Saturday, January 27, 2007

If food could be the muse of love ...

Chicken a la Kiev is not yet counted among the Seven Deadly Sins, but it’s good enough to rate a place there. The basic premise – en envelope of chicken breast enclosing a bomb of frozen butter, then fried till the butter melts inside – is simple. And very tempting. I had this faint suspicion that it was a Raj innovation, but TGGG reveals that it is known Stateside. (Google also reveals that Joan W. Teller of Duke University has conducted research on “The Treatment of Foreign Terms in Chicago Restaurant Menus”. Glory be.)

At Mocambo (not the Stevie Ray Vaughan album but the eatery on Calcutta's Free School Street) they’ve taken it a step further. They have Chicken Pavlograd. Which is the same butter bomb, only upgraded with cheese and mushrooms and herbs. My mouth waters at the memory.

Downer. We were at Mocambo last night and for the first time in 25 years, they didn’t have the Pavlograd on offer. By the time we inquired, however, we had already polished off –

· Chilli chicken Mocambo style. Little cubes of chicken dusted with cornflour and lightly fried, in a soya-based sauce with chopped chillis and spring onions. This is a far cry from the standard “Indian Chinese” style of chilli chicken. And it’s served with fine crisp potato shavings, the only instance I have encountered of Bangali jhuri bhaja on a non-Bangali menu. (This is actually the Better Half’s discovery, she being the Mocambo regular while I am an occasional pilgrim. The advantages of having an effective CEO for the family!)

· Devilled crab. Creamy, faintly herb-infused, served in the shell to be scooped out with a spoon and eaten with an expression of reverence. We liked it so much we ordered another round, peppered devilled crab this time, but that tried a little too hard. Too much red pepper and tomato puree. Verdict – stick to the standard devilled crab.

· Fish Meuniere, cocktail style. Bhetki fillets cut into finger-food size, breaded, fried and served in a coating of tartare sauce. Wonderful.

· Peshawari kababs. Good but not exceptional, certainly not good enough to elicit the usual reaction of a goofy smile and a murmured “Ah, Mocambo!”

By this time we were (surprisingly?) rather full. Consequently, the lack of Pavlograd was merely a minor tragedy rather than a disaster. We took a little time to order the entrée. And swore solemn oaths that everybody would share their serving with everybody else (there were four of us). K* decided that she had no inner space for the main course, so three dishes should suffice. The consensus was –

· Chicken Milanaise. Slivers of chicken and ham, mushrooms, served in a creamy cheese sauce with pasta. In view of my low-carb efforts, we asked them to ramp up the cheese and ham and cut out the pasta. They obliged. Words do not suffice, my friends. I am not worthy. Mmmmm!

· Chicken Stroganoff. Limited by my low-carb regimen, I could not check out the buttered rice. A forkful of the chicken, however, was sufficient to prove the excellence.

· Lobster Thermidor. Now lobster is practically unknown in this country. We make do with large prawns. But within that limitation, these were large, healthy, well-fed prawns, prawns that not only ingested in full their daily quotas of calories but also dutifully toned their bodies beautiful in some crustacean gym, resulting in flesh that was pleasantly firm and well-toned without being “too too solid”, soft without being flaky, flavoursome … well anyway, they were very good prawns. Baked just right. In a lovely smooth sauce.

A revelation here. As per agreement, we were sharing the food when the Better Half pointed out that S* was gazing upon K* (HIS B. Half) with a quite unique expression. An admixture of longing and adoration that we have not seen in the decade and a bit that they’ve been together. Devotion. Passion, even. The BH was about to compare this attitude with my (perceived) indifference, when realization dawned upon her and she burst out laughing. S*’ adoration was not directed towards his wife. He was looking intently at the forkful of Lobster Thermidor that she was raising to her mouth.

One of the wonderful things about Mocambo (apart from the Shakespearean continuity – in Calcutta’s culinary scene, it is the “one fixed spot in a changing world” in terms of the décor and even the staff, we have grown old together) is that even the veggies on the side are superb. Until you’ve eaten there you cannot believe that carrot croquettes can be worth waiting for. And the potatoes are in a class by themselves. Some day I should ask how they get them that way. Damn the carb-free diet!

The signature dish – with my apologies to those who know the place better than I do – is the Fish a la Diana. Grilled prawns wrapped in bhetki fillets and poached in a light béchamel sauce. Quite divine. Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my face.

We, or rather the other three, rounded off the nocturnal excesses with a Baked Alaska. The menu states that “Order must be placed in advance”. The steward was about to mention this when the BH (with the confidence of a person who has paid enough bills at Mocambo to fund a minor Himalayan expedition) pointed out that since we hadn’t yet eaten it, surely we were ordering in advance? The steward, usually taciturn, laughed helplessly. The Baked Alaska arrived shortly thereafter. Not as good as the fabled Sky Room product, but good nevertheless. (All RIGHT, I cheated on my diet. I had a tiny taste. So shoot me!)

As we ambled outside, I mooted a proposal to nominate the chef for a Padma Shri. The House was unanimous in its support (PJ ALERT!!! “Mocambo khush kiya!”) until it was pointed out that this might mean a quite unacceptable run upon his services. Like Munnabhai and Circuit reacting to the suggestion of a dry day, we looked at each other and simultaneously shook our heads. “Nooo-o-o!”

I hope the others forgive me for this post.

**** ****


Ph said...

Too many dishes, if you ask me. I might have to stay in Calcutta for a month to do this place justice.

Tabula Rasa said...

along similar lines as ph -- you really gave the menu a workout, didn't you.

"sen"sational said...

Just one word...


thalassa_mikra said...

Ooooo, all very old school dishes, and very yummy sounding. Baked Alaska and Lobster Thermidor are almost impossible to find on American menus these days, despite the fact that they were invented in the US.

I think I remember reading a review of Mocambo in Sananda a long time ago, and the place came in for high praise. I'd love to check it out on a visit to Cal.

I have to say though (I have no tact), that Chicken Milanese recipe is pretty dodgy. Chicken Milanese is the Italian equivalent of the German schnitzel, a cutlet of meat, breaded and then shallow-fried. Even the chicken version is Americanized Italian food, and the original Milanese is made with veal, just like Wienerschnitzel.

neha said...

Oh made a vegetarian's mouth water with that. I hope this is just a sporadic foray into food writing.

km said...

Yumm...I mean, oh, how I pity the poor vegetarians. (Yes, Neha, that would be YOU:))

JAP, you ought to be posting this on one of those city/metro blog things.

(Just curious - you had lobster without wine?)

eve's lungs said...

Are you a good buffet eater I wonder ? We forgot to make a reservation a couple of weekends ago and we wound up again at Mainland China after looking at the long queue outside Mocambo ( sigh )

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Ph, always welcome. This would have been the best season.

T Rasa, you ain't heard nutt'n' yet. Remember the sheep and the calf?

SenChild, it's open 7 days a week, try it for yourself.

T Mikra, Mocambo loses out to Oh Cal only on ambience. The food is awesome. And perhaps Chicken MilanAISE is different from C MilanESE? (clutching at a straw!)


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Neha, make your choice - veggie-dom or food posts. The latter should make sporadic appearances here.

KM, no wine available on 26th Jan, why do you think Munna-Circuit came to mind? And who would publish my write-ups?

Eve's Lungs, I am a formidable buffet eater when I like the spread. And Mocambo doesn't take bookings, you live with the queue.


Tanu said...

Sniff sniff, Aamio Chai

Kaushik said...

Abar khabo.

km said...

There's no wine available on Jan 26th?? Who took the pub out of the RePUBlic? (missed the Munna-Circuit allusion completely...)

I am surprised that metroblogging does not have a local blog for Calcutta. This piece would be great for such a blog.

Opaline said...

Sheesh. No bookings? Oh well, KFC will have to suffice. That was an incredible post.

Rimi said...

You hope for far too much.

Suchishree said...

All those references to my favourites - Fish a la Diane and Fish Meuniere... abar khabo and onek khabo; and this time I have to try the Baked Alaska. Brings back memories of old Woman and Home issues which had these recipes

30in2005 said...

I am in Cal for 3 days only next week to attend a wedding. Only one chance to eat out and it shall be Mocambo as always. Now that I have read this post I cannot wait!

Anonymous said...

You spoiler! I wanted to have lunch at Mocambo that day, you suggested Cinnamon! Had to pay through my nose! I'll kill u for this.

panu said...

umm, mouthwateringly so. I personally am a fan of Chicken Kiev, and often improvise on it.

Generally I make an indian version of it, by substituting the chicken breast with a mixture of finely minced chicken keema, a teensy bit of ginger-garlic-onion paste, doi, a bit of salt, pepper and garam masala, make thick big burgers of it, and stuff with a big blob of butter, and then crumb fry it....

quite nice, I dare say.

Dipta Chaudhuri said...

Slurp, slurp!