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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