarian staple, and easy to get wrong. It has a number of different vegetables, and fried tofu, in a slightly thickened sauce. If not prepared correctly the vegetables get limp and the flavors muddy. This one was done reasonably well, with fresh cabbage that was not overcooked, and a good balance of ingredients. I might have liked the flavors to be a bit brighter and stand out from each other more, but on the whole it was a fine dish.

The Singaporean style noodles were a mixture of fried thin wheat noodles, and rice vermicelli. It was unremarkable either pro or con, though I found it the tiniest bit oily.

The braised pork belly was good, and I'm happy to find pork belly anywhere in Bangalore! The sauce was properly gelatinous and the spicing let the flavor of the pork show through without drowning it out in chilis, sugar or soy. If there was one thing to improve about this dish, the meat was a bit dry. Cooking it longer over lower heat would cure that, but it was quite enjoyable just the way it was.

Three people, bottle of wine Rs 3000. About Rs 600 per person without wine. I'd go back.

December 31, 2007

A Milestone (of sorts)

Since moving here I wondered if I'd always stick out like an obvious foreigner, or if eventually at least some of the time people would treat me like a "local." There have been a few small instances, but yesterday something happened that made me feel like I'd truly arrived.

I got shooed away from a store by someone! It was one of the myriad of curio/handicraft/rug stores that are constantly inviting tourists to "come look." They are filled with carved wooden Ganeshas, tacky souvenirs, and overpriced rugs. Anyway, I was sitting on a railing in front of the store waiting for Debbie wearing a cheap cotton FabIndia kurta. After I'd been idling there for a while, a guy came out of the store and made the "tshh tshh" noise you make to get someone to move out of your way, and made shooing motions with his hands. I was being shooed away from his store!

I was shocked, I'm used to having to tell them that no, I'm not interested in looking at his rugs, or buying a nice pashmina, or a chess set even at a "very good price." So it was very amusing. I had arrived - I wasn't seen as a rich tourist to be cozened, but rather a local nuisance to be shooed away. At least for those few moments I was a local.

In another small milestone, we went to Chitra Santhe, the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat's annual art show/sale on Kumara Krupa Road. The entire road is closed to traffic and lined on both sides with artists showing and selling their art. (Most of the art was, as another attendee put it, "not breaking any boundaries" but we picked up a Madhubani Nagini that I'm quite happy with.) We took an auto to get there and our auto driver had no idea where it was. He got lost and we had to direct him but we finally made it. While paying for the ride, a woman came up and asked him if he knew where the Chitra Santhe was, on Kumara Krupa road. I laughed. "He has no idea where it is, but that's where we're going - it's just down at the end of this road," I said pointing down a nearby side street. She thanked me and got back in her car. So not only had we told the auto driver how to get where we wanted to go (not that unusual) we had also given a local directions! A small triumph, but it made us happy.