A celebration of fine dining
As a journalist, my weekly off is any one day in the week other than a Sunday. I opt for a Saturday. The clock struck noon and I was still clueless what to do with nobody free at that time. To make matters worse, my maid had not come. So it was a time to take a decision - do the chores, cook a meal or treat myself at some place. I decided to drive into town and catch a bite at Hotel Nanutel's restaurant Utsav, part of the Nanu Enterprisea run by the Nanu Naik family. I made it a little family outing, and pulled my father along.
As I entered the place I was suitably impressed by the ambience. I was told that the brightly-lit interiors, the nature-based wall paintings, a huge glowing sun on the ceiling and a fountain in the middle of the indoor restaurant was all to go with the name Utsav, as in celebration and radiance. The head chef, Ashim Chakravarti was kind enough to suggest what I should have. Ashim hails from Kolkata, is vastly experienced and can tackle all kinds of cuisine with aplomb, from North Indian to Continental and South Indian to special Goan food and Chinese. To assist him on Goan cuisine at Nanutel is Laxmi Pai from Agacaim. And to see that everybody is on their toes and food is moving not just in the restaurant and room service but even in the banquets at all the conferences and parties that Nanutel caters to is Salil Bhobe, the resident manager.
Ashim immediately suggested that I try the Goan fish curry rice with some of his special fish starters, chonak (rock fish) croquettes. These turn out to be an amazing fish mince with onions, coriander and chilli, and with a sauce of garlic and mushroom in soya, it was just perfect for an afternoon snack. Salil says that they go really well with a drink, but we decided to skip the liquor. We ordered fresh lime soda to keep our appetites going till we could dig into the next item on the menu - the stuffed crab, a delight for anybody who craves seafood - minced crabmeat sautéed in tomatoes and condiments and then baked in the crab shell with cheese. The soft crabmeat and cheese just melts in the mouth, but there's more than the crab treat, it's the kismur salad. The kismur has chunks of dried mackerel with crunchy onion, mustard and coconut with a hint of turmeric that combines perfectly.
A glance at the menu reveals Ashim's specialties the Ajwain Maachi Seekh Kebab, a crumb-fried continental fish fantasy that is combination of garlic, cheese and fish, and for the veggie there's the Mushroom Fantasy, the Paneer Tikka, and Harabara Kebabs, without onion and garlic keeping Shravan in mind. All priced at an affordable Rs 90 to Rs 225, something that is light on the pocket.
Next, Salil suggested the prawn curry that's made like the curry typically served in a Goan Hindu home - a nice consistency of masala that contains coconut, jeera, garlic, coriander seeds, tangy tamarind and red chillies. It has medium-sized prawns, not too big as to not absorb the taste of the curry and not too small that would leave guests feeling short-changed. The vegetable dish we try is a mix of cauliflower, carrots, and peas all brewed together in spicy masala, best eaten with puris, naans or chappatis. Not dissimilar to khatkhate, the traditional Goan mixed vegetable dish. I opted to eat it with naan straight from the tandoor, and trust me it was mind-blowing - yummy, yet so light that it would keep the sandman away and allow me to work through the afternoon.
The icing on the cake was the fried fish, fillets dabbed with chilly masala and lemon juice for that little tang, with egg white for that extra taste and flavour, all held together with rava for that crispness. And to round it all up, a shot of sol kodi, coconut milk combined with kokum and a little coriander. A perfect end to a great meal.
But they say no good meal is complete unless followed by good dessert. And of course, no Bengali can go wrong on sweets, and Ashim's skill comes to the fore again. The soft Gulab Jamuns that I had were soaked in hot sugar syrup with ice cream, a heady cocktail that sends you straight to paradise. My father dug into a caramel pudding, it was good, consistent and refrigerated to the right temperature. What more can one ask? But for those who need a kick in their dessert, the rum pudding is just as good, I am told.
“Come enjoy an authentic, healthy, great-tasting meal at Utsav,” says Salil, and that is how one would describe this place exactly. Never will people with a big heart like Salil Bhobe or Chef Ashim Chakravarti disappoint any guest with their meticulously-planned menu to fit everybody's cravings.