15 May, 2014

Goa Food Binge - Two New Finds - Foxes Fiesta & Casa Bhonsle

It was time, the wife looked at me, then at the calendar and then at the computer. She raised an eyebrow and both of us nodded with barely contained smiles. What to do, we were having serious withdrawal symptoms on our Goa fix.

What is this Goa fix, you may ask? It is a 3 days short break taken by us when we fly off to our favourite holiday destination. Step 1, we check into our assigned business hotel in the middle of Panjim that gives us a good functional room, sans top end service & a very good buffet breakfast. Step 2, hire a two wheeler and fish out a map (the new mobiles with the GPS have made the job even simpler) close our eyes, put a finger and whichever destination the finger shows & then take off for there. As a rule from Mumbai we fly to Goa because one arrives quicker and fresh. The business hotel is chosen both for its convenient location and a super deal (why spend more on a room which one shall use only for sleeping after a day out) and the money that gets saved thus, is spent (all of it ) on the food experience, which we love.

We are fair people and are fair to the other destinations too albeit for forms sake. When the eyebrow goes up ( check circa sentence 2 of this article ) we also look at Coorg, Mahabaleshwar, Kochy etc and then always settle for Goa eliminating the other destinations because they do not have Susegaat. Susegaat is the deal breaker...Susegaat and Food.

Goan Food is not just a cuisine, it is an experience. Commonly called Gomantaki cuisine it shares some core principles with the food of coastal Karnataka which extends on to its south border but Goa also has a confluence of the Portuguese style too. Now those guys parked themselves here for more than four and a half centuries till as recently as 1961. Hence they have indelibly left their mark on both the way of life and its food.

This is the clear distinguishing feature of the food in that belt. Towards the North of Goa is coastal Maharashtra and the Malwan district which has its own cuisine called Malwani. Now city dwellers that are not familiar often confuse Gomantaki cuisine with Malwani food and very loosely use one nomenclature when they are actually meaning the other. In my book this is a cardinal sin. My roots are in Malwan district and as much as I enjoy eating in those parts, like the people and their language the food too is very spicy. Malwani’s too consume a lot of seafood but rely a lot on frying which does not happen so much in Goan food. Second when it comes to the curries in Malwani food, the main ingredient ( meat, shellfish, fish or vegetable ) is killed, annihilated. It won’t be a stretch when I state that the Malwani style is Murder by Masala. The masala in the curries is so intense that it overpowers the main ingredient completely. That never happens in Goan cuisine where the spice is delicate and the curry light, bringing out the flavour of the fresh sea food, shellfish or meat. One can truly savour the taste of the main with the flavour of the spice.

The spirit of Susegad also applies to the eating experience here in the state. Predominantly coastal it is little wonder that seafood is an integral part of the cuisine here majorly, but we also have meats like chicken, pork and beef specialties. Vegetarian food in Goa is largely usal-pav, curry rice, seasonal vegetables and is largely limited to some Hindu Brahmins. Everyone else is non-vegetarian (another reason why we fell in love with this place) and for a long time until very recently the eating out experience was purely non-veg. Today we have of all the atrocities even Gujarati Thali’s available along with Udipi fast food and they jostle for space with the McDonalds and the Pizza Huts. With the homogenisation of food and the grass eating tourist who always insisted on his lentils and rice, the original Goan cuisine restaurants have started ceding ground to the aggressive touristy fare on offer which also includes a Punjabi or a Chinese. Continental breakfasts are default given the sheer number of foreign tourists one sees here. To be fair the local residents need this variety in eating out too and they should not have to go to Punjab to eat a Makkai di Roti or a Tandoori chicken when they can have it at Sher-e-Punjab.

Now with these aggressive intruders stepping on to local toes, authentic and good Goan food has actually become quite rare. Hence when we find it, we believe it is our bounden duty to share this knowledge with the world at large that here is one more place that a true connoisseur of the morsel must make an appearance. Many monsoons ago in Panjim we landed upon a gem of a place called the “Mums Kitchen”. The place still exists with many additions to the menu and we always go there. ( Covered in a previous blog post). But this trip was the discovery of two new places 

• Foxes Fiesta  : Near Saligao Church
• Cafe Bhonsle : Panjim, near the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception.

Foxes Fiesta All Day Dining
2/134 A, Pequeno Morod, Saligao, Bardez, On Chogm Calangute Road, Goa

Last year when we were having our breakfast at Ginger, Panjim we encountered a subtle change in the restaurant. The space was sectioned off, it had a name – AULI (As U Like It ) and the food, which we earlier would avoid here, to eat at Kamath’s in Panjim, looked and tasted infinitely superior. The better half studied at the Institute of Hotel Management – Goa and when she nodded on this change for the better, I knew my assessment was accurate. The kitchen door swung open & out stepped a gangly man with a wide friendly smile. It was Briston, a senior from her college, who along with his wife Alka, had taken over the running of this restaurant at the Ginger. No wonder the food was different this time around. It was a typical conversation between two college mates who see each other after a long time. Many names got thrown about and Briston mentioned that being in Goa he could touch base with a lot more of them. One of them was a junior named Savio, who used to work in the kitchens of the Taj. Savio and him were in the process of opening their own independent restaurant at Saligao as partners. They opened in Christmas 2013 to catch the holiday crowd and it was here that Briston invited us.

We rode on our two wheeler from Panjim to Saligao, which is about a half an hour drive across the Mandovi ,passing through Porvorim and then hitting the Calangute road. We passed a few villages in the Bardez district till we saw the magnificent Saligao Church. It stood lit up in the night, in an open field, in preparation for a feast a few days on. Beyond the church, on the main road, in front of a quaint little bungalow, was the glassy two storey facade of “Foxes Fiesta”. We parked in the open courtyard & could immediately see that this was a work in progress, yet a labour of love.

A bare unpretentious dining room with wide open windows that allowed the wind to move about prevented the room from becoming stifling. It was summer in Goa and the room was not air-conditioned. Paper lanterns lit the room and on the whitewashed walls hung paintings reminiscent of the art of the Goan artist Mario. These were by Briston’s brother, who stayed in the bungalow behind the restaurant and offered them for sale. Briston waved us to a table as he circulated through the various guests who were busy chatting and eating. The service boy recommended a Cashew Fenny Mojito. This cocktail was something never tried earlier & we gave it a shot. We called for two starters, one a crumbed fish and the other sliced beef . The fish (Kingfish) came with tartar sauce was so yummy that we forgot the drive and settled in. The bare minimum decor compellingly draws your attention to the food. It can be a very risky strategy if the food is ordinary which this was not. It was delicious. The Fenny Mojito could have been chilled more but was totally refreshing with just the tarty bite that invigorates and cleans your palate. Unwittingly we had landed on the correct drink for the fish and the beef. The beef cut was so beautifully done that biting into it was pure pleasure. The Fenny raised the temperature and we shifted tables to another directly under a ceiling fan. A few more fans would help especially in sultry weather. It won’t take away from the rustic bare appeal of the place that air-conditioning does. 

We were now recommended the dish that Chef Savio has dedicated to his mentor at the Taj, Chef Rego, the coriander prawns. This was truly yum. The fresh coriander crunch in prawns cooked to perfection has a taste that lingers. We had a Goan sausage with bread after that as the main and we were quite full. The portion sizes are sufficient for two and modestly priced. I would have loved another Fenny but had to drive back and decided to err on the side of caution and skip it. Chef Savio stepped outside the kitchen to have a word with Gauri and he looked tired on his feet. It was nearly 11.30 pm about closing time as we wound up. He insisted that we try a dessert and he sent us a mousse that was so delicately done, it just dissolved  The meal was memorable and promised to ourselves to be back with emptier tummies the next time.

We were shown around the place. Briston and Savio have definite plans for the future and the place provides for expanded action. They like prudent businessmen are taking it a step at a time which is wise. The cuisine is simple Goan & Continental fare with a line of starters, mains and deserts plus a line of baked products for starters and mains. Their quiches and pies have had rave reviews, only if our stomachs had permitted. What shall stay with us is a simple unassuming place that had great people at its helm. Good Food and Superb Hospitality. 

Definitely worth a visit because the Chef is very talented & creative while the hospitality is genuine. 

Cafe Bhonsle  (Non Ac ) 
Casa Bhonsle  (AC) :  Lumch & Dinner
Altinho, Panjim, Goa...near Casa Moderna

It is impossible not to pass the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church which is the signature image of the city of Panaji or Panjim if one is staying there. We too passed by it many a times while zipping about our local spots and shopping for cashews and fenny on 18th June Road. Going through the by-lanes of Altinho my route often goes by the simple Casa Moderna which was my mainstay eating joint during my work sojourns in this city. This time around we saw a new Restaurant plate right next to that building with a name as jarring as Cafe Bhonsle. The first thought that hit my mind was what is a Bhonsle doing in Goa? It is such a strong Maratha name that had the purist in me cringing. Then the wife mentioned in my ear that this place comes recommended from friends who had visited earlier. Even then we passed it by the next day and went about our business. After two totally awesome meals at Mums Kitchen, one at Briston & Savio's Foxes Fiesta and one in a shack perched on top of a hillock overlooking the Arambol beach it was our last day in Goa. We had only one meal left which was a lunch. Our natural instinct was to go back to Mums Kitchen again but something prompted us to give this strange sounding restaurant a try. And this was a revelation.
We landed there at about 11.40 am and the restaurant had barely opened up and was going through the motions of setting up for the day’s business. There was just one customer there and the air-conditioned section was empty. The waiters guided us to the glass lined veranda that overlooks the back of the old High Court square and secretariat along with a few ramshackle buildings. In the bright sun the view is nothing to write home about and we came back to a table inside. In the mellow evenings the buildings of Goa assume a life and then it is worthwhile sitting out but the bright sun exposes the wear caused by the elements. And when in a restaurant in Goa one only needs to look outside if the view on the plate is not good enough is a mischievous thought that came to mind. Not true because every city joint cannot boast of a view does not mean they are not good. We had a similar experience at the kooky Cafe Venite’ a few roads off where we had the most remarkable meal. 

A friendly waiter saw us to our new table. The decor is very comfortable, not very well lit but sufficient to soothe ones nerves from the hot sun. We sat and ordered our cool drinks. Iced lemon sodas sweet set us in the correct frame to order. They serve liquor but we were in no mood for it just then. The menu is extensive and one can order ones choice of seafood, meat and chicken, a la carte or in a Thali form. The wife ordered prawns curry rice and I ordered a Fish Thali. Chapati breads are conspicuous by their absence in a typical Goan restaurant and this was no exception. After a wait of 15 minutes the waiter returned smilingly with a huge laden tray of the order. The Prawn curry rice portion is large, seriously large and not for one person. That’s what my wife was eating by herself. It was deliciously steaming in red golden gravy casting an aroma that tantalized the nostrils. 

The Thali that I looked upon was a foodies delight. A Thali is a combination full plate meal by definition. Like in a Buffet when one picks up all the food laid out in one plate and then retires to eat in a corner the Thali comes pre-laid out and in limited quantity. But this Thali costing Rs.169/- was gargantuan. It had a medium sized bowl of white steam rice and in big sized steel vaatis ( bowls ) had one vegetable . One held Kismur ( a salad that is made up of finely chopped onions, grated fresh coconut, laced with a souring agent which could be lemon/sol/vinegar , chopped chillies for the heat and sugar to douse it mixed with dry shrimps) , another held sol kadi ( sol/kokum is a sour fruit and this is a curry made from its liquor spiced with salt chopped coriander whole garlic pods and water. Across the border in Maharashtra the sol kadi substitutes water for coconut milk both first and second extracts )The Goan version is spicier yet cooler. Sol Kadi is important to balance the heat in the spices of the meal and one can sip it straight or mix it with rice. Either way works well. Another vaati held mussels in a green masala. Delicately flavoured the mussels were very fresh and sweetly fleshy. Yet another shallow long bowl held Prawns curry, more curry than prawns for the rice accompaniment. Then there were two large pieces of fried pomfret. This in Mumbai would have set us back in the setting we were in by Rs.750- Rs.1000 without a doubt and may not even have been half as good. Each of the items was beautifully prepared and the waiter hovered over looking after us nquiring over the meal and we were thoroughly impressed. We stopped talking and simply dug in. While Foxes Fiesta was a work in progress as far as the restaurant decor goes this one was the finished article. Cafe Bhonsle as a baby was born fully grown and ready to face the world in its glory. After a leisurely half an hour when both of us had polished off every single morsel and were stuffed the waiter comes over and smilingly persuades us to try their tender coconut souffle. Against our better wishes we found ourselves nodding and straight transported to dessert heaven in just one spoon. Outstanding. That portion too finished and a bill value that was well under a red K note we compliment the owner and walk out. 

Cafe Bhonsle will certainly have us there again the next time. It has superb food and is an outstanding value for money. We recommend it in spades.

Both the places we liked turned out to be near Churches, it is little wonder that eating at both Foxes Fiesta and Cafe Bhonsle turned out to be nothing short of a divinely religious experience, one that we can come out of only by repeating it. 


SA said...

Yum Yum.... I will make sure that I visit that foxy place next when I visit Goa. Wonderfully written Kaustubh. I really enjoyed reading.

kau kau goes the crow said...

Thank you Shazia...how have u been its been a while now especially since u moved into the Nawaabi City :-)