Lounging around

If you fly premium economy on Vistara airlines, you have the opportunity to buy lounge access in Mumbai for $15. It’s totally worth it. Alcohol and spa treatment are charged extras, but the free food, drinks, and luxurious toilets in Mumbai’s new Terminal 2 lounge make the hectic nature of Indian travel something you can avoid. The terminal itself is gorgeous, well maintained, and full of luxury shopping and dining. So even without lounge access, T2 is clearly worth waiting in.

The buffet had a smattering of western pasta dishes and some local favorites. Heaped on my plate is some roti (flatbread), butter chicken, a “sticky chicken” sandwich, and a chocolate brownie. The sandwich, I think was a typo that should have been “spicy chicken”. It’s a chicken salad with peppers and some various curry spices on brown bread. The butter chicken was just the right amount of spice, and the basmati rice perfectly cooked.

So splurge on that $15. If you buy a lunch and latte at the Starbucks in the terminal you’ll probably spend about as much, and wouldn’t have free wifi.

Wasabi or curry?

After watching Iron Chef and Iron Chef America so many times, there’s no way I’m passing up the oppurtunity to dine at a restaurant by Morimoto. He’s branched into the Indian market with Wasabi (unoriginal name) at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai upstairs from the city’s first licensed bar. I’m curious to see if the dishes are tuned to an Indian palate, if it’s a more straightforward portrait of his usual eclectic plating, or a Japanese representation.

Starting the meal we have an amuse bouche trio  consisting of edamame, whole shrimp on a lobster puff with a spicy sauce, and in the middle a chilled tofu with a truffle ponzu sauce. Did you notice, these are arranged to form the Indian flag?

According to my wife, the toro tartare turned out to be disappointing. She was expecting the cool fresh taste of tuna, but it turned out to be salty from the miso broth base and the caviar. The smooth texture was ruined by the crunchy rice balls because they didn’t provide the contrast that his similar dishes in other restaurants have, mostly because they get all mixed in.

Tuna Pastrami sounded intriguing, and it was worthy of the name. Lovely ahi tuna was lightly smoked and crusted with peppercorn and sliced formed into a rose. Served with four different types of meaty spices, this is a complex dish: a salsa verde, a smokey soy barbecue sauce, cayanne dry spice rub, and a wasabi mayo. Finishing it off was fresh honeydew to cleanse the palate.

Two perfectly cooked scallops sit on top of two perfectly cooked al-dente chicken and scallop gyozas. Drenching it is a typical gyoza sauce laced with toasted nuts, and on the side, a dollop each of the same wasabi mayo and a tomato sauce. Finishing the garnish is a ring crisp made of pumpkin, a nice homage to a popular pre-dinner snack commonly found in this area of India.

Again though, my wife was a little disappointed in her choice. The plating of this langoustien and tofu dish was exquisite. The roasted shishito pepper was delicious, and the tofu gets great marks for being a totally different recipe topped with masago (roe) and wakame broth was rich in umami while a simple tofu dish. But the langoustien was a let down. The tempora was thick and soggy, and the same spicey sauce from earlier overwhelmed the dish, leaving what should be a wonderfully sweet shellfish completely unidentifiable.

A typical sushi trio of a white fish, fatty tuna, and salmon along with a spicy salmon roll has rice that’s overly cold, and the fish shows how difficult it must be to get sushi-grade product in this city. The texture is good, but the quality not what we’d expect. The real wasabi grated fresh at the table was a nice touch, but not enough to overcome what should have been a more appreciable dish given the name of the chef on the door.

The hottest miso soup I’ve ever been served comes with two beautiful clams floating in it, and a rubbery langoustine claw that’s been overcooked because of the heat of the broth.

These slightly over cooked (medium instead of medium rare) lamb chops are heavily peppered, then sit on a bed of green onions and turnips, then  excessively slathered with that same soy barbecue sauce from earlier. This is an unfortunately poorly executed take on a great idea.

A generous serving of cod is sweet and buttery, but at the same time, a bit salty. The opposite of the lamb, it’s just slightly undercooked, making it difficult to break apart cleanly with chopsticks.

Served on the side of the cod and lamb is a savory truffle rice out of a beautiful wood and cast iron steamer. We counted at least six different mushrooms (truffle, shiitake, inoki, morel, straw, and one we couldn’t name) but it’s just getting too heavy at this point in the meal and goes half-uneaten.

Dessert was gorgeous, but a little disjointed in flavors. A light ice cream was served with a granola, an unnecessary gooseberry, a smear of berry compote, and what can eat be described as a choco-taco with hazelnut piping.

A waxy matcha dome covers ice cream, and hot chocolate is poured on top but fails to melt through as intended.  Even though it didn’t do what was supposed to, it was still delicious, though insanely rich. We could only stomach a few bites.

Our conclusion is that Wasabi is a bit hit-or-miss. Perhaps the night after Valentine’s Day is an off evening, or standards slip slightly when the owner isn’t here, or perhaps we’re just asking a bit much for top-end Japanese food in a poor Indian city. Given what we’ve seen of Mumbai, I’m sure this is stellar cuisine for the locale, but it doesn’t hold up to the world-class establishments Morimoto is known for, especially given we are spending L.A. prices on this meal. That said, I have a renewed appreciation for everyday luxuries back home in L.A after seeing first hand a city like Mumbai.

Airport Exploration

We have a layover in Dallas, and my BBQ experiences here have been horrid, so let’s get the furthest we can with “Banh Shop“, a Vietnamese offering where they don’t even list their sandwiches as “banh mi”.

Vietnamese-ish bland sugary pork meatballs on a baguette with cilantro, pickled carrots, cucumber and daikon is topped with a supposed aeoli that tastes like mayo and nothing else.

The same ingredients, but on lettuce with some bean sprouts and noodles makes up their “Bun” salad. Equally bland. But hit anything with enough Siracha and it becomes palatable.

Only redeeming thing is that they have Vietnamese iced coffee, though the menu doesn’t call it out as it’s buried in fine print under “sofas, coffee, iced coffee”.

I can honestly say every meal I’ve had in Dallas Fort Worth has been disappointing. I’m really disliking this airport.

You kan haz Ukrainian

It’s our last night in New York, so let’s get something that we won’t find at home, which brings us to Veselka in the East Village. I was craving pierogies and this 24 hour diner consistently came up as some of the best in town. On a freezing evening we slip into a classic diner layout with Eastern European murals brighten the walls. Slavic beers fill the fridge case next to NY cheesecake and apple pie. After a short wait, we get a table in the middle of the packed dining room.

The menu is chock full of dishes that sound hearty and amazing on a cold night, so it’s hard to narrow it down.

An intensely fuchsia bowl of Christmas borscht hides a mushroom dumpling under its sweet, earthy, and tangy broth and a dusting of fresh dill. I’ve only had borscht a handful of times as a child and really disliked it, but this is a bright and invigorating dish. The dumpling provides an extra richness against the tangy sweetness of the broth.

In memory of my Polish grandmother-like neighbor growing up, we next have some pierogies with grilled onions, applesauce and sour cream. The cheese ones are slightly sweet with a ricotta-like filling. 

The potato one has a nice creamy blend of potatoes and cheese, but the standout is the truffle with intense mushroom flavors pinching through the rich toppings.

With the appetizers packed away, we move on to the main courses.

Bigos, a stew of pork and beef meatball, roast pork, sauerkraut and onions is hot, rich, sweet, tangy and exploding with umami flavor.

 With a side of mashed potatoes and a crispy potato pancake, this is a perfect winter dish.

The meat plate is the natural mate for classic meat and potatoes. A meat-stuffed cabbage roll is basically a meatloaf wrapped in boiled cabbage and drowned in an amazing mushroom sauce. 

Next to it is a grilled kielbasa from a local butcher – not salty, and the epitome of flavors, spices, and that crisp skin. Rounding off the plate are three more delicious pierogies: potatoe, mushroom with sauerkraut, and a meat one that has the same mouth-watering mixture as the cabbage.

I am extremely happy we stopped here, as this is the kind of family recipe kitchen that only an immigrant would usually get to enjoy.

Touring Eataly

 What happens when you mix a Williams and Sanoma with an upscale Italian restaurant? Eataly, this wierd hybrid where you can buy olive oils and pastas while waiting for your table. Actually, there are 3-4 restaurants scattered in here, so very confusing. We’re at the largest, the pizza and pasta place called Le Cucine. 3 people means 3 things to try:

Starting with the Vesuvo pasta – with a creamy sauce, fresh basil, and sausage. I like my pasta al dente, but this was way underdone and salty. Would not order again.

We also had 2 pizzas. The first Massese, looks like pepperoni. It’s technically “spicy salami”. There was a nice heat, and a generous amount of mozzarella on a fantastic cheery crust, but it was very salty, and worst of all: the tomatoes were not fully drained so there was a slick of water on top of the cheese.

The other pizza was the same, but sausage. Great sausage, but same flaws. Come for the cheese market, but don’t stay for the phenomenal views of World Trade Center.