Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I'm not a food blogger, and I don't usually bother to post about my restaurant experiences, but this one really took me by surprise last night, so I had to say something. We dined at Mantra, in Palo Alto - a restaurant that can best be classified as part of the growing breed of Indian fusion experiences.

It opened a couple of years ago, to less than glowing reviews, but a change of chef and revamp of the menu supposedly yielded positive results, so we figured it was worth a try. It was a fabulous meal.

I was a little concerned at the menu - it gave lie to the impression that there may be a little too much happening with the food, but that turned out to be far from the case. In fact, most impressive was the balance the chef achieved between Indian flavours in non-Indian dishes, and vice versa. Second to that was the plating of the dishes, which managed to add to the experience without ever being overdone -- other than perhaps the desserts which were a little over the top in presentation!

The appetizers were both superb - a delicate pea, cumin and green apple soup poured tableside over a crisp medley of diced mango and a few other things (sorry, the details are failing me!); and a kebab combination featuring minced lamb over quail eggs, and an absolutely stunning chicken reshmi kebab tinged with just the right amount of saffron.

It was the mains that really blew me away though. My Kashmiri Sea Bass was unequivocally the best fish I have ever eaten. It was cooked perfectly, moist throughout, the flavours of fish and spices perfectly matched - and it truly melted in your mouth. The two veggie entrees - an Indian style ravioli (a single large piece) and the Sabz ki Salan both elicited rave reviews, and perhaps the only disappointment was the lemon and thyme tandoori chicken in the mixed grill, which was not the best cut of chicken, and failed to live up to the standards set by everything else.

Dessert was also impressive - the rose and cardamom chocolate lava cake was a hit, as was the home made ice-cream and kulfi combination, and the shrikhand-esque lavender creme brulee.

If there's one criticism I have, it's that the food didn't quite come out together - it seemed as though the kitchen started everything, and sent it out when ready, rather than figure out preparation time and back into when to start preparing each dish. Other than that, the service was attentive, but unobtrusive - just how I like it.

All in all - a brilliant experience, one which I would highly recommend.. and I will definitely be back for more.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New York Times on cricket!!

So the New York Times got all excited about India's series victory today. No doubt we're all supposed to be excited that cricket is getting coverage in one of the leading US publications. And then you get into the details.

A "picture of the day", of Sachin Tendulkar screaming with anguish. It's the look he usually reserves for his regular failed attempts to hit the stumps. The kicker though, is the caption:

Sachin Tendulkar, an Indian bowler, narrowly missed an opportunity to dismiss the England batsman Matt Prior during the final day of the third test between England and India at the Oval cricket ground in England. Later Monday, India won the five-day international competition.

I guess the only thing they really got right is the fact that Tendulkar was more of a bowler than a batsman in this Test!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Edge of Marriage

Of course, many would say that marriage in it's entirety tends to rest on a pretty fine edge, but that's neither here nor there.

This book is, of course, a collection of short stories. As I've repeatedly said, I am not the biggest short story aficionado out there. So when I say that this is actually a pretty good read, that's not just damning with faint praise.

I still faced my usual frustration with the lack of any sort of closure, cliched or otherwise, in most of the stories - though the final pair of tales surprised me by winding up in some sort of a settled state. However, what set this collection apart from most for me was the fact that without fail, the stories were gripping. I don't know that Kaplan is a great writer, but she did a tremendous job of capturing the relationships she was describing, and the state of mind of her key characters.

Don't go out of your way - but if you come across the book, pick it up and you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

WARNING - Some of the following may spoil the plot, although I'll try and avoid doing so in too significant a manner.

So I consoled myself over the loss of "War Reporting for Cowards" by reading the same book that 350 million others have been reading over the last week or two. While I don't really have anything overwhelmingly negative to say about the experience, I am thankful that I am a fast reader and it only took me about 6 hours to get through it.

I walked away from the book (well, more like turned out the light and went to sleep) with two clear lingering thoughts.

First of all, all the pre-book speculation about people dying turned out to be both right on the mark and wildly off base (how's that for avoiding spoilers). Deaths were somewhat gratuitous and insignificant, and yet were of the sort that students of literature fifty years from now will deem to have been central to plot advancement and critical to character development (at least, for those characters who remained alive, that is).

As for the grand denouement and the climactic scenes leading up to it, in truth I think many readers will find themselves surprisingly unsurprised. It seems to me that Rowling either unwittingly backed herself into a corner with the previous books, or else had always known how things would unfold, and revealed more than she really intended. That, or my guesses happened to be good ones.

As her characters have grown from book to book, Rowling's writing has clearly evolved with the series. The books are still a light read, as they should be, but she has done well with this one to keep me engaged despite the lack of suspense - I cast my mind back to the first book, which took me several attempts to plough through because it was simply not well written.

Can't really say much more without spoiling it for my two readers, so I won't.