the wonderful world of veena.

24 February 2013

restaurant review: otto infinito.

On Thursday night, Steph, Pete, Laura, and I had dinner at Otto Infinito, a Mediterranean restaurant in Bandra, to use the gift vouchers we had won during our "south" Bombay Treasure Hunt. Between us we had vouchers for Rs 3,000 off our bill on food and alcohol, and since Laura is leaving next week, we figured we should take advantage of our offer quickly.

Because we went for dinner, we got a nice table outside; while the day had been quite sticky and muggy, the night was pleasant, and we had a nice breeze throughout the meal. And because we were feeling empowered with our vouchers, we treated ourselves to some nice wine [Laura and Pete], some nice vodka and beer [Steph], and some nice Jack Daniel's [yours truly] along with some starters.

For starters, we ordered the non-veg platter and the mezze dips. The lamb in the non-veg platter was really good, but I have to say that the portions were not very much for a "platter". I realize this comes from my American understanding of the word platter, and my familiarity with platters of gargantuan sizes at places like Buffalo Wild Wings or Chili's, but it really wasn't that much. That being said, however, it was quite tasty. And the mezze dips were really good and came with a good portion of breads and chips.

For the main course, I ordered a dry spaghetti with chicken and mushrooms, which was pretty good. Not spectacular on the taste buds, but good. Steph had a kofta tagine which I didn't try but which she said tasted very Indian. Laura had a chicken dish which I think she said was good, but again, I didn't taste it. I think the winner of the night was Pete's chicken risotto, which was delicious.

Overall we had a really nice dinner, but it was definitely because we knew we had those vouchers to fall back on. The restaurant has a nice atmosphere, but it's not really my kind of place, and I doubt I'd go back unless I had another discount voucher. It's quite posh, and it's a bit pricey, and it's in Bandra East, where I never really travel. That being said, however, we did have a nice time.

One thing I did appreciate, however, was that we were able to use all three of our vouchers on one bill. Some restaurants will get a bit picky about using more than one voucher or promotion thing at once, but when I called ahead to inquire about it, they were very gracious about allowing us to use them all at once. It came in very handy, especially when our final bill - before the vouchers were applied - came to Rs 7,300. On a normal day, it's out of my price range.

Important Info:
Location: Raheja Towers, Bandra East, behind the Bandra-Kurla Complex. About a Rs 25 rickshaw ride from the Bandra station. I was early, and I like to walk, so I took the footbridge from station to the BKC entrance and then took a rickshaw from there. On the way back, I took a rickshaw from the restaurant all the way back to the station.
Serves: lunch and dinner.
Portion sizes: starters are enough for 2-3 people, and main courses serve 1.
Prices: each dish was probably medium-range as far as price goes, not cheap, but not outrageously expensive. the hard alcohol was quite expensive. the service taxes and VATs added up, though, and were an additional almost Rs 2,000 on our bill. **if you order wine, it has a separate, additional VAT that is added at the end of the bill**
Methods of payment: we paid the remainder of our bill with cash, but they accept all cards as well.

A nice place overall, especially for dinner when you can sit outside, but generally not my scene. It's always nice to try a new place, though.

the joy project: week five.

Sunday: Mahindra Blues Festival. front row for Robert Randolph and the Family Band. brilliant way to kickstart the week.

Monday: cooler weather after the unbearable heat of last week. slept like a baby.

Tuesday: Dr Pepper and Doritos for dinner. enough said.

Wednesday: a nice little g-chat session with my dear sweet Dylan Perry. always brightens my day to hear from him.

Thursday: fancy dinner with Steph, Pete, and Laura at Otto Infinito thanks to our vouchers from the treasure hunt.

Friday: had a relaxing afternoon. bit of work, but also a bit of relaxation, which I really needed.

Saturday: slept in AND took a nap in the evening. that's how Saturdays should be spent.


17 February 2013

the joy project: week four.

I will admit, this past week was a bit hectic and all over the place, but it had a few nice moments here and there...

Sunday: a Sunday that was both relaxing and a little bit productive. killer combination.

Monday: full royalty treatment at the Woodside in town. those guys love me.

Tuesday: drinks and a nice catch-up session with Haygood before he departed back to the States.

Wednesday: survived my first switching of trains in Dadar. getting from the Western line to the Central line is scarier than you might think.

Thursday: found out Tyler booked his tickets for India at the end of March! and then I was in bed at 10:20pm, read two chapters of Catching Fire [yes, I read the Hunger Games trilogy. what's it to you?], and was asleep by 11:15pm. amazing.

Friday: productive day of work in Dadar; nice long drinking session with Uday at Mocha Mojo and Toto's.

Saturday: slept in and spent most of the day watching old episodes of Castle. solid Saturday.

Other than the stifling heat [I don't handle 90 degree weather in February] and the water issues we had at home on Wednesday and Thursday, I got a lot of work done for my project, which was nice. Now on to my Grant Writing and independent study work...

11 February 2013

a little life update.

It occurred to me earlier today that between all the various series I have going on in the blog, and my limited access to Internet, it's been a while since I did a good old fashioned update on what's been going on in my life.

Well, fear no more, readers, for here is your long-awaited update...

I've been in Bombay for almost 3 months now and am still enjoying it. I've been living with Saranya and Priyanka in Lower Parel and have slowly been helping them set up their home. We're making progress, and there's never a dull moment in 1302. At the moment we have about 3 house guests, so it's going to be a fun week.

January was a bit of a crazy month with visits from my mum, Alex, and Haygood. Mum was in India for 3 weeks, and one weekend when she was in town we took everyone out for dinner. I jetted off to Coimbatore for 2 days, and when I returned Alex stayed with us for about 5 days before heading down to Goa to sit on the beach for a long time. Oh, those Britishers.

Work has been good; my project has been keeping me busy the last month or so, and my online classes and independent study have actually made me more productive with my time. The next 4 weeks are going to be hectic, as I have to log about another 175 hours for Capstone by 8 March; it's going to be tight, but I think it'll get done. I had a slight setback because of the IRB and only just started counting my hours a few weeks ago, but I should just make it and <fingers crossed> should still graduate on time.

Because things have been so crazy the last month or so, I've not really had time to think about what happens "after graduation". I have a few things I want to do for myself while I'm back in the States [visit a few friends I've not seen in a long time, see a few places I've never seen, go to Disney World, etc.], and I'm trying to figure out how best to do as much in possibly not a lot of time. I have a wedding the weekend after graduation and another in June and another in Atlanta in October as well.

Ideally I would like to move back to India, but that depends on whether or not I find a job. That whole "I'm going to just move to India and figure things out from there" is not going to go over as well at the age of 30 as it did when I was 22. And Bombay's a pretty expensive place to live.

A few fun things on the horizon: this weekend is the Mahindra Blues Festival here in Bombay [with Robert Randolph & the Family Band as the Sunday headliner]; next Friday is the Bombay Food Festival; 5 March is Norah Jones; and as soon as I finish my Capstone work, I'm taking off for Shillong to chill out with Sastri, Tet, Rajat, and Manish. Tyler is coming for the last week in March, and we wrap up the month with Bugsy and Vikki's wedding in Goa.

Beyond that, I'll eventually return to the States, but I've not quite figured out the exact when of it. I'll cross that hurdle next month once I get my head on straight again.

Steph and Pete shifted to Bombay a little over a month ago, and it's been great having them in town. Two weekends ago we went to Nashik for Sulafest, and this past weekend we did a treasure hunt around south Bombay which pretty much just involved going to restaurants around Worli and Lower Parel and doing drinking games. Pretty cool, actually. And it was a costume thing; we went as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles [we had a fourth person originally, but she fell sick and so wasn't able to join us in the end] and won the prize for most creative team.

So that's pretty much my life in a nutshell. It's been busy but good. January was a bit choppy and all-over-the-place, but I think February should feel a bit more grounded. And now I should get back to my reading and my other work.

Until next time...

the joy project: week three.

My joys from Week 3:

Sunday: Saranya made yummy aloo and dal for lunch. it's so nice to be able to cook in our house.

Monday: productive day at Woodside; got my hairs cut [first time since last April. we were long overdue]; caught up with Norten for the first time in 3 weeks. it was a pretty solid Monday.

Tuesday: cancelled meeting = productive work-from-home day for Veena.

Wednesday: bit of a rough day, work-wise, but I DID submit my first Capstone update! 52.5 hours down, only 197.5 to go!

Thursday: BEAUTIFUL weather in Bombay. it did so much to improve my mood from the previous day.

Friday: submitted two big documents to my Project Supervisor.

Saturday: treasure hunt around south Bombay with Steph and Pete. we won the prize for most creative costume!

Happy week ahead!

08 February 2013

restaurant review: culture curry.

My dear, sweet little brother Alex-boy came to Bombay for a visit at the end of January, and while he was here we decided to try out one of the restaurants listed in his Lonely PlanetCulture Curry.

While I normally tend to avoid places that are mentioned in the LP, this one sounded pretty intriguing. It's two-restaurants-in-one and serves a mash-up of all different kinds of food from South India: Chettinad curry from Tamil Nadu; Hyderabadi-style dishes from Andhra Pradesh; bissi-bele bath [I know that spelling is incorrect. my apologies] from Karnataka; red rice from Kerala; and coastal dishes from Mangalore and Goa as well as fresh fish from Bombay.

In other words, it's pretty much heaven in a menu.

The restaurant itself is quite eclectic and a bit over-the-top, with lots of advertisements showing off various accolades and awards the restaurant and its founders have received. It's in that weird place between being ironic and being braggy, but in a weird way, it kind of works.

And besides, the food is delicious.

[Culture Curry's "sister" restaurant]

We were a bit confused when we received the menus for both Culture Curry and Goa Portuguesa, as we thought they were separate restaurants that were next to each other rather than two restaurants located in the same building. It definitely took us a few minutes to sort out that we could order from either, or both, but we soon figured it all out.

We decided that since the restaurant celebrates the different aspects of South Indian cuisine, we should as well. We decided to start our meal with something slightly Maharashtrian in the form of some slightly fried surmei [kingfish]. It was beautifully cooked and tasted amazing - nice and light and the perfect start to our meal.

For the main course we ventured to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and coastal Karnataka [I think?] with some chicken Chettinad curry, appam [for Alex], neer dosa [for me], and red rice. I have been craving red rice for a few months now, and I think I scared Alex with my excitement when I saw it on the menu. And it was all so good that I forgot to take pictures until we were almost done...

Overall we had a very lovely and enjoyable meal, and I would definitely recommend Culture Curry for a dinner out. It was pretty reasonable priced, in Bombay terms - we each had a drink, and a lot of food, and our bill was about rs 900 each. It's one of those places that is fun to take an out-of-town visitor for a change of scenery.

Important Info:
Location: Matunga [W]. If traveling by train, take the Western Line, get off at the Matunga Rd stop, and head west. It's walking distance from the station - when you get to the flyover at the station, turn left and walk straight. You'll pass a roundabout and a major intersection, and then you'll see it after a bit on your left. All in all, it's about 700m from the station. Nice little stroll if you're in the mood. If you're not, you can take a cab from the station - ask for Hinduja Hospital, but keep an eye on it, as you'll pass the restaurant before you get to the turn for the hospital. I swear it's not as confusing as I'm making it out to be.
Average price for main dishes: rs 300-450, but seafood is a bit pricier.
Portion sizes: big enough for 2 people to split a main dish and a rice. Naans can probably be split, but rotis will be for one person. Appam and neer dosa were enough for one person.
Method[s] of payment: We paid cash, but they accept cards as well.
Meal[s] served: Lunch and dinner.

[I spend too much time convincing people outside South India of this truth]

[I mean, who wouldn't want to eat at a place wehre Rajnikant greets you when you open the menu?]

04 February 2013

30 before 30: a vineyard tour, with a twist.

  1. Go bungee jumping.
  2. Go sky-diving.
  3. Spend one week on my own in solitude [preferably in Honey Valley], cut off from the world and from all of my electronic gadgets.
  4. Tour a vineyard.
  5. Complete my Master of Public Service degree.
  6. Run a half marathon.
  7. Explore a new part of India.
  8. Be vegetarian for one month.
  9. Go skinny-dipping.
  10. Learn to scuba dive.
  11. Learn one Indian language properly [it's about time, wouldn't you think?].
  12. See the Grand Canyon [I smell a US road trip in my future].
  13. Get a professional massage.
  14. Try 2 foods I've never tried before.
  15. Take a photography class.
  16. See the sun rise over the Himalayas.
  17. Attend NH7 Weekender in Pune.
  18. Take an online class because it interests me.
  19. Be an extra on a set in Bombay.
  20. Go parasailing.
  21. See a show on Broadway.
I have been wanting for years to visit a vineyard and do a wine tasting, and this past weekend offered me that chance. While ideally I would love to do a wine tour through California, I also know that logistically that will be difficult before my birthday in July. Luckily for me, Sulafest 2013 happened last weekend, and Steph, Pete, and I put in an appearance.

Sulafest is a music festival that takes place each year at the Sula vineyard outside Nashik. In addition to being able to tour the winery and taste Sula's various wines, it also offers the opportunity to sip on wine and listen to live music in the beautiful amphitheater.

We hopped on a train early Saturday morning and headed to Nashik, reaching around noon. By the time we booked our return tickets, checked into our hotel, and sorted out transportation, it was around 2.30 by the time we finally reached the vineyard. Unfortunately, there was a political protest happening, so the entry gates were blocked by the protesters. Using my limited Hindi skills, I deduced that they were against the festival for some reason [could be the alcohol, could be the live music, could just be a hatred for fun. who knows], and they didn't want people to enter the grounds. About half an hour after we arrived the organizers and cops chased them out, and we were allowed to enter.

[we finally made it inside!]
We decided to to a tour of the winery and check out the Tasting Room before heading to the Amphitheater, which was interesting. We had a few slightly annoying people on our tour who kept asking hundreds of questions, so it held up the tour a bit, but it was still rather interesting to see.

[our trusty tour guide]

[inside the winery]

[barrels and barrels of wine]

[these kids are pretty excited about their wine]

[more barrels. so much wine!]
Following the tour we got to taste a few of the different Sula wines. The sparkling rose was pretty good, but the white, rose, and red were a bit disappointing, especially because I've had Sula wines before, and I generally like them.

[Pete's not impressed with his rose]

[cheers to Sulafest]

[the vineyards]

[vineyards up close]
After the tour and tasting we decided to check out the Tasting Room. Bottles of Merlot Malbec were on sale for rs 520 [just under $10], so we grabbed one, found a spot on the floor [it was crowded. no tables], and popped it open. They were broadcasting the main stage up there, so we enjoyed our bottle up there and watched the show on the screen.

Once we finished the bottle, we headed down to the amphitheater and the food court, because we needed food. One thing I really have to commend Indian festivals on is the food: I had murgh ghee roast with bene dosa [amazing], Steph had a chicken shawarma, and Pete had a bacon cheeseburger. Yummy in my tummy.

After we stuffed ourselves, we grabbed a few glasses of wine and a few bottles of water [hydration is sexy, after all] and found a nice spot in the amphitheater to settle in and watch the show.

[the pre-sunset crowd]
We sat for a few of the acts and then headed down to dance for, a reggae band from Serbia.

[any band with a trombone gets a thumbs up in my book]

When they finished we decided to head back up to the Tasting Room and settle in with another bottle of the Malbec to watch the final act from up there. It was pretty empty by that point, so we got a nice table overlooking the vineyards [it was dark at this point, but it was still nice] and had a nice chat.

Our auto driver [a contact from the hotel. dropped us all the way to the entry gates and picked us up from the same spot. pretty sure we're the only ones who traveled all the way out there - 14 km outside Nashik - by auto, and pretty sure we're the only ones who got absolutely perfect door-to-door service. we were pretty boss] picked us up around 9.45, and we headed back to the hotel, munched on some masala papad, and were fast asleep by 10.45 [Pete], 11 [Steph], and 11.20 [me].

At at 7.10am on Sunday, we were on a train back to Bombay.

All in all it was a fun trip. I was glad to get out of Bombay, even for just a day, and to get to see a different part of the state. And I am obviously a fan of any music festival that includes wine, yummy food, and a beautiful setting.

Pete is already making plans to return next year. Fingers crossed I'll be back in India by then...

the joy project: week two.

Last week I documented my first week of the joy project, a brainchild of my friend Jackie to remember to stop and be thankful for the small joys in life. And here I bring you week two.

Sunday: pizza and a viewing of The Breakfast Club. yummy dinner at Zaffran topped off with gulab jamun and rasagolla. [it seems as though a lot of my joys are going to revolve around food. I'm ok with that]

Monday: productive day at work. awesome dinner with Alex-boy at Culture Curry that included surmai, chicken Chettinad, neer dosa, appam, pickle, and red rice. my stomach is having a very happy week.

Tuesday: really productive work-day at Woodside with Alex. introduced Deboo to the wonders of Dr Pepper.

Wednesday: started reading Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson. it's for my independent study for school, but I can already tell it's going to be a great read.

Thursday: productive work day / relaxing day with my mum. I realize those sound contradictory, but both happened, and both were good.

Friday: nice farewell lunch with my mum.

Saturday: Sulafest! music festival at a vineyard. it's pretty self-explanatory.

Hope you all had joyful weeks!