Thursday, November 16, 2006

from london: after may miles and many plates...

Cities change, even as they appear not to. You walk out the tube station, you look around and immediately you sense that something is different.

Who says politics don’t touch a street? I move carefully, deftly, trying to avoid the mad rush of traffic and I think – even tolling cars that come downtown hasn’t helped. I hear by next month you’ll have to pay 25 pounds just to drive through central London. Blair's last ditch efforts to make a difference? Some will pay. Some will gripe. The traffic will continue.

England nov 06 010

I walk for hours – down Sloan Street, bordered with parks that are under lock. For residents only! Give me a break… I’d forgotten about that part of England, the do not trespass England, the England that in a private park will put up a sign saying – children not allowed in this part of the park.

English children. Two minutes, I am out on the street for no more than two minutes and I hear it: don’t put your hand near your face! Can’t you see how dirty it is? I applaud the world of respectful children, I do! I dislike tremendously brats, set loose to do their damage, but surely English children hear more about what they are doing wrong than about what they might do right.

It starts to get dark around 4 at this time of the year. It’s still the tail end of fall – did you notice? Trees are not yet entirely free of color. It has to be at least 20 degrees warmer than in Wisconsin right now. But it’s windy and so I walk with a quick step.

I cover a lot of ground, from the parks, to the western tip of Chelsea, to the river and up past the parliament buildings. I’m tossing about thoughts of a past life, one lived here for months at a time, the England of the seventies and eighties, a different England, a different life.

England nov 06 020

Down the long tunnel to the tube, once the underground now the tube – is the imagery that different? Three pounds per ride, my oh my, New York seems dirt cheap. So I buy the Oyster pass – a new deal whereby you load up a card with cash and you scan it every time you ride, at a discount. A crummy deal for tourists who forget to cash in their used cards and load way too much money on it because it’s hard to predict how many rides you’ll need. But Oyster passes are the England of today and so I go with my oyster. I like the imagery – an oyster, riding the tube.

I am restless. I haven’t eaten anything since the croissant at Paris airport and I haven’t slept since the night before I taught my last class.

I show up for my dinner reservation early. Who cares. I am there, they are there, feed me please.

England nov 06 022

Rasoi Vineet Bhatia. This is his place and I have been wanting to eat hear ever since I first heard of it.

It’s Indian food prepared with utmost care, with the freshest ingredients and with supreme talent. Enough talent to make those across the Channel sigh deeply and admit that this is stuff worth traveling for. I’ll second that – if I had to go back to the States the next day, the trip would have been worth it because of the dinner.

I’ll pause with the text and run down the tasting menu that I selected. There should have been seven dishes, but as you’ll see, there were more. I was over-fed, over-wined and completely undercharged. Why? We see that you are enjoying this so much, can we make you another? And how about this wine – try it, it is a fantastic accompaniment. What do you think? How about this dish, how did you like it?

It was a stunning presentation. I cannot convey flavors on Ocean. But take a look. I have inserted some notes that I scribbled into my little notepad as the evening progressed. That’s for the foodies out there who care. A superb place. Makes me want to do a story on the man behind the stove. Someday.

* * * * *

Oh, so warm here. Mmmmm. Yes, yes, come in, come in, we have a nice warm table for you. Hmmm, since when do single women get the best table, up front by the window? I am appreciative.

Chips and two chutneys. The green one is spicy hot, the orange one is mango smooth. I must not eat the whole basket. I must not. Yes, sure, let me try the aperitif with 16 herbs and spices. Yes, show me what the chef can do. A tasting menu. I suppose I should take the smaller one – seven dishes. It seems like a lot right there...

England nov 06 028

Lovely flavors. A simple potato mash over a cracker. With spices. Nice…
Madame, we will wait until you finish your aperitif before we begin the menu. We have some nice wines selected that really show off the food.

England nov 06 030

Wow, that is a dazzling scallop. Lentils, mmmm, with an Alsatian Riesling. Bliss, heaven.. I need eat no more, this will have been worth it.

England nov 06 031

What’s this? Wild mushrooms? What mushrooms did you use? Oysters, shitake, and a bit of truffle. Yes, I can see that. Sort of like Indian risotto. With tomato ice cream on top! Wonderful.

England nov 06 033

Spiced crab and lentil soup. The crab is melting in its tenderness, mmmm..

England nov 06 038

Oh! Spectacular! A grilled lobster with ginger over chili and a broccoli mash – this has to be my favorite! Perfectly grilled. Not overdone, oh, what are you doing? I see, a dash of spices at the table, sort of like grinding fresh pepper, only this is a dusting of something nutmeggy brown.

England nov 06 040

Tamarind glazed quail? Oh, how lovely, over a potato mash and here are the little Indian breads with mint and a yogurt spread. Perfect!

England nov 06 042

An extra dish? Really? And another wine to try? The first three were magnificent. A samosa with goat cheese over pear chutney. So tasty!

England nov 06 045

Lamb and morel korma laced with truffle oil, steamed rice cakes, coconut chutney…

The woman at the table near mine leans over and asks – are you a food journalist? I tell her that I do like to write about food. Look at me, spilling over onto another screen and another here on Ocean. But does Ocean count?

The waiters are hovering, but they hovered even before I took out my camera. Besides, restaurant critics do not show up with cameras. They hide behind masks. I am initially shy with my monster Sony SLR, but the staff smile and tell me to feel free with it. And, this cook is over the top excellent. He has the world chatting about his wonderfulness. He does not need to worry about a ditzy woman out with her camera exposing some heretofore unrecognized flaw.

England nov 06 047

Another extra? Mango, yes, I taste it… coconut ice cream. So refreshing…

England nov 06 049

Crispy chocolate, chenna and roasted almond samosa with Indian tea ice cream and a 1977 Domaine Oinos stands up to the chocolate… I am getting sleepy… You know, back home, people never appreciate dessert wines. They keep chugging at their Pinots and Burgundies… I bring home a dessert wine and it collects dust in my closet under the stairs (a makeshift wine cellar!). No thanks, don’t open that, they say.

Oh, but I am sleepy now! Thank you, thank you! What’s this? The check… What do I make of it – they charged me even less than the price of the small menu… and I ate and tasted and sipped so much more!

What a place. No tube for me. I hike home through a quieter London. A sleepy London. Sleepy me.

I wake up at three and give up on sleep. Time to post.