Where When How May/June 2017 : Page 124
RESTAURANT REVIEW Garam Masala TANDOORI PLATTER FOR FOUR TAMARIND MARTINI 124 • • • • • MAY/JUNE 2017 “Where When How -Turks & Caicos Islands”
OF ALL The wORLd’S exOTIC And FARAwAy CuISINeS, few can transcend the unforgettable flavours and the intoxicating aromas of the cuisine of India. Take your palate 9000 miles away to Garam Masala and experience your ‘aromatic affaire with Indian cuisine.’ dine in an ambiance that is exotic yet contemporary, surrounded by the warmth of spice-inspired hues and stylishly elegant décor and lighting. Indoors, dining is luxuriously ‘cool’ with A/C, or enjoy dining outdoors on the terrace, cooled by the gentle island breezes and surrounded by tiki torches.
Authenticity is fundamental as two chefs from Northern India, Laxmi and Keshav, prepare the same classic dishes that have been enjoyed for generations. Their education of Indian cuisine goes back generation after generation, to their parents and their parents’ parents. They never measure anything – they just know. Using ‘whole’ spices and age-old preparation methods, many of the dishes are cooked in a traditional clay tandoor with a charcoal bed. Reaching temperatures of 600ºF, the tandoor essentially grills and sears by the radiant heat generated from the hot coals. The hot air inside the belly of the tandoor facilitates roasting via convection and the natural meat juices that drip onto the hot coals ‘smoke’ the food to create that distinctive char-grilled flavour and aroma.
This evening would be a Royal Feast, hosted by General Manager Ajay Vyas, and Restaurant Manager Vibhuti. Ajay explained that in ancient times, the royal kitchens would prepare a feast and chefs from the regions of North India would showcase their best dishes. He thought this would be an apropos way for us to sample many tastes and flavours. Garam Masala covers dishes from the Central and Northwest frontier, with a few southernstyle dishes mainly from four states, yet there are 22 more!
Throughout the evening, Ajay would again share his passion, knowledge and expertise of India’s cuisine, history and culture. It was fascinating to learn and discover so much about the food you are enjoying, it engenders a real connection to the food.
Soft and mellow Indian music plays, frequently interrupted by the sound of the snapping, cracking and popping of poppadums. Complements of the chef, diners enjoy roasted poppadums with two sauces, mint and yogurt, and tamarind. This was a feast after all, so we also indulged in the fried version, generally made for festive and special occasions with two additional sauces. The mixed chilli pickle had quite a kick and an acidic bite, plus a lovely sweet mango chutney with cloves, cardamom and saffron.
Our Royal Feast commenced with a Tandoori Platter of four dishes paired with a Tamarind Martini. A spicy, sweet and savoury cocktail that really complemented the great char flavours from the tandoor. This concoction of vodka, strained tamarind pulp and lime juice was served in a glass rimmed with smoked paprika and sugar.
Lamb Seekh Kebabs are a perennial favourite and an undisputed hit on our list. Served on an Onion Paratha (a flatbread), the minced meat is superbly spiced, rolled like a sausage and cooked in a tandoor. I could eat an entire platter of those.
Paneer Tikka is actually cottage cheese. Sandwiched between a slice of green pepper and onion, the paneer has a lovely texture, consistency and colour that soaked up the seasonings like a sponge.
Shrimp Tandoori is marinated in yogurt and herbs and cooked in the tandoor, rendering these inherently sweet crustaceans absolutely divine.
The Peri Peri Chicken was the star of the Tandoori Platter. Tangy and spicy, with just the right heat, it was served on a Lacha Paratha (layered flatbread) that mellowed the spice. I asked Ajay what gave this dish its palatable heat and interesting colour. Pimentos, scotch bonnet peppers, vinegar, cilantro, and whole spices like cumin, garam masala, and coriander powder. My fellow diner suggested I should have just asked what wasn’t in it.
A soup shooter of Dal Shorba made with yellow lentils proffered rich and warming flavours with turmeric, lemon, cilantro and cumin. This paired beautifully with a clean and crisp Chateau Ste Michelle Sauvignon Blanc.
Next, a well-balanced and aromatic 2014 Louis Jadot Chardonnay and three Offerings of the Sea beginning with Prawn Tikka Masala. Tikka means a bite or morsel and Masala means a mixture or blend of spices. Add succulent prawns cooked in a yellow onion sauce and you have perfection.
Fish Kerala Masala was sensational. Named for the state in India, the mild and flakey fish was perfectly done, lightly seared and finished in a rich and heavenly onion-based curry sauce.
Fish Amritsari originated as a snack or side dish in Punjab where the famous golden temple is located. Tender chunks of snapper are marinated in lime and coated in a deliciously crispy chickpea batter with a lavish sprinkling of chaat masala. Try it dipped in yoghurt and mint or tamarind sauces. Marvelous!
I don’t usually get excited about rice, but this Coconut Rice was outstanding. Absolutely light and unbelievably fluffy. The coconut added a hint of sweetness that complemented everything. The secret? They use only basmati rice in the Garam Masala kitchen.
And our last main indulgence on this culinary crusade, or so we thought, a Tasting of four Curries together with the ultimate and essential ‘utensil’ …naan bread. Paired with Duckhorn Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon, this was a perfect wine with Indian food, particularly meat-based curries.
Dal Makhani is a mix of three lentils with tomato, garlic and onion pastes slow cooked overnight on the tandoor for at least twelve hours and finished with cream, butter and fresh tomato paste.
When we saw Lamb Rogan Josh on the menu, we all smiled. A moment of silence ensued for this melt-in-yourmouth dish of tender cubes of meat cooked in a brown onion sauce with herbs and light spices.
The Chicken Kadhai was a new experience for us. Smoked over charcoal, rendered a really intense and incredibly wonderful smoky flavour. A Kadhai is a deep, steel cooking pot.
And last, Paneer Pasanda, more of that marvelously tender paneer, stuffed with minced paneer and Indian spices and finished in a Makhani sauce, a butter-based, tomato cream sauce.
Now, back to that ultimate and essential accessory, naan bread. First, Peshawari Naan is a sweeter bread, filled with cottage cheese, raisins, and cherries. And what I consider to be the bastion of Indian sides, Garlic Naan. Piping hot from the tandoor walls, perfectly blistered, crispy and lip-smackingly good! Use naan like a super sponge to mop up every drop of sauce on your plates, as well as to soak up the residual spice on your palate.
But the feast was not over. An unexpected surprise of Nargisi Koftas, a delicacy from the kitchens of Nizams. Boiled eggs are coated with finely minced lamb and finished in a fantastic onion curry sauce. I know what you’re thinking…sounds like scotch eggs. I don’t want to ruffle any chicken feathers, but it is believed the British may have been inspired by the Persian dish. A fabulous sharing option, this was the celebrated dish of the night.
The distinctive desserts (Meetha) of India are simply captivating. Ajay paired our sweet delights with a cocktail, an Old Fashioned, made with 18 Year Old Macallan, adding “Anything goes well with an 18 year old whiskey Old Fashioned.” I couldn’t agree more.
Gulab Jamun is a traditional confection and a favourite of mine. A condensed milk dumpling is deep fried and dipped in saffron- rose syrup. Oh my, and it’s served warm! And a “really creamy, really smooth” Alphonso Mango Cheesecake, made with unbelievably super sweet Alphonso Mangoes.
Beyond satiated, and feeling like royalty of ancient times, we pinched ourselves back into reality. Our always attentive and observant host Ajay asked, “What do we think?” We just smiled and said, “We’re in heaven.” “That’s exactly where you should be.” Ajay replied.
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