Thomas Keller’s Bouchon

Bouchon2 Having two of my favorite cookbooks, The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon Bakery sitting proudly on my bookshelves wasn’t enough for me. I’ve always wanted to eat at one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants. The opportunity presented itself last week. I went to Las Vegas for the FoodFightWrite blog conference and my son was there for a technology conference. We decided to have dinner together at Bouchon Bistro located in the Venetian hotel. White linen topped tables, little candles, dimly lit table lamps, mosaic floors, dark cherry wood, a huge hand-painted mural, and waiters in French uniforms made the restaurant warm and classy. Our server seemed to be new but she was attentive and a pleasure.

We nibbled on a wheat sheaf shaped crisp French baguette, butter, and warm pistachio nuts while pondering over the menu. I decided to start with Soupe à l’Oignon – sweet onions that were caramelized and slow cooked in beef jus, poured over a slice of country bread, and topped with Comté cheese. The broth was rich and delicious. My son had the Oeufs Mimosa – four creamy, buttery deviled eggs.

I wanted classic French so I ordered the Steak Frites as my main course. The pan-seared prime flat iron steak was topped with caramelized shallots with a pat of maître d’hôtel butter and served with French fries. I loved the dark charred parts of caramelized onion on the steak. It was by far the best Steak Frites I had ever eaten. I almost finished the whole steak. My son had the Gigot d’Agneau – roasted leg of lamb with flageolet beans, garlic confit, and thyme-scented lamb jus. He wasn’t “oooing” and “ahhhing” as much as I was!

Even though we were really full, passing up dessert at Bouchon was out of the question. We shared profiteroles – French cream puffs or choux à la crème. They were filled with vanilla ice cream and soaked in a luxurious chocolate sauce. Yum-eeee!

As we walked out of the restaurant, the waitress handed me a box of macarons. My dream of eating at one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants had just come true. I was ecstatic and the butter-soaked meal was totally worth it.


The best thing I did in Dubai – Afternoon Tea at the Burj Al Arab

Burj Al Arab large

My daughter and I celebrated my birthday with afternoon tea at the world’s only seven star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, in Dubai, on September 17, 2014. It was a lavish, over-the-top, ostentatiously rich, once-in-a-lifetime experience that was worth every ounce of gold that we spent!

Our reservations were made way in advance with a telephone call to the Skyview Bar, one of the restaurants, at the Burj Al Arab. We had our confirmation by email in a matter of minutes. Unless you are a hotel guest, there is no other way you could even go close to this magnificent, sailboat-shaped, hotel.

Upon arrival by taxi, security at the entrance bridge requested our reservation confirmation and then welcomed us in. We were an hour early which gave us ample time to take photographs, enjoy the deluxe ambiance of the lobby, and its built-in aquarium walls.

We made our way to the 27th floor of the Skyview Bar and entered a gold lobby. We were the first to arrive and it’s worth noting that they seat tables in order, starting with the best tables by the windows.

We had a table with stunning aerial views. To my left, I could see the hotel Atlantis rising from the Arabian Gulf, the man-made island of Palm Jumeirah, and the wave-shaped Jumeirah Beach Hotel. To my right, was the harbor, the impressive architectures of downtown Dubai, and when the clouds parted, we caught glimpses of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa of which I am in total awe.

We watched as other guests arrived and were ushered to their tables. Everyone was dressed a little more formal than the, “smart casual” dress code that was specified. The room exuded an air of luxury and grandeur, and we were attended to like royalty. The waiter welcomed us and offered us a glass of Louis Roederer Brut Champagne. We requested non-alcoholic drinks and he offered us a drink made with dates. We were also offered a plate of fresh dates. Some filled with almonds and others with candied orange peel.

Before we knew it, the second course of berry tarts arrived and we ordered our tea from a menu of more than 50 varieties! I chose the Superior Oolong and Jyoti chose the Jasmin Pearls. There was plenty of time to taste the other teas, flavored ice teas, espressos, cafe lattes, hot chocolates, and chilled fantasies, during the seven courses.

The next course was the Chef’s Carvery of the Day. This was melt-in-the mouth beef with silky mashed potatoes, both served warm.

Next, the waiter brought out a two-tiered stand that was shaped like the Burj Al Arab. The blue glass plates had finger sandwiches with egg, smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, and vegetable fillings. As we ate, the plates with the sandwiches and our tea cups were continuously refilled.

The next course of mini patisseries, petits fours, and scones came on a three-tiered platter. Again, the platter was shaped like a sailboat resembling the Burj Al Arab. The scones were served with Devonshire clotted cream and three kinds of jam – rose petal and strawberry, date, and passion fruit. I enjoyed the scones and crème brûlée the most. We couldn’t eat all the offerings so we had just a little bite of them.

I thought we had come to the end of our afternoon tea, when they brought in chocolate cake with a candle, along with a long-stemmed red rose to celebrate my birthday. The grand finale was a lychee and rose sorbet. The sorbet was a perfect palate cleanser and an appropriate ending to a decadent afternoon tea. Before we left, they surprised us with two boxes of chocolates that we could take home.

Tea at the Burj Al Arab is expensive, but it is a great once-in-a-lifetime experience. I highly recommend it, if you are visiting Dubai. It was fun, the view was amazing, and my daughter and I had an unforgettable time together. I will certainly treasure the memory forever!


The Serai Resort – A Bit of Heaven on Earth

Last week I reported that as part of the Women’s Day celebrations in Bangalore, The Serai Resort and Cafe Coffee Day invited bloggers from Bangalore to a weekend retreat.Serai Tanisha2
Tanisha (my beautiful niece pictured on the right), was invited and being her thoughtful, sweet self, she made arrangements for me to join the group. Thank you, Tanisha, for making this unforgettable trip possible!

The Serai Resort is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. It is a luxurious five-star resort that sits in the middle of one of the most beautiful and serene coffee estates in Chikmagalur. It was a five hour drive from Bangalore to the birth place of Indian coffee. When we reached Serai, we were greeted with garlands of jasmine flowers and cold coffee at the lounge.
Serai mountainsSerai villlas and forest

The view from the lounge was intoxicating. The Western mountains, forests, and towns formed a background to the villa-tops and palm trees close by. The grounds of the resort were landscaped with shrubs, potted flowers, manicured lawns, and the infinity pool. To the right of the lounge was the restaurant, Odyssey, where we were to have our meals and to the left was Oma Spa. After lunch we were taken to our villa.

Serai Pool2Tanisha and I shared Villa No.11. It had a low stone wall creating a private abode. As we walked into the courtyard the first thing we saw was our own pool, gazebo, and a small garden.

Our bedroom had high ceilings, rosewood floors, and huge sliding doors that led to a grand bathroom with sunken tub, shower, dual sinks with modern fixtures, and up-scale toiletries. We rested, freshened up, and were taken on a tour of the resort and the facilities. The tour ended with high tea, under a tent on the helipad. We were served petite sandwiches, dry nut biscotti, carrot cake, coffee, and tea.Serai Chocolate

To the delight of the food bloggers in the group, the Executive Chef of the Odyssey, Tony M. Jose, led us through a demonstration of chocolate making. He also showed us how transfers were applied to them giving them a custom-made, professional finish. Each of us were given a sample and, as usual, I ate mine slowly – savoring each bite!

Serai dinner prepA surprise barbecue and dinner by the pool was planned to complete the evening. The table setting was tastefully done with flowers, candles, and lanterns. The main course was a unique Malnad feast. The dishes were exotic, even to my experienced Indian palate. Upon reading a bit about Malnad cuisine, I found out that many of the ingredients used for these dishes are available locally, in Coorg, and Chikmagalur. Dessert was molten cake and ice cream. It was a lovely end to an impressive day.

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and I enjoyed the Indian cuisine immensely. The spread included idlis, dosas, uthappams, omelets, chutneys, and sambar. Every meal we had at the Odyssey was exceptional.

Serai tractor rideA visit to Kudregundi, a 400 acre plantation, was on our agenda for the next day. We were going to have the “bean to cup” coffee experience. Once we arrived at Kudregundi, I hopped into a comfortable jeep and the younger ladies were loaded in the back of a tractor! I am thankful that I wasn’t in the tractor, because I would have definitely had some broken bones! The girls, nevertheless, had fun as evident by their screams, laughter, stops and starts as we climbed the slopes of the plantation. The view was magnificent – huge, tall trees with pepper vines wrapped around their trunks and luscious coffee plants below.

Serai OmaWhen we got back to the resort from our day trip, we were ready for the premier Oma spa. In Sanskrit Oma means ‘life giver.’  We were each offered a one hour treatment, of our choice. Wow! By the end of my session, all I could do was go back to my villa and sleep! I heard that the girls had a great dinner that night with a live singer and guitarist while I was dreaming!

Thanks to Faiza, a photographer extraordinaire and blogger, we had a photo shoot and group pictures taken the next morning. We then boarded our bus for the long ride back to reality.

My deepest thanks for letting us experience, a bit of heaven on earth, goes to the staff of The Serai Resort and Cafe Coffee Day, and to the organizers: Deepika, Rohita, and Ashvita.

To the brilliant, talented, and beautiful ladies, Tanisha, Swapna, Alicia, Imsu, Ankita, Manvi, and Smrithi – it was a pleasure experiencing the trip with you. Your contagious love for life and your passion to achieve your dreams continue to inspire me.

The group at Serrai_IMG_2617 copyTo my readers, I invite you to visit their blogs. I am sure you will be as inspired as I am. Click on their names above to visit their awesome food, fashion, photography, travel, and illustrator blogs.

Photo Courtesy: Faiza Sheikh

Food and Adventures in India

My friend’s and my spontaneous decision to spend a vacation together in India was one of the best decisions we ever made for ourselves. If you haven’t tried vacationing with one of your girlfriends, you must. It’s therapeutic, fun, and relaxing.
Sherwine & Maggie
From the start Sherwine and I convinced ourselves that we were deserving of this time together, and we were going to “live it up”. Living it up, for you, might conjure up visions of exotic destinations, luxury hotels, chauffeur driven BMW’s, spas, shopping sprees, and food ventures – I must admit you are right! It was all that and more.

We started our trip in Mumbai, India, at The Leela Hotel. It soon became our home away from home. Our room was luxurious, beautifully designed in earth tones with Indian inspired art on the walls. At the end of our stay the hotel surprised us with two chauffer driven BMW’s to take us to the airport.
The Leela HotelThe Leela dome 400The hotel was surrounded by 11 acres of luscious tall trees, fountains, ornate gardens, winding paths, cascading waterfalls, and an outdoor pool. The hotel lobby had spectacular fresh flower arrangements that welcomed us each morning.

But, the best part, I must confess, were the staff at The Leela. They made our stay enjoyable and comfortable. They were top notch and catered to our needs beyond our expectations. Thank you staff at The Leela for the wonderful time we had in Mumbai.

Vacationing with a friend, that had the same food interests and tastes as I did, was an added plus. At breakfast, we often sat near a window that overlooked the beautiful gardens.

Leela2We had ours breakfasts at Citrus every morning from around 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. It took us that long to taste all the different offerings at the buffet. We often started with fresh-cut fruits – papaya, honeydew, watermelon, and pineapple. This was a strategy I learned from my dear friend.
We then moved on to the more serious of our cravings, Indian food, of course! The buffet had idlis, dosas, vadas, bondas, parathas, pav bhaji, poori-bhaji, upma (with all the accompaniments), and a host of other items like eggs, pancakes, waffles, brioche, doughnuts, pastries etc.

Chef Narendran Nambiar was a master at making perfect dosas. They were a real treat! Masala chai or decaf Nescafe was how I ended breakfast.

On some evenings, we had dinner at the restaurants at The Leela. We enjoyed the food at The Great Wall, the Chinese restaurant, Jamavar, the Indian restaurant, and Citrus which offered an international cuisine. Jamavar was our favorite Indian specialty restaurant and we will definitely dine there again. The Malabar parotas and malai koftas were the best we’ve ever tasted.

Jamavar Red 400We tried several other restaurants in Mumbai like Flag’s, Status, and Summer Harvest restaurant. They told me that the samosa-chat at Status is famous and I agree. We voted Summer Harvest as one of our favorites. The price was right, the ambiance cozy and the food was unforgettable.

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Sherwine and I then visited family in Hosur, a town close to Bangalore.  Our good friends Selwyn and Usha suggested that we should try the Indo-Chinese lunch buffet at Chutney Chang, and so we did. The restaurant serves 64 dishes from starters to desserts. When you are seated, you cannot help but notice the nine tempting chutneys that are on the table. The Indian desserts were excellent and we liked the Horlicks halwa which was rich, dripping with ghee and finger-licking good! The chef was generous to share the recipe with us.

Glass kitchenThe authentic, frontier cuisine of Samarkand, brings me back to this restaurant each time I visit Bangalore. I love watching the chefs through the see-through glass tandoor where they make a range of rotis and kababs.

This time, for lunch, we had sabuta chooza, paneer makhani, mirch baigan ka salan, desi dum ka murgh with roomali rotis, naans, kulcas, and all the usual accompaniments. The desi dum ka murgh, a Nizami speciality, was flavorful.

Samarkand chef 250Our sweet ending was malai kulfi, the master chef’s specialty. It was creamy, rich, and with just a hint of rose essence. Chef Sujit Kumar Dey and Manager, Akilan, went out of their way to please. Thank you for a great meal.
Samarkand chicken 400

Then, an unexpected turn of events took me to Chikmagalur. As part of the Women’s Day celebrations in Bangalore,The Serai Resorts and Cafe Coffee Day invited a handful of bloggers from Bangalore to a weekend retreat. Tanisha Christo, who was invited, asked the organizers if I could attend, and they readily agreed. My experience at this breathtaking, posh, sanctuary is noteworthy! Read all about it in my next blog.