Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Not a Chappuccino In Sight…

As a Brit, there is something magical about the smell of Indian food. For me it invokes a bunch of memories ranging from great nights with good friends sat around a big table in Brick Lane (the “go to” place for a decent yet cheap ruby in East London) to childhood memories of watching WWF (as it was still called) wrestling as an 8 year old with Shak (my neighbour in Blackpool) as his mum kept us well away from losing our virginity by stuffing an assortment of deep fried Indian treats down our throats. So to walk through the door of JC’s place with a pair of very open lungs was a real nostalgic treat as vapours of cumin, cardamon and cilantro tickled my belly and brain in equal measures.

Now every executive chef will agree that nothing gets the taste buds going like a good smoke and surely it is only the archaic smoking laws here in NYC that stops every meal opening with a fat one. To accompany the Glastonbury inspired amuse bouche was a tribute to the Queen Mother (god rest her soul) – a self-poured glug of Bombay Saphire Gin with a token splashette of Tonic. 15 minutes into the night and already things are going paradoxically both fantastically well and utterly pear-shaped.

As soon as JC’s delightful missus had been dispatched with $20 and orders to keep herself busy for a few hours, the eating proper could begin. Chef JC had the following five course South Asian inspired extravaganza for us…

Poppadoms & Chutneys
Red lentil & Carrot Soup, Homemade Naan Bread
Seafood Bhaji
Tandoori Chicken with Black Lentil Sauce, Herb Pulao, Rocket & Mango salad
Cardomom Kulfi

Now even just typing all that makes my rectum emulate Eric Idle’s eye (know what I mean?) but JC resisted the temptation to make us five courses of molten lava and I can truthfully say that Wednesday morning was free from the anticipated “ring of fire” scenario. That’s a big “Bravo” in my books straight away.

Anyway, down to business. What good Brindian (British Indian) meal doesn’t begin with a veritable tower of poppadoms served with an assortment of dips? JC rustled up four homemade dips for us from scratch of mango salsa (damn good), mint raita (extraordinary, I could have drunk it by the pint), hot green chilli dip (nice stuff, would have liked more heat) and a cucumber yoghurt dip (nice and refreshing). It’s basically Indian Superbowl food and the poppadoms resemble light tortilla chips which have been shallow fried in oil to result in a perfectly glistening vehicle with which to drive half a pint of dip straight into your gob. Indeed they are so light that it feels you could eat a thousand of the little buggers but caution and restraint are required as they are like a tardis made of tampons wrapped in a Shamwow (don’t deny you know what I mean) and overindulgence can leave you too full to enjoy subsequent courses. The Curse of the ‘Dom has claimed many victims but none, I am pleased to report, last Tuesday.

One thing I am most excited about with the turn of the weather is the return to some thick, warming, hug-in-a-mug soups and JC began the season with a fine puree of carrots and red lentils spiced enhanced with the regular Indian spice blend. He really nailed this one and the homemade naan bread (an unleavened bread which he topped with poppyseeds) was the perfectly authentic mopping up tool. He was even thoughtful enough to give the diners their choice of crispy or extra crispy bread…well, that’s how I’m choosing to report it. Two courses in and two ethnic riots (the British equivalent of a home run).

Course three was a seafood bhaji (think chunky pancake) made from salmon, turbot and shrimp if my memory serves me correctly. I’m used to the protein content of a bhaji being basically irrelevant because of the over-riding spice blend but with these bad boys, JC managed to keep them extremely light (which is pretty impressive for a deep fried ball of ingredients held together with batter) and the individual flavours of the seafood remained well and truly in tact. Yet another great dish from JC Jaffrey.

The inevitable Thursday Club over-eating groans were beginning to become audible around the table but luckily we had a while to wait for the final savoury course. Unfortunately we filled that time by chugging more beer and smoking our heads off…not exactly the 45 minutes sleep we probably all craved by that point. Still, when the main course arrived we promptly all fell on it like starving animals. What appeared was well worth waiting for – a baked tandoori chicken breast (a marinade of yoghurt, lemon juice and a variety of spices that results in a piece of protein that is the same shade of pink as Hello Kitty’s undercarriage…I assume). Whilst this colour occurs only in nature as a way to entice bees to flowers and men to oral sex, the resultant flavour (of the chicken, not the minge) is truly incredible. If there was a downside, it would be that Teddy’s piece was a little underdone but, quite frankly, that serves the fat bastard right for jacking the biggest piece. Serve it to me next time JC, you know I’ll just swallow it whole and not say a word (insert your own gay gags here). To accompany the chicken was some herb pilau (tasty with a nice bite) and some black lentil sauce that came out more like a puree but still had great taste. A thoroughly enjoyable dish.

So what do you need after all that rich savoury food? That’s right, an even richer dessert. Without the aid of an ice cream machine, JC had managed to whip up an extremely tasty cardomon kulfi (think cardomon infused ice-cream made with condensed milk) served with some Indian sweets (not recommended by the ADA). Despite being fuller than Pete’s Book of Tall Stories, we all wolfed down this hypnotic sweet treat and I can honestly say it was the finest Indian dessert I have had the pleasure to savour.
No surprises for what happened next - we retired to a local juicer to put another nail in any remote chance of feeling human on Wednesday morning. Thanks for a fantastic meal JC.

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