This Is How You Can Taste Your Way Through Italy
After an experience like the Pandi Desgustation, it’s safe to say that the bar was set pretty high in terms of my expectations of the 10-course Aperitivo to Digestivo Italian meal hosted by Aditya Raghavan (Addie), Anandita Kamani (Ana), and Abhishek Chinchalkar (Chinsi) in the Mumbai suburbs.
But I learnt quickly that each experience is its own and comparing them is a disservice to both. The first sign was the fact that I arrived early (something that I’m not usually known for), the smooth jazz playing was my second inkling, and with many new faces trickling in, the stage was set for a very different show.
We even decided that, since it was an Italian meal, we should eat family style on one big table instead of two. And so we did. The cooks came out of the kitchen to find the setup had changed a wee bit, but I can’t say their hearts weren’t warmed at the sight.
Now, let me start with a disclaimer that I’m a sucker for (good) Italian food. I feel like its simplicity is its strength and unfortunately, can prove to be its weakness too, because it becomes a victim of its own simplicity. People tend to bastardise it in ways that you wouldn’t imagine, hence the word ‘good’ in parenthesis.
The first course, served on a shallow plate, was Vitello Tonnato con Mooli. According to Addie, even the tiny mom-n-pop shops would have the class Piedmontese dish of veal covered with a creamy tuna and caper sauce.
For an Indian touch, he used Indian radish or mooli wrapped around a caper berry and dressed with some of the most delicious vegetable demi glace ever (I asked for a spoon to finish every last drop, no kidding!). Also, a moment to praise Chinsi’s IPA pairing with this course that had notes of grapefruit and was so refreshing. I could’ve had glasses of this, had it not been in short supply, considering it was especially brewed for this dinner.
That was quickly followed by a playful version of Bagna Cauda that translates to hot bath, and is usually eaten fondue-style during Christmas. Addie and Ana didn’t serve it like this though; they transformed it using ragi flour and hung curd, into a cookie. They titled it Ragi In A Hot Bath.
For the Heart Of The Earth course, Ana used beetroot instead of the traditional potato, considering the sweet, earthy winter favourite is in season.
The way I see it, if the sandwich-wallas and chaat-wallas can use it in their sandwiches and chaat, what’s stopping it from being used in gnocchi? And with a play against some piquant sarson and a velvety 12-year aged balsamic that had a very date-like sweetness, it was a treat for both the eyes and the taste buds. And the Vallone Rose that didn’t taste like much by itself, took on a different personality when it played with the food.
Next up, there was a course that celebrated the ‘Sabziyon Ka Raja’, the baingan. There are many varieties of brinjal available in Indian markets and for this course, they did 3 versions of eggplants parmigiana.
Obviously, because the varieties are different, the methods of cooking them also differ, but the soul stayed the same. One was a generously sized classic take on the eggplant parmigiana with tangy tomato sauce and cheese, the next was a take on the Punjabi bharwa baingan that is stuffed and cooked on the fire for a roasted texture, and the last took the form of a cigar roll that had a bite to it, and was definitely my favourite.
This course was interesting because genetic modification of veggies around the world mean that varieties and strains of vegetables are dying. Think about it, even with something as simple as corn, you now hardly see the white bhutta we would get every monsoon — it’s now almost always yellow American corn.
By this time, I was stirring in my seat because a little birdie (the menu) told me that the pasta course was next. A swirl of freshly made-to-order linguine, served with clams that tasted of the ocean (so you know they were fresh), Pecorino Romano and winter peas, were served.
Now, I’m not a big fan of peas, but I was overruled on the dining table. In this dish, the peas provided a nice contrast of colour against the yellow egg yolk pasta, a different texture and a particular sweetness that would otherwise be lacking. I conceded, as you can tell. There you have it, Linguine con Teesriya e Piselli.
When the glasses were swept away, and the clear white got swapped for red, I knew what it was time for, even before consulting my menu. Mutton Osso Bucco, it had been a long wait.
Using seasonal Bombay veggies, they stewed this mutton shank to perfection – low and slow. My one complaint though (as it often is) was that there wasn’t enough jus.
Contorno, a side dish of vegetables usually served with a meal, was our next course and it was simply inspired. Using the charred Indian red carrot (usually seen in gajar ka halwa), with tuvar dal, parmesan, and a week old kanji (Punjabi fermented carrots), topped with a clear tomato broth, this dish was deceptively complex and absolutely delicious.
And then the Formaggio course…Addie made robiola, one of the many cheeses from Alpine Italy and plated it over honey and figs. For an added dimension of flavour, he sprinkled the rich cheese with geotrichum candidum to create a peppery flavour to the rind that ultimately came through in the cheese. This dish was rich and rounded in its flavour.
Finally, the dolce came out, looking like art on a plate. Titled Winter Forest — it was a beautiful play of textures – fresh Mahabaleshwar strawberries, fresh Nagpur oranges, strawberry glass, Desmondji’s Nagpur orange liqueur-infused chocolate brownies, Nagpur orange crème patisserie, chocolate crumble cocoa mud, and the best part – edible flowers including Nasturtium flowers, pea flowers, and a peppery mustard flower that was to.die.for!
But wait, that was only 9. That’s because no Italian meal is complete without a digestivo, and we were presented with a seven-month barrel-aged barley wine that was full of fruity flavour. In terms of the meal, it could be likened to a conductor silencing the orchestra with a subtle flourish of his hand.
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