Friday, August 29, 2008

Pretentious Gourmand - Diva, GK-II

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Fine Dining - Diva, Greater Kailash-II

Gluttony at Delhi's priciest stand-alone restaurant.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

One rainy Friday night, early in August, 2008, when our Indian army was killing 15-year-old Kashmiris at Sri Nagar's Idgah ground and when our fellow Indians were beating Kashmiri truck drivers in the highway in Jammu, we decided to dine at Diva, Delhi's most expensive Italian restaurant, owned and run by Delhi's celeb chef Ms Ritu Dalmia.

Before we even had the chance to admire the wine cellar or the candles, the focaccia arrived. The slightly oily starter made no impression on my dining companion, a friend from Berlin, who continued looking glum. Nah, it wasn't Kashmir. He turned 40 that week. I asked him to focus on the meal, or rather what comes before the meal – the antipasti.

Having a penchant for mushrooms, I opted for the portobello alla griglia (Rs 430); while my dining companion chose the crostini al gorgonzola con pere (Rs 340).

Diva has an elaborate 5-page wine menu with a selection of European and New World wines. The friend suggested Mormoreto from Tuscany but at Rs 7,200 I considered it a tad on the pricey side. We settled on a 2003 Pescorosso (Rs 2,600). For a red wine it is comparatively light and yet has body enough to go well with red meat (we ordered duck for the main course).

The bottle arrived just before our discovery of the inexpensive wine-by-the-glass option on the menu’s last page. No regrets. The first sensation was fruity (my friend 'saw' orchards), the throat easily gave way and there trailed a hint of walnut and dark chocolate and -- old wood! Err, an interruption.

The waiter: "we're very sorry sir.” A large family needed two more chairs. Could we move to the next table? The steward was polite, not sickeningly reverential. We got up, looked around (“my God, it had filled up”), and settled down closer to the large glass-paneled cellar.

Perhaps it was the wine that made the friend discuss his four lovers. I paid little attention and switched off completely when the antipasti arrived. The portobello mushrooms, stuffed with herbed ricotta and grilled on the wood-fired oven, covered the entire plate. They lacked in flavor, a setback overcome by the peppery essence of the moist-green rocket leaves. But originality lay in the friend’s crostini. The combo of grilled pears with a distinctive aroma of the Himalayan honey was a thoughtful Indo-Italian fusion. Alas, the crostini itself was somewhat over-toasted but its burnt aftertaste was forgiven as soon as the next dish appeared.

The angel hair pasta (Rs 390) tossed with cherry tomatoes, served with the omnipresent rocket leaves, was a perfect none-too-heavy primo piatto. The pasta was as light as a feather's touch. Tomato and mozzarella made for a cosy Italian feel while basil leaves were raw and cool. A requested sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan made the texture slippery.

The friend’s zuppa fredda di piselli (cold pea and fava bean soup, Rs 370), served in a kind of tumbler in which I used to have my doodh, had a lassi-like consistency and was lassi-like zesty. It could have done better with a little less ginger. But no fuss. The soup was as neat as the orange-shirted stewards who allowed us to play lazy over each course. They intruded our space only to refill our wine glasses.

The lucky wine found its soul mate in my double-roasted duck – anatra cucinata due volte (Rs 650) - that arrived decked with little bundles of carrot and zucchini juliennes. The bird's breast was meaty, brown, crisp, without the greasy aftertaste; its gaminess perked up by a dab of glazed honey. If only it was half as tender as the accompanying polenta, it would have been perfect.

The friend's carciofi ripieni (Rs 515) too looked tempting. The fresh artichokes, drooling in creamy gorgonzola, gained character with a generous stuffing of apples, onions, and walnuts. The eggplant pickle -- with dry fruits, olives, capres, tomatoes and lemons -- placed strategically at the centre, brought in the needful tanginess.

For the dessert, we asked for the calorie-rich tiramisu (Rs 280) -- 'carry me up' in Italian. Ladyfingers soaked in espresso and rum; and layered with mascarpone cream, the quivery tiramisu was originally popular among the overworked Venetian whores as an energy infuser. The friend mused on a past lover instead. "Nobody makes it as good as my French ex did," he said. Diva’s tiramisu too was no soggy mush. It was luscious, lighter-then-air, and boozy forcing the overawed Berliner to say that it was better than his ex's.

While returning, our tummies full with around seven thousand rupees, a child-beggar knocked on our car window at Moolchand traffic light. The friend shook his head at India's poverty. But I had no patience. Not for him, not for the beggar and neither for Kashmir.

Where M-8a, M Block Market, Greater Kailash-II Ph 29218522


ritu said...

so.. what is the final verdict??
will u return or not??
ps/.. most expensive standalone?? are u kidding me??
we have the cheapest wine list in the country

Anonymous said...

I can only pray to god that one day you loose all your money and become that begger.
your same old friend passes by you and just ignore you.

Mayank Austen Soofi said...

Yes, Ritu. I will return to your restaurant. It's fabulous.

Lesley E said...

i prayer i never have to dine with someone who so publicly criticises my company and conversation. even a half-baked journalist won't stoop to this level of humiliating someone from their personal sphere so publicly. feel sorry for your friend. and as for your critique, my dear if there is one thing i can claim to know something about, it is food. and i can tell you, your knowledge of cuisine as evidenced by this article is embarrassingly poor. if this is the way you write about restaurants you like, i think it's crucial you stick to writing on things you know about since your writing style is so arrogant

Mayank Austen Soofi said...

Hi, Leslie. I'm incapable of sticking to writing only on things I know about (sorry!). And no, I don't go around town making a public fun of my friends. This piece was vetted by that friend from Berlin. It was only after getting his permission that I published it in The Delhi Walla.

Berliner said...

Hey lesley_e, thank you for defending me - as I was the friend the author chose to host that night - but I am pretty much able to take my own defence when necessary. Here though, it isn't. Will anyone recognize me by reading this? I don't think so. And then it all is anyway ironical, as a simple food chronicle may be dull to read. So, please don't blame the author who is a true and otherwise discreet friend.

And to Ritu: Yes, you are right, your restaurant is not expensive for the quality it offers, and honestly, I thouroughly enjoyed the evening we spent there. I have recommended Diva to many friends in the meantime, and so, I hope, does the author through this post.

Ajit said...

nk it's crucial you stick to writing on things you know about

Lesley -- or, as Mayank 'Austen Soofi' would have it 'Leslie' -- that wouldn't leave much to pontificate on... :-)

Unless 'Soofi' chooses to describe every pebble on the rutted road to Nizamuddin, of course.

Snobster said...

First Thing first-I'm allergic to Italian Cant say much on that..But one thing,or rather my connection with Cafe Diva..I stay in the viscinity of the area and not to forget the telephone numbers do match in certain digits..I dunno their's but I certainly seem to receive more calls than they do which somewhat goes like,
(in a posh deep baritone)"Hello Is it The Cafe Diva "
*yes it is the Diva hahahaha* "No errr I Think you got the wrong one this time".
So well I know it had no relation to any of this..Just thought I'd share.
Good one :)

applepiecrust said...

This is a random comment, but why all the care about sticking to non-gender specific terms when referring to the Berliner friend's exes? It seemed a little weird at times.

Also, those prices don't seem ridiculously exorbitant or anything. They seem about average... I don't know, maybe I'm wrong.

Jasmeet said...

Well Mayank, having worked next to Diva for months now, I, till now, only know that its "expensive." I see the lady (Ritu) get on and off her white (?) Honda CRV many times but never dared to go up and say a hello or better still "I like your show on Good Times." Perhaps now I will be a bit more complelled to go in a eat. Perhaps I'll ask for some discount from the owner herself. ;)
Bon Apetit

Jasmeet said...

...And Oh! Mayank, since Ritu ji is asking for the final verdict, will you finally tell her that her restaurant IS expensive? Will you, Mayank? ;)


Curt said...

Diva does have the best wine prices in India -- she takes less of a markup than anyone in town, and has a very well-rounded selection.

I moved back to the US in April 08 after four years in Delhi and miss Diva a lot. Of course my wife and I had out first date there, but mostly it's the dining experience.