Food Review – TGIF Vasant Kunj

I set out on a balmy winter evening with the sole intention of visiting a good steakhouse in Delhi. Having worked up a gargantuan appetite after watching a re-run of America’s best steakhouses on TLC, I came out looking for the best, and the first steakhouse that came to mind was TGIF.

It was some time before I got there. I had gone to the mall with a friend, and she wanted to shop. All the mall-crawling whetted my appetite even more.

When we finally reached TGIF, we were greeted by a fantabulous deal on Tequila shots flashing at the door. We ignored, and walked straight in, with the settling evening sun and the aroma of steak in the passageways. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t flirting with the idea of a good steak anymore – I was tantalizingly close to gobbling one down.

We preferred a table by the window with a view overlooking the Mandela Marg. The music was good and the sitting area was less crowded. My glance bounced over an old lady busily munching down chicken strips by the dozen, barely managing to take notice of anyone around her. We stepped up to a table and took our place next to a couple caught in an embrace over plates and full cocktail glasses.

I have always been some kind of a beer connoisseur, especially with home-brewed draught beer. It didn’t take long before we were greeted with two mugs of TGIF draught beer. We started our meal with some spicy chicken wings sautéed in a house-special sauce to go along with the beer. The succulent wings looked fiery on a plate accompanied by celery sticks and cheese sauce. I picked one and as I steered it towards my mouth, I was hit by a rush of pungent vinegar aroma. I felt super jittery – I can’t quite say I enjoyed the sensation. I quickly chewed on a celery stick – the freshness and blandness of the celery stick toned down the acute tangy taste. The cheese sauce was equally sour, if not less.

In some time, the much anticipated Tenderloin Asada made its way into our table along with a plate of Spaghetti – the latter, for a moment, looked even more sumptuous and appealing than my steak. My friend loved Italian food and she was pretty adamant on sampling some Italian. I didn’t waste time and dug into my steak with a razor-sharp knife. Usually, tender beef is not served in restaurants around Delhi, so the tad harder and fibrous Buff meat is used as an alternative. The steak was a little stringy, but well-cooked and richly spiced. The only disappointments were the oven roasted potatoes, and the onion and pepper rings which came with the steak. They were soggy and horribly presented on the plate unlike the steak. The onion rings looked like rags and the potatoes were better left untouched. Not quite the potato incarnation I had in mind.

The spaghetti was the catch of the day. Consistently and brilliantly cooked beyond perfection and garnished with the right mix of spices and vegetables, including some lovely skewed cherry tomatoes and mushrooms. Not too much mozzarella, but if it was not cheesy enough for you, you could help yourself to more. The steak was exactly how I wanted it to be – juicy, succulent, well-bodied and evenly grilled, if not barbecued.  It went perfectly well with my beer-aided appetite. I downed the last morsel with the last swig of beer from my mug.

There is nothing sadder than the end of a great meal, knowing what comes next. But my gastronomical tryst with TGIF is far from over. I have my sight on the legendary TGIF Loaded Potato Skins and Spicy Jack Glazed Ribs. That’s for another time.

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Secret Spots to Visit in Kohima – the Capital of Nagaland

Kohima, as opposed to a heaving metropolis, is an idyllic town surrounded by lush foliage and rut-covered roads winding through a perfect forest of pine and cherry, of wild orchids and honey-combs. The houses are quaint and good-looking, and there are lots of churches, many of them.

Secret spots are in abundance in Kohima. If you love the place and explore it frequently on foot, your legs will carry you, on their own accord, toward one of your favorite promontories.

Some places are spoken of in whispers; few are underrated, while others have taken time to discover.

The Heritage:

What, once, stood the rambling old DC bungalow, with lines grown indistinct with moss and rooftop laden with ferns, now stands the Heritage with a haphazard improvised look, spruced-up interiors and a sprawling wide complex. However, it still has the feel of an old gentry English cottage, like a symmetry restored.

Great chambers, chandeliers and paintings by local Naga artistes adorn the interiors of the Heritage as you strut through the freshly polished wooden-floors.

At dusk, when the town envelops in a quivering red glow, one can capture the best sunsets in Kohima from the Heritage, overlooking Western Kohima town and the Puliebadze mountains.

Chingtsuong:

Chingtsuong, translates into ‘come and eat’ from the local Changki Naga dialect.

Minimalistic, conventional looks with its atypical charm with a Naga theme complete with bamboo-woven blinds, wooden water jugs, and earthen pots laden with firewood, gives an artist’s rendition of a traditional Naga kitchen.

This is the place to satiate your pining for authentic Naga fare. While the smoked Pork with anishi and akhuni are house favorites, the more adventurous can glut on Pork trotters, intestines, snails, and other house specials.

As you walk in, the smell of smoked meat wafts through the air and the sight of warm, food-scented condensing on the faces of happy diners, gives you the impression that you are in for a more than ordinary human enthusiasm and culinary fare.

Café Caffeine:

The next eating-stop on Kohima’s itinerary is Café Caffeine.

The café has an intimacy which is outlandish, with off-beat, psychedelic graffiti and is a total flipside to the other places catering traditional Naga fare.

Beef stroganoff, braised beef, macaroni napolitan, muffins and pastas, roast pork, and good coffee. Largely Italian and Continental fare, the list could go on. Beef lasagna is a perennial favorite among regulars.

While the café is frequented by youngsters perched on café stools and dropping provocative phrases which stand apart from a general conversation, it also promotes local musicians and artistes by regularly hosting promotional gigs and concerts.

Guitars, Manga and black leather sofas add to the ambience of the café.

Super Market:

The Super Market offers a fascinating cultural experience and a glimpse into the local way of life. It remains true to its roots. From the time the day dawns, the locals come flocking in from the country within the town which sprawls out for miles.

As the day broadens and the crowds start settling in, clusters of Naga spring onions, ginger blossoms, Naga beans and lentils, wild mushrooms, yams and banana flowers, tree tomatoes, Naga King chillies and prickly ash peppers, fermented soy bean paste wrapped in banana leaves, fleshy bamboo shoots, plums, apricots and wild gooseberries, and a host of other aromatic Naga spices and local flavors are up for grabs.

Bee larvae, silkworms, wood worms and hornet nests are common sightings, and the sound of slippery eels and cat-fishes stirring in tiny water reservoirs, the buzz of grasshoppers and water bugs, and the croaking of wet-weather frogs resonate through the air.

The Super Market is thronged by tourists snapping and whirring with their cameras; pausing, inching back and even dropping to their knees, to catch the perfect shot, with just enough time to trigger their shutters, before the rank of the market sends them into a raucous frenzy.

Nagaland Emporium, Western Book depot and other bookstores:

Nothing much has transpired the rustic streets leading to the Nagaland Emporium flanked by four bookstores; Western Book Depot stands out as the oldest book store in Kohima.

There is a certain familiarity between the Nagaland Emporium and the four bookstores creating mirror images of each. There is a rare merger, like the unions of souls, with one preserving the oral and written literature of the Nagas, while the other, art and culture.

Naga authors and historians are promoted by these bookstores. Easterine Angami’s ‘Mari’ and ‘Naga Folktales’ share window space with APJ Kalam’s ‘Indomitable Spirit’ and Gandhi’s ‘India of my Dreams’.

Across the street, a few meters away, the Nagaland State Emporium houses Naga handicrafts and handloom products, and Naga paraphernalia, including miniatures of the Kohima War Cemetery.

Dzukou Valley:

Whenever there is a dull and stifling in the town; and you run out of lofty interests, pack your bags and head toward Dzukou valley for a memorable trekking experience.

The valley is etched in the poetic memory of every wander-lust traveler. It is a sacred corridor for the Nagas, laden with dew-cold lilies, hooded aconitums, wild strawberries and gathering dreams.

No matter how anyone construes the valley, there will always be a lack of verbal eloquence.

Native to the world’s tallest rhododendron trees, and the source of inspiration for Vikram Seth’s ecological fable ‘The Elephant and the Tragopan’, a trek to Dzukou is identical to attending a festival of understanding with nature.

Khonoma Village:

Roughly situated on the fringes of Kohima, en route from limestone cliffs housing rock bee colonies to whispering pines, Khonoma is a sprawling, clean village of descending clouds hanging and leaping across hill slopes, of lush green paddy fields, corridors and war-beaten cottages painted with brushes dipped in nature’s palette.

Khonoma was once the tragic personification of memory and past-violence. It is not a walled village manned by warring clans anymore, but remnants of resistance to British infiltration into the Naga hills, in the guise of War memorials and forts (reconstructed by the villagers) are restored.

In a sudden flight from vivid realism, the village reveals itself as an embodiment of survival and self-preservation.

Secret spots and places are like poems. They are somewhere behind, and have always been there. The wander-lust traveler, like the poet, merely discovers them.