Curry Masala

Curry Masala is the only Indian restaurant in Rapid City. “Someone has to serve the vegans, vegetarians and gluten and dairy allergic people” says Al, who is doing the community a service as well as running a successful business in downtown Rapid City. Many of the local patrons are searching for options that are able to meet their diet restrictions, which only Indian cuisine can provide.

There are no frills when it comes to the ambiance or the menu at Curry Masala. Formerly a pizza joint, the space now has few Indian posters and ethnic music in the background of the small but cozy dining area. The menu contains few options which indicate that the ingredients are fresh and everything is made from scratch daily. You won’t find the typical tandoori, tikka masala or naan here (although they are served from time to time). There are one-of-a-kind original dishes that incorporate influences of north and south Indian cuisine.

For appetizer, try the spinach pakora, a delicately fried vegetable fritter served with tamarind and mint chutneys. Entrée selections include rice dishes (biryani, pulao), curries (chicken, beef, fish) and homemade vegetables (cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes). I highly recommend the mango lassi, which is made with mango pulp, buttermilk and cardamoms. It is nothing like you have ever tasted before!

All the recipes are passed by mothers and grandmothers of owners, Al Rodriguez and Justine Ashokar’s families from southern India.

Traditional Indian food is very different than how we know of it here in the west. In Indian households, ingredients are fresh and healthy. Butter, heavy cream, artificial coloring and white flour are never used in home-style cooking. Spice mixtures are made from scratch and attention is given to eating a well balanced diet. Curry Masala has carried on this tradition and offers simply prepared dishes using organic, locally sourced ingredients. It is a real treat for those who wish to eat out but also have to watch their physiological needs. As advertised, Curry Masala offer food that is of good quality, healthy and delicious!

Justine also teaches Indian cooking classes at Curry Masala. If after a lesson you are inspired to go home and try the recipes, you can also buy the spices on site. There is a little storefront at the restaurant. Curry Masala has two locations in Rapid City – a casual cafe on 2050 W. Main St. and a sit town style restaurant at 510 St. Joseph Street.


Fit for a Princess

Overlooking the St Lawrence River and Dufferin Terrace, in the heart of Quebec City, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is a landmark of elegance and history. The hotel was built in 1893 to promote luxury tourism and named after Louis de Buade, count of Frontenac.

Having dinner at one of the Chateau’s restaurant, La Cafe de la Terrasse was perhaps one of the best meals I will have in 2012. Chef Jean Soulard keeps up with the upscale European style ambiance by offering a menu that is fresh and inspiring.

Set in a 18th century casual setting, the restaurant offers a locally harvested seasonal and themed dinners. Friday evening is a seafood buffet and what a feast that was, fit for a Princess I would say. I am personally a huge fan of seafood and could be critical at time, but this one blew me away. Not only was the selection impressive, but every single dish was cooking to perfection. Never before I had tasted salmon so tender and delicate, it was packed with flavor yet melted in your mouth.

Here are some of the highlights from the dinner…

Row of assorted salads
Two kinds of Oysters on the shell
Melt in your mouth shrimp salad
Couscous pilaf in a glass
Coconut shrimp dedicated to the delegation from Louisiana visiting during the Carnival
Seafood terrain
Steamed whole salmon
As if the seafood wasn’t enough, you get a steamed whole lobster as your “side”
There were at least a dozen desserts, but this one caught my attention
Ginger cookies with chocolate
Cheesecake with maple pecan sauce (the best of them all!)

The property is beautiful to visit, dine or stay. The Chateau offers Valentine’s escape, elopement and winter family fun packages

Citizen Public House

Don’t let the name fool you. Although Citizen Public House is an upscale version of a traditional public house serving contemporary cocktails, beer and wine, it is by no means limited to a drinking establishment. Located in Old Town Scottsdale, the European-fusion food that you will eat at Citizen Public House is probably the best Public House grub you have ever come across.

Representing it’s reputable name, I had to try the cocktail Citi-Zen. A unique blend of Absolut Pear vodka, Domaine de Canton, ginger liqueur, housemade sweet and sour, served with rock candy so you can stir and add more sweetness to your drink as your palate changes through the evening. I have to say perhaps the most innovative cocktail menus.

Opened just a few months ago, after the success of Cowboy Chow, another great hit in Old Town Scottsdale, Chef Bernie Kantak has created a menu that is a blend of Hungarian, American and Mediterranean inspirations.

The Original Chopped Salad is perhaps the only item I have seen on any menu that has its own facebook page! A flag like display of smoked salmon, Israeli couscous, chopped greens, pumpkin seeds, roasted corn and tomatoes, served with a buttermilk dressing is a wonderful blend of textures and flavors. See recipe.

From the bar snacks section, I tried the Gorgonzola-Emmental mac-n-cheese. I would describe it as the adult version of Mac and Cheese. It wasn’t very cheesy but had a rich strong flavor from the Gorgonzola enhanced further by slices grilled red bell peppers. The best part was they used actual macaroni pasta, which is usually not the case at many upscale restaurants.

All ingredients are sourced from artisanal and organic farms around the country. The menu offers gourmet burgers and sandwiches but I decided to try the seafood. Alaskan Halibut was perfectly pan seared and served with roasted cauliflower, charred tomato vinaigrette and tarragon butter. It melted in your mouth! Pan Seared Scallops were juicy and tended, delicately placed upon buttery roasted corn grits.

The menu is printed daily so we had to wait to see what pastry chef Tracy Dempsey had in sore for us. I decided upon the Chocolate Pecan Bars, which were described to me as home made rustic bars. They were much more than rustic I would say! Rich and crunchy pecan triangles served with chicory (a coffee replacement) ice cream and salted chocolate caramel sauce vanished from my plate into my mouth very quickly. I also tried the Pig in the Orchard Bread Pudding but wasn’t a big fan. The combination of Granny Smith apples, Applewood smoked bacon, bourbon brown sugar sauce sounded interesting but did not do much for me. I am still not use to the idea of having meat in my dessert, I guess.

Citizen Public House

7111 E. 5th Avenue Ste. E
Scottsdale, AZ 85251-3200

(480) 398-4208

Hidden gems of Tibet

If you happen to take your date to a restaurant adjacent to a gas station in a far suburb of Atlanta, be prepared for a plesant surprise. This evening may be where you accept the expression “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” once and for all. Opened only a few months ago, Shangrila Bistro already has raving fans trekking from all over the city. It is a small establishment located in the East Cobb neighborhood and perhaps the only one to serve authentic Tibetan delicacies.

Influenced by neighbors India and China, authentic Tibetan cuisine shares their names, spices and cooking styles. Having eaten Indian, Chinese, Indo-Chinese and Eastern-Indian regional cuisines, I was utterly confused! There were masala, samose, vindaloo on the menu which were nothing like their Indian counterparts.

We started off with Butter tea, or po cha as it’s known in Tibet, is a tea made with butter derived from yak milk. It was smooth and sweet, like a “Tibetan hot chocolate” my dinner guest exclaimed. They don’t serve alcohol but you are free to bring your own.

For appetizers, the waiter recommended Momo’s (or dumplings). We ordered Amdo Momo, buns stuffed with ground lamb, herbs, onions, celery and ginger. These are a bit thicker than your traditional Chinese dumplings, yet soft and melt in your mouth. They were served with a sweet and tangy soy based sauce.

We also had the Samose (deep fried mixed vegetable balls), nothing like the Indian samosa or the African sambusa. The texture was similar to a falafal, but it was moist inside from the mixture of zucchini, onions, potatoes and carrots.

The entree selections carry a wide ranges of meats and a few vegetables. Although there are some Chinese dishes for the unadventurous diners, we decided to make the most of being in Tibetan heaven. We ordered yak, lamb, chicken and shrimp.

The yak served at Shagrila Bistro is shipped directly from Tibet. For those not familiar with this animal, it is generally found in mountainous terrains and used for milk, meat, etc. (similar to a cow). The meat is leaner than beef, chicken or pork. The Yaksha Phing was presented beautifully with soft yak meat adorned by crisp leeks and flavorful button mushrooms. The meat was tender and very rich in flavor.

My personal favorite was the Masala Shrimp. Jumbo shrimp, perfectly grilled with sliced assorted vegetables (never expected potatoes) in a spicy peppery seasoning with just enough sauce to soak it in. The chicken flat bread had pretty much the same flavors and was served with a roti (Malaysian style) which I will probably skip next time around.

We weren’t offered any desserts; probably not an option?

Overall, it was a great new experience dining at Shangrila Bistro. I do believe they have superior quality ingredients, make everything fresh (as can be derived from the long wait time to get the meal) and above-average presentation skills. It is only a matter for time, they will be looking to expand the space and serve the discerning foodies of Atlanta.

There is also a gift shop surrounding the restaurant where you can find Tibetan nick-knacks such as chopsticks, jewelry and lamp shades to take as souvenir from your meal. If you don’t like the cozy, nondescript ambiance, they even deliver within a few miles radius.

Leela’s Lobster Malai

I spent New Year’s Eve 2011 at the Leela Palace Kempinski hotel in Bangalore. It was a magnificent palace converted into a 5-star hotel, rated as one of the best in India. The architecture and gardens of the property are worth considering a tourist destination itself!

Even their restaurant is rated the best in town. The hotel advertised a special party to celebrate the occassion. At a steep entry fee of $100/ person, you would get access to an open bar, a mile long multi-cuisine buffet, entertainment and dance floor. Since I could not afford to stay there, I decided to splurge for New Year’s Eve at least. The place was adorned in a carnival theme, with colorful drapes and masks of every origin. There were two rooms with buffet tables that would put a King’s banquet to shame. Needless to say, it was worth every penny!

Here is a recipe from the web site that I tasted in the buffet. I love lobster and am always looking for ways to incorporate it into ethnic cuisines. Hope you like it too!

Lobster Malai –  Serves 4

Ingredients   Qty.
Large Fresh Lobster : 04 No (600-800 Gm. Each)
Fresh Onion Paste : 250 Gm.
Ginger Julienne : 20 Gm.
Green Chilli Finely Chopped : 15 Gm.
Fresh Coriander Chopped : 15 Gm.
Fresh Coconut Milk (Ist Extract) : 200 Ml.
Fresh Coconut Milk (2nd Extract) : 250 Ml.
Bay Leaf : 02 No
Cinnamon Powder : 02 Gm.
Spice Clove Powder : 02 Gm.
Coconut Oil : 110 Ml.
Turmeric Powder : a pinch
Salt : To taste
Ginger : 75 Gm.
Cumin Power : 08 Gm.

Preparation

  • Blanch the whole lobster in hot salted water. Take out the meat from the tail and cut length wise slices.
  • Heat oil in a kadai, put chopped green chilli and ginger julienne. Fry for sometime. Add fresh chopped coriander and fry well.
  • Add ginger, cumin powder and sauté well.
  • Add onion paste and sauté till the raw smell goes out.
  • Now add second extract of coconut milk and bring to a boil.
  • Put salt and turmeric powder and reduce the sauce to half.
  • Add cinnamon, clove powder and bay leaf.
  • Add first remove of coconut milk and lobster meat slices and simmer for sometime.
  • Garnish with ginger juliennes and fresh coriander sprig., serve hot with Malabar Parottas or Appam

 I appeared in the local newspaper the next day for being at the Faces and Masks party. You can see my picture on the DNA India web site.