May 23, 2007

What's The Best Food You Ever Had?

What’s the best food you’ve been served?

When asked out of the blue this random question can bring back a flurry of memories both good and bad.
I was thinking about this the other day and the first image that came to my mind was a quarter plate of Chicken Mughalai served in a small rooftop restaurant in Devlali. This small little town in Nashik district of Maharashtra gained prominence when the Army’s School of Artillery was shifted to this town from Lahore post independence. Since then almost every Arty officer spends a couple of years in Devlali. My father spent almost 12 years of his Army life in the Army in Devlali; I was born in Devlali; some of my oldest friends are from that town and the best food that I’ve ever had was in Devlali.

Celpin’s Kitchen was the name of the restaurant and we went there twice a week to gorge on a chunky piece of chicken leg cooked almost perfectly. I always ordered the same thing with two Tandoori Rotis; my father tried his level best to change my preference but no luck. I stuck to it. Once I wasn’t feeling too well and had been under medication that induced sleep but when my father suggested going to the Kitchen, I was the first one to get in the car! It’s a different story that I almost dozed off on the quarter plate that night!

People, often end up associating good food with the restaurant and try to replicate it. I love Moti Mahal’s Gobhi, I think it’s called Seasonal Gobhi. A regular Punjabi preparation- the gobhi’s marinated, deep-fried and finally made into a subzi. My joy knew no bounds when I discovered Moti Mahal’s branch in a mall in Bombay. I dragged all my friends and ordered the
usual fare but sadly the experience wasn’t half as good as the one in Delhi. The same goes for Karim’s. Anyone who’s been to Karim’s at Jama Masjid would consider visiting Nizamuddin or Gurgaon branches sacrilegious. Makes me wonder when some authority like, say, the Times Good Food Guide rates any place as the best in some category, do they also consider the branches!?

People visit eating joints for a variety of reasons. My mother likes to experiment a lot with food and is always game for anything partially new and halfway exciting. Gaurav, my brother, on the other hand will always end up settling for the tried and tested Chor Bizarre. My friend Sudhesh’s brother, based in the US, insists on visiting a joint called Baithak in Karol Bagh whenever he’s in town; though Sudhesh insists that the food’s not all that great but they went there a lot when they were growing up. Rochie just loves the Big Chill. My friend Ravi will make me drive from Gurgaon to Old Delhi to visit Karim whenever he comes down from Bombay; nothing else will suffice.

I’m not sure if many of you would agree with me but I believe more than anything else I think it’s the warmth with which people serve that helps in determining a favorite joint. Isn’t it? Little things make all the difference; no matter how many people are shouting at the guys in Rajinder KaDhaba, they always smile; the waiters in Moti Mahal make sure we get a table whenever we go there, the manager at Chor Bizarre remembers what my mother likes, the waiter in Punjabi By Nature will warn you about the colossal portions.

Two places in the recent past have made me realize that attitude in food business is what conclude how they’ll fare. Azzurro in Saket is a fine classy Italian joint but if you have a problem with the way your pasta is cooked it’s just your bad luck. The last time I went there my pasta was under cooked and tasteless. I complained and the waiter fixed the under-cooked part but forgot all about the flavor. I complained again and I was told that’s how it’s cooked! I suggested that perhaps the chef could do something about it. I was politely told that the lady on the next table ordered the same thing and she didn’t seem to complain! I lost my appetite and they lost a regular customer. Pind Baluchi in Gurgaon doesn’t really have food to kill for but when we didn’t like a preparation called Paneer Tilwala, it was almost bland, the waiter and the manager apologized to no end and refunded the money. I might not like their food but a stupid little gesture has made sure I’ll visit them more often!

So what’s the best food that you’ve ever had…?

Image Courtesy: T. McCracken

3 Responses to “What's The Best Food You Ever Had?”

  • good post-it is more to spend time with you people that I prefer to try out new food joints! as with my size one will suggest that I should stay off food!I do miss Devlali and celpin-the experience at pind balluchi was something never expected -I like the way they tried to find out what is wrong with a new introduction-kavita
  • Yes, people make all the difference; you can do with the occasional bland food. I went to Tabula Rasa on a Sunday afternoon. The place was not particularly packed. People came and left. The afternoon atmosphere was lively with chatter and lame jazz music. (At least there was a live band!!!). The attendant promptly appeared at the table and handed over the bar and a la carte menu. When we had made up our minds and raised her heads, the attendant had disappeared. After swiveling our necks for several minutes, one of us just decided to give the neck a break and move the legs instead. We got hold of a waiter. He feigned shock to the best of his limited acting abilities. “But sir, I thought, someone else was serving you.” No sooner was he finished with his defence, another of his colleagues emerged and explained, ‘rush hour, sir’. We took a quick 360 degree-view, the place seemed more crowded by the staff than its customers. The food was good. So was the sushi. It’s a different matter, the damn chopsticks would keep slipping out of the fingers…We had it with our hands. Thank god ours was a dimly lit corner. After paying, the fellow came in with a feedback form. I wanted to be candid so I wrote, ‘while the food was good, the service could be better’. The attendant, after pocketing his hefty tip, went to the counter opened up the feedback form, his expression changed. I did not take my eyes of him; I was curious about his next move. The guy took another one, copied the details and tore the one I had given him.

    If he hadn’t done that and instead explained why he could not service us properly or that he would do a better job next time, I would have torn it myself. I was disappointed. Though the food is good, I don’t think I will go back to the place again.
  • That must have happened to me a millions times. Not that I want to crib in the comment card but let's just put it this way I don't keep anything to myself! One tip though- wait till you are done at the joint to voice or pen your thoughts, never change that!

    I don't want to know what the waiter might do with my food!
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