Wines From USA Now In India

India has woken up to wines. Good wines. Even as many as ten years ago, most people in India did not have a palate for wines. So what if most liquor shops in India are called ‘Wine Shops’. All that these shops sold were Beer, Whisky, Vodka. Not Wine. Most people wouldn’t know the difference between a red and a white; forget matching wine with food. Until a handful of local vineyards and breweries came along and almost ‘introduced’ wine to the country. From then to now, India has turned into a wine-maker’s delight, what with its huge market potential and the booming middle class. We now have not only the wines made in India, but we also import from the best of the world’s wine producing countries. The latest entrant being the country that belongs to the ‘New World’ of wine makers, the country that is the largest importer (in value) and consumer of wine in the world, the country that is the fourth largest producer of wine in the world – USA.

The West Coast of USA is a dominant wine-making area, made famous by Napa County, Sonoma County, Mendocino County, Oregon and Washington State. Known and loved for their Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noirs, Chardonays, Zinfandels, Merlots, Pinot Gris, brands such as Robert Mondavi, Kendall Jackson, Beringer Estates, OpusOne, Harlans Estate, Screaming Eagle have strongly etched their produce amongst wine connosieurs around the world.

It was only a matter of time then, that wine lovers in India too could get to drink the US wines. And the wait just got over. Stellar wines such as Napa Valley’s Honig Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Coast’s Patz and Hall Chardonay, Sonoma County’s Kendall Jackson Vintners Reserve Pinot Noir, Mendocino County’s Kendall Jackson Vintners Reserve Zinfandel, Oregon’s Erath Pinot Gris and Washington State’s Columbia Crest Two Vines Merlot are here. Exquisite flavours and lingering after taste, be it the lighter whites or the strong and full-bodied reds, here are wines that go so well with gourmet food. Priced between INR 2000 to about INR 10,000, these are the wines that you’d love during a special occasion. 

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Currently available at the ITC Hotels in Mumbai, most of these and more will soon be available in the market.

Head to Bagel Shop For Breakfast in Bandra

We weren’t there for breakfast though! We went for dinner ……

We weren’t very hungry that evening when we were in Bandra, post a rehearsal. Salads seemed to be a good option for dinner. Maybe some juice too, said Jayanta. We thought for a while and settled for Bagel Shop — it seemed to be a logical place for light dinner.

Ah that charming little place, tucked away in one of the hills of Bandra! Despite the absence of hunger, Jayanta requested for a Roast Pork Bagel and I opted for Goan Chorizo Bagel. We even got a huge plateful of Egg & Cheese Salad, that was whopping big!!! Downed them all with fresh Watermelon juice. The Bagels are big and can be such an awesome thing for breakfast. Pity, we don’t go out more often for breakfast.

A completely informal set-up, park yourself here to catch up with friends or even have your meetings. They even have free wifi. It is fun to sit out, but mind you, can be somewhat noisy owing to the vehicle plying. Inside, the seating is not as comfortable.

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Bagel Shop Address:

30, Pali Mala Road, Carter Road, Bandra West, Mumbai.
022 30151216

Restaurant Review: Sassy Spoon in Bandra, Mumbai

 Despite hearing so much about the Sassy Spoon in Nariman Point, we haven’t had the time/opportunity to dine there. Blame it on our crazy schedules. It recently opened another outlet in Bandra, and this time round, since we frequent Bandra more frequently, we went there for lunch.

How is the ambience & service at Sassy Spoon Bandra? Sassy and so charming, we immediately fell in love with the place. Done up in white and some pretty upholstery colors, it make just that perfect setting when you are out for a stylish meal outside.

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But our initial euphoria about the place proved to be quite short-lived. Although we were there at 12.30 pm for lunch, one of the few people there at that hour, the staff didn’t give us the menu card until we asked for it. Had to request for water (which is never the case with any other restaurant! Water is served immediately upon taking the seats) while placing our order, and had to remind when it didn’t arrive despite waiting for about 10 minutes. During the meal, when they served us bread, we had to request for butter/olive oil separately. All other restaurants have olive oil and vinegar on their table. And butter spreads are served along-with breads!

Bad service? Yes! Is it because they just started? Maybe. But how can a high-end restaurant like Sassy Spoon falter on service even if they are new in a particular locality? Isn’t their quality across every department supposed to be stellar and uniform?

How is the food at Sassy Spoon Bandra? A bright sunny afternoon, I ordered one of their Orange based Margaritas, while Jayanta went for Beer. Got a Sweet Line Soda made for our little one.

Hungry and short of time, we wanted to hit the main course rightaway. I ordered Spiced Baby Lamb Leg  With Roasted Cauliflower and Lemon Pepper Baby Potatoes – one of the best that I have had in Mumbai! Absolutely stellar!!! Only missed a prune sauce or something a little tangy, that would have made it complete. Jayanta ordered Pork Ribs With House Smoked BBQ Sauce Roasted Veggies and Masd-h – and went gaga about it too. He raved that this was the best Pork Ribs in all of Mumbai, just that perfect tender and cooked to perfection.

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One odd thing about Sassy Spoon is that they do not serve a complimentary bread basket, like they do in other restaurants. We ordered a small whole grain bread to go with our meal of lamb and pork.

We were in a hurry to catch a dance rehearsal back in Powai, and hence, skipped desserts. But not before looking longingly at the desserts counter. Next time!

Final Word about Sassy Spoon in Bandra: Their ambience is awesome. Their food is awesome. How can they go so terribly wrong with service? Or was it just that day, with us, a one-off case? Too bad! Surely they didn’t realise that their lax service would cost them a couple of points in this review. And I am a little sore about bread basket not being complimentary. Why? Guys, look around the other sassy restaurants around you – the Indigo Deli, the smoke House Deli – and learn a thing or two about service and complimentary bread baskets!

Sassy Spoon Bandra Address:

Classic Corner Building, Next to Holy Family Hospital, Hill Road, Bandra West, Mumbai. Ph — 022 30151638

Ride up to Kopai River in Shantiniketan

We took a cycle rickshaw to Kopai river though, as we couldn’t hire a small cycle for our little girl. So what? We still rode to Kopai river, with the breeze on our face, through the pristine countryside that was green with the usual wintry brown here and there, crops that had been harvested and were waiting in heaps to be converted to grains, through fields pregnant with mustards and showing off their bright yellow and green hues, through our own rendition of “Gram chara oei ranga maatir poth… — the red path that leads you away from the village”, “Poush toder daak diyeche….– winter in here with a rich harvest”, “Dhaner khete rodro chayay lokuchuri khela….– the hide and seek of the sun and shadows in the rice fields ”, through the blabbering of our amused rickshaw-walla who took it upon himself to educate us about Rabindranath Tagore and his Shantiniketan. Take a car, and these joys, little ones, but ones which filled the heart and the soul, wouldn’t be yours…

There is romance in the air when you are in Shantiniketan. The romance of life. You almost see every song, poem of Tagore coming to life and play out right in front of your eyes when you are here. It is as though the bard would have written them all, the ones you are singing softly, sitting right there. Blame it on the Tagore lover. Shantiniketan is Mecca for him/her.

The banks of Kopai river, then, had to be seen. The river that was the inspiration for his ever-popular “Amader choto nodi..” (our small river), that generations of Bengalis have learnt in their toddler years.

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Still two hours to sunset, the sun had mellowed considerably and had cast its spell on the wintry noon. We simply wanted to sit by the riverside, listening to the Baul (Read — Bauls at Shantiniketan’s Poush Mela) who sat with his Ektara close by, singing Lalon — “Ami opar hoye boshe acchi ohe doyamoy, 
Pare loye jao amare…” ( Here, O Lord, I wait for Thee 
Bring me ashore….). You glide, from Tagore to Lalon to Tagore and then Lalon again…just as the sun’s rays get more and more colour, and the winter breeze prick your skin. Does the tranquillity that has descended upon you bring the urge to cry? Yes, it does. Maybe you fight back the urge. Maybe you give in. There is nobody there to laugh at you….you are in God’s embrace….

[For those who don’t get carried away as much as I do, here is a warning — Kopai river isn’t a very big one. You might find it more like a stream, especially in the winter months when much of the water has dried up. But if you manage to find Bengal’s two most famous bards, Tagore and Lalon, while sitting by the riverside, your’s is the earth and everything that’s in it…]

Touring Sonajhuri Gram in Shantiniketan

You have heard of Bolepur being a tribal rich belt – of besides the Hindus and the Muslims, there being the tribals such as Santhals, Koda, Mahal. And so, when in Shantiniketan, you enquire about them, just so that you can go and see how they live, eat and pray. The owner of place where we were staying, Mr Dey of Mitali Homestays (read — Staying at Mitali Homestays), advised us to take a tour of the Sonajhuri Gram (village), saying that we’d get to see more or less how a Santhal gram looks like. And so, off we went to Sonajhuri Gram, once we were done exploring the Khoai.

In fact, you can easily walk down to Sonajhuri from the Khoai/Sanibarer Haat area. It is that close! A short walk through the Sonajhuri Jungle gets you to the village. Take your time as you walk past the trees…if you have a guide along with you, he will mention the names of those movies that have been shot here in this forest. Movies or no movies, the walk in the woods was certainly the high point of visiting the Sonajhuri area.

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The Sonajhuri Gram, let me warn you, is a model village with mud-plastered houses, lanes, a cart kept here making a good photograph, cattles in the shed there almost waiting for the visitors. It is not a real real village, if you understand what I mean. More of a ‘touristy spot’. And so, the joy of discovery is hardly there. We simply walked past the village, asking our rickshaw-walla to wait for us at the other end of the ‘village’. Our daughter got into her usuals of chasing the hens and ducks, feeding the goats, while Jayanta helped her find more such domestic animals. All this while, I took pictures.

Sonajhuri is a one-time walk-by place. Doesn’t offer anything exquisite other than simply giving you a ‘glimpse’ of a tribal life. I’d rather go to a real village somewhere in the country-sides…

Also read — Sight-Seeing In Shantiniketan

Sight-seeing In Shantiniketan

If you happen to go to Shantiniketan, it is my earnest request that you should go for a minimum of 3-4 days as that little place has so much to show. Until you see them all with a good deal of time in your hands, you will be left with the feeling that your Shantiniketan visit was ‘touch, tick and go’! There’s so much to simply absorb, imbibe that I still long to go back when there’d be fewer crowd so that I can have Shantiniketan to myself and to my pace.

Shantiniketan/Visva-Bharati University: Tops everybody’s itinerary! There is so much to see here, starting from the Uttarayan Complex to the different university buildings, spread across a huge area, you need to be sure that you keep at least 5-6 hours for a complete tour. There are guides everywhere, and you can take the requisite passes from the counter that is near the Uttarayan Complex. The complete tour involves a lot of walking. It is advisable to hire a cycle or a cycle rickshaw for the tour, in case you can’t take too much of walking.

Sight-seeing in Shantiniketan -- Visva Bharati

Khoai in Birbhum:  Just off the Vishwa Bharati limits in Shantiniketan, about 3 kilometers away, is Khoai, a thick Sonajhuri forest with its curious canyon-like formation made by wind and the Kopai river. A Saturday Market (Shanibarer Haat) sits on its edges every week, from where you can buy beautiful village handicrafts and clothes. Read my elaborate blog on Khoai here – Why Must You Visit Khoai In Shantiniketan.

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Sonajhuri Village: It’s more of a model village with mud-plastered houses, and clean narrow lanes that offer a good peek into the lives of the tribal-rich villages. Located on the other side of the Sonajhuri forest, you can walk to this village or take a rickshaw. Even though we had a rickshaw, we chose to walk around when we reached the village just in order to see it thoroughly.

Sight-seeing in Shantiniketan -- Sonajhuri Village

Lipi, Ceramic Boutique: On our way from the Sonajhuri Village to Kopai River, we found this charming boutique store that sells beautiful ceramic pots, pans, plates and more. The wares are made by the local village people, but apparently designed by the owner, Lipi Bishwas. Very creative and exquisite stuff, prices were on the higher side.

Sight-seeing in shantiniketan -- Lipi

Kopai River: And then there is the Kopai River, Tagore’s “Amader choto nodi” – our small river. About a 15 minute ride from the Sonajhuri Village/main Shantiniketan, please go to see the Kopai only in a cycle or a cyle-rickshaw. We insist. How else will you feel the lovely breeze from the fields on your face? How else will you be able to devour the beautiful, unadulterated greenery around you? And when at the Kopai river, simply sit for hours, looking at the river and listening to the Baul singing to you a song on life…. (Read my post on Ride up to Kopai River)

Sight-seeing in Shantiniketan -- Kopai River

Kankalitala in Bolepur: About an half an hour’s drive from main Shantiniketan, Kankalitala is one of the 51 Shakti-Peeths in Hindu religion and is regarded as extremely sacred by the followers of Hindu religion. Do not go with expectations of grand architecture, for there is no architectural wonder here other than a concrete temple, Goddess worshipped in the form of a photo-frame and not the usual marble sculptures as seen in Hindu temples, and the temple’s sacred pond, which was rather dirty. Read my elaborate blog on Kankalitala here – Kankalitala – To Visit Or To Not Visit.

Sight-seeing in Shantiniketan -- Kankalitala Temple

Adityapur Village: If you go to Kankalitala, make sure you stop by the village called Adityapur on your back. It is the same village that has a huge lotus pond, and seemingly, the entire menfolk being busy in fishing at the pond. We eulogised about the village in a separate blog which you can read here – Touring Adityapur Village in Shantiniketan. 

Sight-seeing in Shantiniketan -- Adityapur Village tour

Srijani Shilpagram:   A place that showcases the homes and lifestyle of all the Eastern and North-Eastern states in India, come to this park to see India’s diversity. A tour of the whole place takes about 2 hours. And no, you do not need a guide for Shilpagram.

Sight-seeing in shantiniketan -- Srijani Shilpagram

And then of course, you ought to devote a considerable time to shopping in Shantiniketan! I wouldn’t leave the place without my loot of sarees, dupattas, dresses for my little one, kurtas for my husband, gifts for my family, handicrafts for the house. Read about them all in my post – Where and What of Shopping in Shantiniketan.

Restaurant Review: Chili’s in Powai, Mumbai

Jayanta had been to Chili’s before, with a bunch of friends from our running group, to watch a cricket match during the FIFA cup over bottles of beer. And had found the place to be an informal place, just suited for an evening when you want to let your hair down, meet up with friends over some good food.

This time, last Friday evening, we went to Chili’s as a family. And at were astounded to see patrons waiting for their tables even at 7.30 in the evening!!! The place was filled to the brim! Whoever said that restaurants in Powai face stiff competition from one another. This one looked like a clear winner just by the number of people already at the tables and the ones waiting for their turn outside!

Ambience at Chili’s in Powai, Mumbai: Found it exactly to be what Jayanta had described from his first visit – hep, informal, big, loud music, people chattering away, staff in a frenzy meandering along with plates and glasses and mugs. Cheerful bold colours everywhere, a bar with stools right at the centre, just by the look of it you’d know that the weekend has arrived! Just the place where the week’s exhaustion can be taken by its horns!!! Hehe…

Food at Chili’s in Powai, Mumbai: They have introduced a new menu for the months of December and January — Smoked Salmon Salad, Pulled Chicken/Paneer Corn Cakes, Smoked Quarter Chicken, Green Chile Chicken/Paneer Enchiladas, Spicy Smoked Shrimp Pasta, Citrus Garlic Chicken, Smoked Garlic Tenderloin, Sweet Mustard Seed Baby Back Ribs.

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We went in for the starters with Watermelon Margarita with Sauza Tequila and ​Watermelon Lemonade. The Smoked Salmon Salad served in a huge martini glass was absolutely delightful and tasted so good with the Margarita – just the right flavour, right amount of Feta, I almost scrapped the last bits out of the glass! The Corn Cakes were interesting, chicken/paneer mixed with Feta again served on a slightly sweet sauce. I particularly loved the Paneer one. Feta and Paneer marry well. And the Lemonade proved to be just the right drink to gulp them down with.

Spicy Smoke Shrimp cooked with corns and served with boiled broccoli, zucchini and with mashed potatoes were very tasty – we are Bongs, we love everything that has anything to do with ‘chigri maach, big or small. Our daughter loved the Chicken Pasta. Then came the Enchiladas — a revelation! Served on a bed of baked beans and mint-flavour rice, it’s a huge plate! Don’t order it if you don’t have somebody to help you to finish it! Loved the subtly flavoured rice with just the right dash of chillies. Next came the Ribs, which Jayanta was in no mood to share. All right with us since by now, my stomach was filled to the brim!!! Once done, Jayanta declared that the Ribs were one of the bests he had in Mumbai!

Time for desserts – Jayanta, the chocolate lover, requested for the Sizzling Brownie with Vanilla Ice-cream, while I ordered their signature Peach Cake with Ice-Cream. Just the right desserts to end a fantastic meal with!!

Final Word on Chili’s in Powai, Mumbai: Guys, DO NOT miss on their limited time menu. We, in fact, wondered why have such good dishes in their ‘limited menu’. The simple smiled a who-knows smile! Go for it before they stop it. But here is a warning – make sure you go to Chili’s in a big group. Why? Because, their serving size is SO BIG that you won’t be able to enjoy the complete spread if you go in small numbers. Their plates, glasses, mugs are all HUGE, fit for an army you’d think, I struggled to not waste any of the good food!

Hotel Review: ITC Grand Chola in Chennai

ITC Grand Chola in Chennai is one helluva massive and magnificient hotel. We were in Chennai for just one night and half a day, and franfly, found the time to be too short to enjoy all the frills we were entitled to at the Chola. We couldn’t even make it to the pool, despite having complimentary passes for it. Pity!

Staying at the Suite of ITC Grand Chola:  We ahhed-oohhed when the hotel executive showed us to our suite. A huge room with a fantastic bathroom. Daughter squealed at the bathtub, while I rolled my eyes when the executive tried to explain how to switch on the lights and television using a tablet!! I murmured to myself, so this is what the world has come to?! Switches controlled by iPads?! Where happens to the tech-challenged people like me now?

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Food at the Madras Pavilion in ITC Grand Chola, Chennai: Told you, we stayed just for a night and not even 5-6 hours there. So just managed to have a good, leisurely breakfast at the Madras Pavilion and a drink at the Tranquebar before our sortie to the saree shops in T Nagar.

Brimming and buzzing with people, the spread at Madras Pavilion was colossal. We settled for our usual English breakfast, but not before eyeing and ordering some lamb dimsums. Temptations of dimsums are hard to resist, so what you saw them at the breakfast counters? Big and well spread out, the only thing I missed at the Madras Pavilion were windows. Why didn’t the make windows at that enourmous dining hall for some natural light to come in? Breakfast is so beautiful when you see the sun’s rays around you.

A drink at the Tranqubar is perhaps a must, if you have time to spare when at the ITC Grand Chola. Jayanta wanted to down one before I pulled him out for saree shopping (Read — Saree Shopping in Chennai). Said, he needed to numb his senses!!! Nice place, Tranqubar – done up in gold, is plush and looks extremely rich.

Final Word on ITC Grand Chola, Chennai: Stay there if you love luxury. But most importantly, stay there if you have time in your hands. You will enjoy it thoroughly, the luxury and the frills too J


Best Saree Shops in Chennai

Why do they call the place T Nagar? They should call it Saree Nagar!!! With the number of saree shops that are there, and the number of buyers brimming over the shops and into the streets, T Nagar in Chennai truly deserves to be called Saree Nagar. Truly!

Had been excited about saree shopping in Chennai for a long time. So what if Jayanta has brought me back a saree from his Chennai trips every now and then? It’s never the same as buying one (in my case, a few) yourself, is it? And so, when we planned our Pondicherry trip for this Diwali, Chennai deserved a stopover of a day just to indulge at the famous saree shops there. Armed with a list of the best shops recommended by friends, we went to T Nagar the afternoon we landed in Chennai; and once again, the day we came back from Pondicherry.

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Nallis in T Nagar:  Nallis is synonymous with Chennai, right? You couldn’t have gone saree scouting in Chennai and not been to Nallis for a stock-up. I, however, went there out of curiosity. To see the magnus opus of the saree business. And magnus opus it is. HUGE. But since I am a regular at their Mumbai store, I decided not to buy from here. Most of their stock, be it in their Mumbai store or the Bangalore one or the Chennai one, are same/similar. Quite obviously, they believe in maintaining the tradition and staying same. For me though,  the one with the curious soul and the roving eyes, I wanted to peek into the other saree shops of Chennai and see what they had to offer.

Pothy’s in T Nagar: Got out of Nallis and bang opposite was Pothy’s. It had started drizzling by now, and we quickly crossed the street and hopped into Pothy’s. What struck us rightaway was that Pothy’s is MASSIVE — spread across 5 floors, and god knows how many square feet per floor, when at Pothy’s, you will find it difficult to find the other end of the shop. Sarees sarees everywhere, I was, for a moment, transfixed! And then quickly went about enquiring about the type of sarees I wanted to buy. It would be right to say that Pothy’s caters to every level of saree buyer. In today’s day and age, they have sarees starting from Rs 300 to the gold zari sarees! Got a handful of South Cotton, didn’t much like  what they showed in silks, and since we were running out of time (we had to drive down to Pondicherry — Read Drive to Pondicherry), we promised ourselves that we’d be back in T Nagar after our Pondicherry (read all my Pondicherry posts here — All About Pondicherry ) visit.

RMKV Silks in T Nagar: The day we came back from Pondicherry, we had time for only one shop at T Nagar. Went to RMKV. To their silk section. And was immediately floored by their saree stock. Not as big as Pothy’s, RMKV definitely has better saree stocks, expecially silk. And the best part is, it isn’t as crowded as Pothy’s. Got a bagful of silks both for myself and as gifts for the family. Found the prices to be very good, akin to Kolkata prices. Sarees in Mumbai are so expensive.

Friends had referred me to Sundari Silks, Sri Kumaran Stores, but we didn’t have the time for all of them. And consoled ourselves by saying that the three we saw would be equal to thirty in Mumbai. Saree business is serious business in Chennai!

Restaurant Review: Adyar Ananda Bhavan at T Nagar, Chennai

For our trip to Pondicherry, we arrived in Chennai just in time for lunch. Had jotted down Ananda Bhavan, Saravana Bhavan in our list of must-eat places in Chennai. And since, post lunch, I wanted to go for my first round of saree shopping, we zeroed on in the Ananda Bhavan at T Nagar for lunch, since it fell on the route to saree shops at T Nagar.

How is the food at Adyar Ananda Bhavan at T Nagar, Chennai? Unaware that we were, we requested to idlis and dosas, only to be politely told that those are not available during lunch hours. So then what do you serve during lunch hours? Thali!! And so, we asked for 2 Thalis, asking the guy waiting on us, if it would be enough for the 3 of us (Jayanta, me and our little daughter). The guy smiled and said a Yes! Little did we know that the 2 Thalis could have actually fed four! A very good spread that included Rasam, Pudina Rice, Lemon Rice, 2-3 vegetables, Sambar, Plain Rice, Papad and Payesam, we kept aside one bowl of Plain Rice knowing for sure that it wouldn’t be needed and hence, shouldn’t be wasted.

Excellent taste and a complete value for money – two Thalis cost just Rs 200!! We figured, food was cheap at ‘Amma Land’!

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How is the ambience at Adyar Ananda Bhavan at T Nagar, Chennai? The restaurant is just like any other Mithai/fast-food shop in India. Spread over two floors, the ground floor has smaller tables with a long counter for snacks and sweets. Guessed it was mostly used for that quick bite or the lighter breakfast. The first floor offered airconditioning, which is why we sat there. Chennai can be humid even to a Mumbaikar!

Relatively clean place – not great, not bad either. The staff goes out of the way to make you comfortable, especially if they sense that you are new to their city. Very heart-warming.

Final Word on Adyar Ananda Bhavan at T Nagar, Chennai: You can tell its an iconic place – has a cult following! We liked our meal, although hoped that the place could have been cleaner. Must-eat at, if you are a first-timer in Chennai!

Memoirs of a warring couple who agree only on travel and food


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