Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Restaurant Review - Hakuna Matata (Park Street, Kolkata)

This is the first time I went to Park street on Christmas. By early evening itself there were so many people that it was difficult to walk without bumping into unknown pedestrians. I have heard earlier that finding a table at a Park street restaurant on Christmas night is an arduous task, but now I understand how bad it can be! Most of the good restaurants had almost a 2 hour wait time. We decided to eat at Hakuna Matata as they had tables available. The restaurant serves fusion food with small portion sizes. The restaurant itself is not very big and they have arranged the tables very close to each other, which is kind of uncomfortable specially when people sitting on the  adjacent tables are busy clicking "duckface" selfies throughout the time they were there. Also not sure if it was a Christmas special or on regular days as well they play the music so loud. It was so outrageously loud that you can't even hear the person having dinner with you. No wonder I got a headache in just 5 minutes.

For drinks we ordered virgin mojito & kokotini and for food we ordered curd rice arancini, manchurian vada pav & Indian inspired Mezze platter. The virgin mojito was good but kokotini was not served cold and it was too sweet! All items they served looked good but everything that's good about the place ends there!!

First bite of the curd rice arancini seemed promising; but then the filling was not really curd rice, rather it tasted more like tamarind rice/puliogre. Moreover they served the arancini with a dollop of pickle on top which made it so very tangy. I felt that just a hint of pickle would have been a better choice.

The manchurian vada pav was equally bad. The pav was not crunchy like an authentic vada pav would be and the manchurian sauce was again too salty & bland.

The worst of the lot was the mezze platter. The platter had baingan bharta/mashed & spiced eggplant, dal pakoda/lentil fritters, chana masala hummus/chickpea curry hummus, raita, salad and paratha. The lentil fritters were dry; the eggplant and hummus were too salty and on top of it the chef added generous amount of garam masala to it which made it impossible to eat. They named the dish Indian inspired mezze platter, but I have no idea what inspiration they meant by that. The dish was no way Mediterranean nor did it have any Indian flavor!

All in all the ambiance and food were both bad; no way I am going back there again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Traveling from Boston to Kolkata

Hello from the other side of the world!!! We reached Kolkata! Yay! I am so excited that am not yet feeling tired even after the arduous journey of almost 24 hrs. Pretty sure jet lag will hit me soon!! I slept the whole time in flight. Whenever I take a flight, I feel like I am drugged or something, I sleep so much!  Here is a sneak peak of our journey from Boston to Kolkata. All photos were taken on my cell phone (One Plus 2) camera, so please don't mind the picture quality.

For lunch on Emirates Boston to Dubai, I opted for Hindu non-veg meal. They served a cold orzo salad, bread-butter, cheese, bread sticks & goat cooked with pesto (served with green beans, pumpkin & roasted potatoes). The orzo salad was pretty good, however the goat meat was a little overcooked. Dessert was chocolate cherry crisp which was really tasty!

For breakfast they served omelet with baked beans, sauted mushrooms, croissant, fruits & orange juice.

We had a 6 hours layover at Dubai International Airport. We roamed around the  airport checking out the duty free shops. You will never get bored at this airport as there are so many stores to visit. No matter what time in the night it is, this place is always alive!

Before boarding the next flight, we had to eat something and we had food vouchers from Emirates. It listed restaurants where you can use the vouchers. Obviously D cannot think of anything else if he sees any mention of biryani on the menu. So we had chicken biryani at Wafi Goumet and it was a bad choice! It will be an understatement even if I say that the food was bad.

The 2nd leg of the flight, from Dubai to Kolkata was a much shorter haul of 4hrs. They served only breakfast on this flight. It was spiced scrambled eggs, spiced potatoes with peas, jalapeno bites, fruits, bread & cake. The eggs were so salty and watery, I couldn't even make out that it was eggs!

So finally after a 24 hour journey, we reached Kolkata and you can understand how excited I am. So much so that I am decided to blog about my experience today itself! Please check my Facebook page and Instagram feed for more photos and stories of my travelogue.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Restaurant Review - Winsor Dim Sum Café (Chinatown - Boston, MA)

This past weekend we went to Chinatown to have brunch at Winsor Dim Sum Café.
Both me & my husband love to eat dim sum(s); since both Yelp and TripAdvisor listed Winsor as the best place for dim sum brunch, we have been planning for a while now to go there.

If you have ever been to Chinatown, then you probably know that getting a street parking is akin to winning a jackpot, even on a Sunday morning. We drove around the restaurant for atleast 15 minutes before we managed to find a street parking. The restaurant starts serving at 9AM; we were at the door by 10AM, but we still had to wait for another 30 minutes before a table was available. All this while you have to wait (rather stand) on a narrow pavement. This restaurant is very small; they have only a few 4 seater table and a few big round tables. Our party of 4, had to share one of those big tables with a group of strangers. By the time we were seated I was so hungry, that I did not mind sharing a table; I just wanted to eat dim sum! The service was very quick but the servers were grumpy (you will see that on their face). But the food is so delicious, that nothing else mattered.

At the table there was a pot of tea for us. Generally in Chinese restaurants, tea is complimentary; but we were surprised to find out that they charged us for the tea and we did not even ask for it. From the menu, we ordered Wanton Soup, Scallion Pancakes, Fried Shrimp Balls, House Pan Fried Pork Dumplings, Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, Shark Fin Pork Dumplings, Jade Pearl Dumpling with Crab Meat, Steamed Shrimp & Chives Dumplings, Steamed Chicken Buns, Steamed Rice Noodles with Dry Shrimp & Scallion, Steamed Vegetarian Dumplings, Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf Packets and Pan Fried White Turnip Cake. Only the Fried Shrimp Balls & House Pan Fried Pork Dumplings were priced around $7. Everything else was priced below $4. We liked each and every bit of the food; everything was super fresh and tasty!

If you want to eat good quality dim sum and you are not looking for a fancy place then I will definitely recommend Winsor Dim Sum Café. It's so worth it. They serve 3/4 dim sum(s) in an order, which is very reasonable. I will suggest that you go early in the day, then you will be able to get a parking spot as well as don't have to wait in line for very long. We really enjoyed the food and can't wait to visit Winsor again!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Chire-bhaja (Roasted Flattened Rice)

Chire bhaja or roasted flattened rice used to be a very popular snack back home in Bengal. Maa used to make this as an evening snack. It's a quick recipe and can be made easily within 15 minutes with very basic ingredients; but the taste is just unbeatable. With the new found love for fast foods like pizza and burger, the new generation is slowly losing touch with traditional dishes like this one; but I am sure back home all our mom(s) and grandma(s) still prefer these over their Western replacements. This time even I tasted Chire bhaja after a long while. Apologize for having only one picture as I was not initially planning to blog it, but later I thought why not share the recipe with you all. Hope you will like it as well.

Chire/Poha/Flattened Rice - 2 Cup (Thin Variety)
Onion - 1/4 Cup (Chopped)
Ginger - 1 Tbsp (Finely Chopped)
Peanuts - 1/4 Cup
Dry Red Chili - 2
Green Chili - 1 (Optional)
Bayleaf - 1
Salt - According to Taste
Turmeric - 1 Pinch
Cilantro (Optional)
Curryleaf - 8/10 (Optional)
Mustard Oil - 1 Tbsp

Dry roast the peanuts in a kadhai. Let it cool down and then peel the peanuts.
Heat oil in kadhai. Add the bayleaf, dry red chili, curry leaf and fry for about 10 seconds.
Next add the onion and ginger and fry on medium flame till it becomes translucent.
Now add the flattened rice, peanuts and mix well. Add salt and turmeric powder. Keep frying it on medium flame until the flattened rice becomes translucent and crunchy.
Finally sprinkle chopped green chili and chopped cilantro on the top while serving.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Trip to Alaska - The Last Frontier

Many of my friends are asking me about our Alaska trip and itinerary. So I thought it is probably a better idea to do a blogpost on our trip which might help many of you. This will be my first travel blogpost, so any feedback will be appreciated.

We went to Alaska for a 9 day vacation almost towards the end of July 2015. Both me and my husband prefer road trips instead of luxury cruises that are so very common in Alaska. So we decided to fly into Anchorage and drive around on a rental car.

Our itinerary at a glance:
Day 1 - Reached Anchorage late at night. Stayed near the airport.
Day 2 - Drove to Denali National Park
Day 3 - Took the shuttle bus tour at Denali National Park
Day 4 - Drove to Fairbanks and from there to Copperville. Stayed at Glenallen
Day 5 - Visited Matanushka glacier. Stayed at Girdwood.
Day 6 - Drove to Seward (we had planned to visit few more places that day, but unfortunately there was a big accident on Seward highway and we were stuck there for 8 hours). Stayed at Seward.
Day 7 - Took the Kenai Fjords cruise from Seward. Stayed at Seward.
Day 8 - Drove to Homer. Stayed at Homer.
Day 9 - Drove back to Anchorage and flew out

Our Trip Route; Source:Google Map

You will want to take note of these while planning your Alaska trip:
  • Alaska's travel season is very short; so plan your trip much ahead, at least 4 to 5 months before your travel date
  • Because of the short tourist season, everything is expensive. So buy your tickets, reserve your rental car and book your hotels as soon as you decide to visit
  • Alaska's weather is very unpredictable, so pack summer as well as winter clothes and some rain gear like water proof trousers, jackets, shoe and cap. We bought our waterproof gear from Columbia. Columbia items are really good in quality and are a steal for the price. I highly recommend buying from Columbia!
  • If you plan to take any cruise in Seward then I will suggest that you buy the Northern Lights coupon book. It costs $55 but it will pay for itself and also save you additional $ at many restaurants and glacier flight tours.
  • Stock your car with plenty of food and water, you will need them for sure. There are not many stores/restaurants around.
  • Gas up your car whenever you hit half tank. There are very few gas stations along the highway.
  • In terms of weather, we did not find any snow; instead we felt it was unusually hot and humid. I think that the best time to visit Alaska will be either in the beginning of season (as soon as the parks open up) or later towards the end of August. If you go late in August, you will also get to see the Northern Lights.

Some major highlights from our trip:
  • Immediately after reaching Anchorage, first thing we did was buy the Northern Light's coupon book.
  • On our way to Denali National Park, we stopped at the Eagle River Valley for a short hike and then again stopped at the Byers Lake. Even if you don't go to Byers Lake you won't miss much. The entire stretch of the drive from Anchorage to Denali is very beautiful and we pulled over quite a few times along the way to enjoy the view.
  • Initially we had planned to take a glacier air taxi ride from Talkeetna to Mt. McKinley (there are stunning photos of Mt. McKinley on the internet). But once we reached the spot, we changed our plan. Both of us have fear of heights and the air taxis were like a small metal box shaking badly when flying. So we decided to skip this part from our itinerary. However I will encourage you to go for this trip if you are adventurous.
  • At Denali we took the Kantishna Shuttle bus which is a 13 hour long round trip. There were plenty of wildlife to see along the way, specially bears, mooses and caribous on the way. Before we started on the bus trip, we picked up couple of sandwiches from the Wilderness Access Center. We also carried with us plenty of water on the bus, as there are no food/water facilities inside the park. The bus trip was a bumpy ride, but the scenic beauty was absolutely mesmerizing. This shuttle will take you to the end of the park, whereas if you drive by yourself, you will be allowed to go only until the Toklat River, after which no private vehicles are allowed. The next morning we drove till the Toklat River before leaving Denali.
  • From Denali we drove first to Fairbanks where we stopped briefly at the University of Alaska campus. There is not much to see per se around there. From there we drove on the Richardson Highway to Glenallen. If you want to skip this route, it will be totally fine. The route is definitely beautiful, but its very desolate and quite a long drive with very minimal convenience stores/gas stations. You will not see much cars on this route, it's that remote. Sometimes we felt like we were passing by ghost cities along the highway, but no doubt this route is very beautiful in its own right. 
  • The resort where we stayed in Glenallen was stunningly beautiful. They have motel rooms as well as resort rooms, a private lake where you can go for kayaking. If you are in Alaska for a leisure trip then you can definitely spend a couple of days at this resort for a memorable experience. It's not too far from Anchorage also.
  • At Matanuska Glacier, you have the option to either go for a guided tour or can go on your own on the glacier. They even rent boots from their office. Our Columbia waterproof sneakers served us well and we went by ourselves on the glacier. Walking on the glacier was not that tough and there is no way that you will lose your way there. As you might have seen in the pictures,  there are quite a many crevices on the glacier, so it may happen that at times you will have to retract your steps and find another route. 
  • On our way to Girdwood, we stopped at Anchorage and spent the afternoon leisurely walking around the small downtown. It is here that we had a proper dinner since we had arrived in Alaska. 
  • We did not stay at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, but we went there to take the aerial tram to go to the top of Mt. Alyeska. The view from the top is worth the ride and there are short hikes on the peak as well. 
  • Before leaving Girdwood, we went to the Portage glacier which is a small dive from the city. 
  • Then we drove on the Seward highway towards South. The first stretch of this route is absolutely beautiful, with the famous Alaskan Railroad on one side running along the highway and the Gulf of Alaska on the other makes it a picturesque place.
  • In Seward, we took the 9 hour Glacier and wild life cruise in Kenai Fjords. On this cruise we got to see a lot of humpback whales, orcas, sea otters and other marine mammals. The view of glaciers were enchanting, specially when huge chunks of glacier broke apart and crashed onto the sea below, and it's roaring sound. 
  • Once we came back from the cruise, we went to Exit Glacier which is a short drive from Seward downtown. We walked onto the opening from where we could see the glacier, but did not go for a hike on the glacier as it was getting dark by then.
  • Seward also has a pretty little downtown. We took a small walk around it and had an Alaskan seafood dinner seated next to a huge window with a lovely view of the harbor, the snow capped mountains standing tall in the background.
  • The Sterling Highway drive from Seward to Homer is very scenic. You will see many people doing fly fishing along the Kenai river. There are many spots along this highway where you will want to stop and enjoy the view!
  • In Homer, we took it light, relaxed quite a lot and enjoyed the scenic small city, called "Land's End". There was a small hill near the downtown from where you can get a panoramic view of the Homer spit and the glacier.
  • There is one more national park near Homer, called Katmai National Park & Preserve. This park is famous for brown bears. The quickest way to access this park is by Air Taxi from Homer/Anchorage, but these trips are very expensive. We did not visit this park, but if you are a wildlife enthusiast, you can certainly plan to go there.

After we came back home, we were checking the Alaskan Railway packages and found that the railroad is pretty well connected and seems to provide a very comfortable ride. If you don't want to drive much, you can take the railroad instead. They have different kind of packages that you can chose from as per your liking. The fun part is that the roof of their trains is made of clear glass. I can imagine how beautiful the view will be when the train travels though woods, hills and near the water falls.

If you want to know where we stayed and dined in Alaska, you can check my TripAdvisor or Yelp account. I have added my reviews of all these places. Hope this helps! If you have any question, please drop me an email or post your question in the comments section; I will try to help you as much as I can. Here are few photos taken on my phone camera from our trip. You can find more photos from Alaska here.