Saturday, 30 November 2013

Pizza's have always been associated with the genome of fast food but in reality pizza's during it's inception era was indeed a single complete dish more often associated with healthy food. But over the years, thanks to the various marketing activities of international food giants the entire concept has changed. It has now become common to associate a pizza that is related anything to American as the fast food version of the well known pizza. These are often the ones topped with loads of toppings and cheese. But can you imagine a pizza chain that has a very American name yet the pizza's served there reflect the authentic Italian ones in nature. Yes, I'm talking about the famous "California Pizza Kitchen" which has its branches all across the globe.

CPK as it's commonly known is a well recognized american chain of restaurant that differs a lot from the regular pizzeria. CPK in addition to pizza's also serve up numerous other exotic dishes such as pastas, salads finger foods and so on. My first introduction to CPK was through a relative who used to tempt me with his experiences at CPK in the US. So when I knew CPK was launching in Chennai, I just couldn't wait to savour their offerings. Being in the now hip mall in Chennai, the Phoenix Market City, it was quite a drive from central Chennai during the bustling traffic. But from my experiences that evening, it was a drive quite worth it.

Tucked in a corner of the mall, the first thing that strikes you is the decor of the restaurant. It has a mix of traditional wooden feel coupled with a modern contemporary look. As we were being seated, I noticed that they has a semi-open kitchen that was constantly dishing out beautifully plated dishes. The first dish that made it to our tables was the 'Thai Crunch Salad'. This is an original creation of the CPK kitchen and consisted of crispy rice sticks, some crunchy wontons, roasted peanuts tossed in a overwhelming mixture of cabbage, carrots, cilantro, green chillies and chicken. The dressing for the salad was their in-house signature lime-cilantro along with some peanut dressing. The next up was the 'Mediterranean Salad' which was a pure veg salad comprising of a mixed leafy combination of cherry tomatoes, onions, kalamata and some olives. This was served with some pita breads on crumbled feta cheese topped hummus bed.
(Thai Crunch Salad)
(Mediterranean Salad)
This was followed up by the appetizers. The first of the lot was the 'Mediterranean Foccacia'. It is basically a pizza bread served with some flavoured olive oil and parmesan. The next was the 'Sonora Chicken'. The chicken was perfectly grilled with flavours of lime. It was accompanied with a salad and chipotle dipping sauce. This was followed by the 'Spicy Chicken Supreme and Slaw'. It consisted of boneless breast strips coated in a very crisp Panko breadcrumbs. It was served with a special coleslaw and a ranch dipping sauce. The last among the appetizers was the 'Lettuce Wraps'. This dish was unique in a way that the wok seared Shiitake mushrooms along with water chestnuts in soy ginger sauce needs to be mixed with the crispy rice noodles that it is served on and then this entirely needs to be wrapped in the provided iceberg lettuce cups. It was very refreshing and packed a punch.

(Mediterranean Foccacia)
(Sonora Chicken)

(Spicy Chicken Supreme and Slaw)
(Lettuce Wraps)
With the appetizers done, it was finally time for the pizzas. The first one up was the 'California Veggie'. The crust was a deep dish multi-grain crust with exotic toppings such as broccoli, grilled zucchini, grilled baby corn, sun dried tomatoes along with the regular vegetables. To be honest it was more like a salad pizza as barring the mozzarella, the pizza was a full fledged healthy affair. The next up was the 'Chicken Fajita Pizza'. First impression completely blew me out. The pizza was wafer thin but enormous in size. True to its name, the pizza had fajita written all over it. Spread with cilantro pesto, the pizza was topped with lime marinated onions, assorted peppers and shredded chicken with ample amount of mozzarella and cheddar cheese. This was of the most unique pizza's I've ever tasted and trust me it's a must try. This was followed by two different pastas. If you are wondering what pastas are doing in a place called pizza kitchen, don't be mistaken, their pastas are a fusion between the American and Italian flavours. The first pasta served was the 'California Putanesca', which was a penne served with imported Italian tomatoes, some basil, red hot peppers along with garlic and black olives. The non vegetarian version is served on a bed of grilled chicken breast. The next pasta was the 'Aglio E Olio'. This was a spaghetti literally on fire. Tossed with red chillies, garlic and olive oil, it was served with cubes of juicy chicken bites.
(California Veggie)
(Chicken Fajita Pizza)

(Really really thin!!!)

(Chicken Fajita Pizza)

(California Putanesca Penne)
(Aglio E Olio Spaghetti)
By the time the pasta's were done, we started getting signals that the tummy was reaching it's breaking point and it was time to wrap up. But then how can we miss out on the desserts. It was when this thought was running that we spotted on the menu a dessert that no one can say no to. There tucked in between few other desserts was the divine 'Tiramisu'. In all honesty the Tiramisu at CPK, was one of the finest I'd tasted in India. It is another of a their must have dishes.

Though Chennai has always been at the fag end when it came to international restaurants opening shop here, it is better late than never. The overall experience at CPK was very good and contrary to their brand name, this place has loads of non-pizza dishes that are truly worth a try. A meal for two should cost you anywhere between ₹1500 - ₹2000 depending on how big your appetite is.

California Pizza Kitchen in located on the ground floor of the swanky Phoenix Market City in Velachery.

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Thursday, 14 November 2013

For those of us who lived in the Europe, the concept of Pub food would bring in vivid memories of our experiences there. Personally for me, some of the great food memories of my time in the UK are characterized by the food that used to be part of our weekend feast. Often then ever, it evidently ends up in something that is available only in the Pubs. But be assured that food in British Pubs are one of the best pub foods you will ever get to savour.

Having been away from the pub food scene for quite a few years now, was uber excited when I came to know that Courtyard by Marriott was organizing a Pub Fest. When I was told that it is no ordinary pub food but instead a celebration of British Pub Food, I was determined to visit. The visit happened soon and was I not disappointed. The dishes were so authentic that it took me back to my old days in the British Land.
Upon taking our seats, we were met by Chef Sridhar, the Executive Chef at the Courtyard by Marriott. Having a great amount of culinary experience in the Europe, Chef Sridhar came about the pub food concept to showcase the same to the people of Chennai. My expectations were quite high especially on dishes like Chips and Pies. The first dish that was served to us was the 'Vegetable Burger with Hand Cut Chips'. The other vegetable loving friend savoured the burger while I was busy savouring the chips. They were one of the finest chips I've had especially being triple cooked. The advantage of being triple cooked is that the flavours are all preserved while the chips is still crunchy and wholesome. This was followed by the 'Vegetable Lasagna' accompanied with some Garlic Bread. I gave a miss to this dish as I was eagerly awaiting the dishes to follow.
(Vegetable Burger with Hand Cut Chips)
(Vegetable Lasagna with Garlic Bread)
Next up was one of my all time favourite pub food, the Cottage Pie. We were served a dual dish on a single platter with a sizeable portion of 'Cottage Pie and Mashed Potato' and 'Lamb Liver in an Onion Gravy'. The first mouthful of Cottage pie threw me instantly tumbling down the memory lane. It felt like I was dining in some restaurant in the UK. The blend of flavours and consistency were much much better than some of the best pubs there too. They meat was succulent and was filled with flavours and the mash topped it all. Being aversive to Offals, I generously donated my share of the liver to another friend of mine. But I did have a go at the gravy and the veggies. The gravy was again packed with flavours but my only regret was not being able to have the meat. The vegetarian version of the pie was a 'Onion, Cheese & Potato Pie'. Having tasted the Cottage Pie, I was in no mood to split the after taste and hence gave the veg pie a skip. Having thoroughly enjoyed the hand cut chips, we requested the chef if we can have another serving which was obliged in a grandiose manner. This was again a clean sweep.
(Cottage Pie & Lamb Liver)
(Onion, Cheese & Potato Pie)
(Hand Cut Chips)
(Hand Cut Chips)
With the mains done, the desserts were slowly reaching our table to our awe and wonder. The desserts arrived in style and by style, I mean real style. They were so creatively plated that we couldn't resist tasting all of them. The first dessert of the day was the 'Apple Crumble Pie'. This was a de-constructed version of the traditional apple pie. It resembled a lot like an apple muffin. This was followed by the a very unique yet weird named dish called 'Spotted Dick'. Yes that's why I mentioned weird. But trust me, this was the best dish of the evening. It is quite complicated to describe but imagine a dish that is a combination of a cupcake, muffin and a scone. This served with some thick custard made one helluva dessert. The next up was the 'Treacle Tart' topped with a cone shaped tuile. The last dessert and dish of the evening was a 'Chocolate Pudding' which was thick and chocolaty with some generous shaving of nuts. 
(Apple Crumble Pie)
(Spotted Dick with Custard)
(Treacle Tart)
(Chocolate Pudding)
Overall I had an amazing time tasting some of the traditional British Pub food that has been recreated true to the sense of the original ones. The British Pub Fest at Courtyard by Marriott is on till the end of November and is priced at ₹ 800 plus tax for Beer, Mains & Dessert.

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