Tropical paradise in the city: Baraza Bars and Bites

It has been boiling over in Pune and all I have been dreaming about has been a quick get-away to the sunny beaches of Goa, lying around in the sandy, sea-side shacks sipping on the millionth Pina Colada and enjoying the beautiful breeze.

That and the amazing lip-smacking fare. The restaurants there are much more experimental yet fun. The variety is mind boggling. I guess that comes with the territory. When you have to cater to a clientele spanning not only all the Indian states but continents all over the world, you tend to find new things and the local taste fuse together to bring the best (or sometimes not as good) taste on your plate.
Since my luck hasn't been the most stellar right now so a vacation to the beaches doesn't seem to be coming to fruition any time soon. But lady fortune seemed to take pity on me because I got invited to the spanking new joint in town, Baraza.

We got there for dinner and the beautiful outdoor setting, with candle lit tables, wooden deck, potted palm trees and high chairs seemed like I had walked into a nice beach side restaurant for food. The indoors were just as charming with a nice bar, french windows and a brightly lit room decorated with hundreds of bottles suspended from the ceiling.

We chose to sit out and it was pleasant with the evening breeze. A nice place to take your date to. And if you tried enough you might feel like the beach was just out of ear-shot and you weren't actually sitting in a huge and rather deserted Ishanya mall.

We started with the drinks and each one was as stellar as the other. I do get hazy memories of downing a good number of SANGRIAs (which I should inform you were amazing) and getting really happy by the time we were done with the meal. Red wine Sangria is my go-to for drinks because I am really lousy about deciding from a menu. And if you love Sangrias just as much make Baraza a must-visit!

Apart from my usual fix I also distinctly remember the COSMIC BUBBLE MARTINI which came with a side of theatrics. So it came with a martini glass loaded with candy floss and you got treated with a view of the bartender pouring a mix of vodka and citruses into it making the floss disappearing into the liquid leaving behind the cute pink and really delicious drink behind.

I also really loved the BERRY KHATTA SLUSH which tasted deliciously of kala khatta and the SOUL COOLER which had a kokum based but infused with chillies, lemon and cilantro.
But to be honest, I mostly spent the night nursing my glasses of spectacular Sangria.

Now the food was a terrific part of the night. Just recalling back about the grub is making me hungry. I would really like to encourage you to visit and be brave with the menu because everything seemed so different yet so good. But if you are just as lost as I am with the menu, here are a few things you should really consider trying:

  • BARAZA CHICKEN TIKKA- If you love kukkad just as much as I do, you NEED to try this. One of the better tikkas in town, the flavors are smashing with the oh-so-tender chicken pieces grilled to a smoky perfection, topped with cheese and doused in the spicy and creamy gravy. It came with a side of no-can-do-without green chutney and onion slaw.

  • KOLHAPURI CHICKEN TACOS and ding ding ding we have a winner! I usually am not a taco person because I eat like a pig and always end up feeding my whole face and my hair and my clothes. But these tacos were manageably bite sized but that's not it. It was stuffed with the ultimate hot and spicy chicken in Kolhapuri masala that wowed every one at the table.

  • AMERICAN CORN CHILLI AND SPINACH TEMPURA: This is a must have as nibbles while you wait for food and sip your drinks. I would have had my fill with just these if I didn't have more people clamoring for it at the table. These tempura fried munchies come with a dash of sriracha mayo that made it absolutely impossible to stop at just one spoonful.

  • STUFFED NAAN: Do NOT forget to try this. This was perhaps the most loved dish by the end of the night. Its hard to tell because we loved almost everything we were served. We tried the GOA SAUSAGE and SLOW COOKED RAAN and were bowled over each time. SO good!

  • GHEE ROAST CHICKEN: This was a Kukkad dish that made me really happy. The aroma of ghee and piquant taste of spice went really well BUTTER GARLIC NAAN it was served with. The chicken was really well cooked. The meat was tender and was falling off the bones. A good mains dish to consider.

All this while, reader, I had downed a couple more of Sangrias and yet all my fuzzy brain could think about was, 'yay, desserts'. Talk about gluttony. But I was not disappointed. Chef Irfan had a line-up of spectacular desserts that took our breath away.

Fat, pillowy CHURROS came with CHOCOLATE SAUCE and SNICKER CHUNK ICE-CREAM. The piping hot BOOZY BROWNIE with a dollop of home-made VANILLA ICE-CREAM on top was so quickly wolfed down you'd think it had done a disappearing act on the table.

I specially loved the NUTELLA CREME BRULEE with PISTACHIO AND ALMOND BISCOTTI.  It did come with that signature caramelization on top to crack with a spoon and reveal the creamy and silky goodness below. It was nutty and chocolaty in the best way and the biscotti was delicious.

The night ended on a good (high) note. A definitely must-visit place that I am going back to as soon as Mr. TKD is in town. 

Make sure you pay your visits as well and I hope your experience is just as good as mine. Thank you to Svetlana from Carepe Diem for having us over and Chef Irfan and team for taking such good care of us. 

Baraza Bars & Bites Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The vegetarian surprise: Santé Spa

The first time someone asked me if I'd like to go to an all-vegetarian joint for dinner, I couldn't even muster enough concern to convey a vehement no. Just a look full of withering skepticism that begged the question, "I'm the Kukkad Diaries. Like, really?".

But oh, how the ones in their high horses come tumbling down. And so did we. The one thing I have learned from my 1 year of food blogging is never set expectations. Things always turn around and smack you in the face.

Well, yes. I have to (shamefacedly) admit that I did end up going to the vegetarian place and loving each and every dish that was served. The place was the recently trending, Sante Spa.

I guess what really ticked all boxes was the fact that every dish was simple. Simple in the way ingredients were used and cooked so that nothing took your attention away from the freshness of the greens, the flavor of every element shining through yet harmonizing in a way that made it so good.

Added to the fact that Sante is really trying to make sure that all dishes are not only tasty but also incredibly healthy. They have tried to minimize the use of refined sugars or salt that is known to have adverse effect on health. Diary is substituted with Soy milk that makes sure no matter how much you gorge, you still get up light and refreshed.

The ambience resonates with the gastronomic principle of the place too. There are indoor seating with coolers and outdoor seating at the deck. Lots of leafy plants make the place look green and fresh. The cutlery are very unique and interesting. They have been carved out of neem wood known for its restorative properties. The whole restaurant itself is located in a leafy cul-de-sac giving a quaint, quiet and soothing vibe to this place.

Even on a weekday the place is abuzz and the steady stream of clients doesn't stop.

The first thing we are served is SPINACH SPEARMINT PINEAPPLE detox drink and I am worried. After a couple of pulling faces and dramatic under-the-breath of how I was being cornered into drinking spinach, I give in. And boy, I'm hooked. The drink is refreshing and tastes oh-so-wonderful for something that has spinach in it. The tang of pineapple and the sweet n salty flavor takes the drink a notch up in my recommendation list.

We also ask for the DARK CHOCOLATE MILKSHAKE. It comes looking resplendent with the the creamy chocolate shake topped with airy whipped cream and chocolate chips. And we enjoyed it much more knowing the fact that the whipped cream was made from soy milk and not dairy and the sugar was not the run-of-the-mill refined sugar but the raw, Khandsari variety.

As we waited for the food we got to nibble on the incredible bread basket stuffed with beautiful rolls and breads. We tried the flavored butters with these and you must must must try these bad boys. The butters are a revelation and we couldn't have enough.

I'm not healthiest person you will know but I do love my salads. But usually when I'm enjoying my salads it definitely has some meat in it. That just goes to say how amazing the food is at Sante is because I enjoyed the vegetarian salads here as much I do my meaty ones.
We were served a MEDITERRANEAN QUINOA SALAD and SPAGHETTI OF VEGETABLE SALAD. Each just as brilliant as other.

The Quinoa salad was a party in a bowl. It had so much going on. Different elements and textures and tastes. It had fruits like apple, cranberry, tangerines. It had nuts and seeds. It had leafy greens in the mix along with quinoa. Some feta cheese and every thing came together like they were meant to be. This was definitely a winner in my books.

The Spaghetti was my favorite perhaps because of the sheer skill used for the dish and the the mind-blowing taste after. Instead the real spaghetti, the chef had used vegetable julienne to pass off as the noodles. The dressing was beautiful and a dash of vinaigrette made it even better. It came with a topping of broken 'khakra'. What a dish!

THE BEETROOT AND SPINACH HUMMUS came next and we recognized it immediately as it has been trending the social media for a while now. The good ol' hummus seem to have gone through and incredible look and taste makeover. The dish sat pretty with a dollop of pink beetroot hummus and green spinach hummus. Each one tasting beautiful with the whole grain khakra they were served with. This could be my between-the-meals snacks all day, every day!

Then we moved on to something that sounded so out of place in a almost-vegan and all-healthy place, I almost snorted out of mirth. But Sante was definitely having the last laughs that night because even though we were served 'healthy' Pizzas. They were so good we considered going for seconds!

PIZZA VERDE as the name suggests was a green, green pizza topped with salad leaves so fresh that they fluttered in the evening breeze (I swear!). The pizza was on a Ragi base which was thin and crunchy. It was topped with cheese, capers, zucchini and basil pesto giving it that rich flavorful taste. The pizzas were so light and yet savoury making it a perfect healthy candidate for those mad,bad pizza cravings.

The FARM FRESH PIZZA was just as good as the previous one with the same thin, ragi base. It came loaded with veggies cubed to perfection. My mother would probably weep to see her daughter wolf down veggies that I so pain-stakingly eliminate from my pizzas usually.

The mains included a cracker of a dish- BAJRA RISO. It was basically a risotto but minus all the gluten and starchy rice. Instead it had spinach and green beans. I couldn't get over how rich it tasted but didn't overwhelm my palate or appetite.

Now, THAI CURRY is always my go-to when I am craving a wholesome yet comforting meal. But the gluten-free and healthy thai curry we were served here tasted just as creamy and aromatic. It came with a side of BROWN RICE which was simply delicious and went so well with the curry.

The surprises didn't end because we got to taste a line-up of brilliant desserts that also boasted of being healthy, gluten-free and sugar-free in some cases. There was the LOW FAT RASPBERRY CHEESECAKE which was the most popular sweet of the night perhaps.

By the time we were done, we were quite concerned by the enthusiastic and vigorous intake of healthy food that we as food-bloggers were quite unfamiliar to. And for a good 5 minutes we discussed on how our bodies would react to the sudden love. But needless to say, it was one of the most incredible tastings I've had in quite sometime, I would like to recommend it to you guys irrelevant of whether you are a health freak or not.

Santè Spa Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

ASANJO - A love story

It's been a while since I have been actually floored by food at a joint. Desensitized food bloggers will understand. But an afternoon meal at Asanjo took us by surprise when the amazing food just wouldn't stop.

Chef Saif took upon the role of what I can perfectly describe as a 'tour guide' as he took us on an epicurean journey through continents. Tasting the food with the chef telling us about the background of the dish, its origin and its ingredient was an experience in itself. That the food was as cracking as this just made it better.

The place is small but cozy. It's on a busy street of Aundh right beside McDonald's and across the street from Reliance Mart. We walked in unsuspecting of the awesomeness that was to follow.
Chef Saif was prepared and he knocked us off our feet starting with just the mocktails. Mocktails! Who'd have thought?!

SWEET SOUR AND SPICY PUNCH hit all the sweet spots on that particularly hot afternoon. So refreshing and rejuvenating. It was a perfect mix of pineapple, cilantro, jalapeno and chillis. The glass was rimmed with these incredible spices which made sure I ordered it twice.

CUCUMBER MARGARITA would be my next pick. Chilled cucumber mix with a good sprinkle of cayenne pepper. I also loved my PINEAPPLE MOJITO with delicious chunks of pineapples.

When we were suitably refreshed and hungry as ever, we moved on to the appetizers. The chef had planned an unbeatable line up starting right with HARISSA MINCED CHICKEN SKEWERS. These fat, pudgy and delicious kebabs had us asking for more. The kebabs were made with spiced, minced chicken fingers and grilled to glory. It came with a side of Harissa mayo. That's what sorted means.


We moved on to PAPAS ALA SAIF which is named apparently after the chef. Of Peruvian origin, this dish consists of potato discs fried to crunchiness, doused in a creamy, cheese sauce and topped with boiled egg slices and olives. Simple as it comes, yet it tasted like a thousand bucks.


Another one of my favorite was FISH CAKE WITH ROCKET, CAPERS IN LIME DRESSING AND SERVED WITH HORSE RADISH MUSTARD MAYO. It was a delight and the fish was fresh. A winner in my books.


The KOREAN CHICKEN NACHOS came refreshingly different with a base of beetroot nachos. I for one really liked it not only because it was healthy but also because it tasted quite nice. The topping had gochujang spiced chicken, cheese and salsa mixed together in a glorious mess that hit the taste buds just right.

Bandeja Paisa

The show-stopper was perhaps the huge platter of BANDEJA PAISA. A sizzler, that looked too beautiful to eat. But eat we did and boy, was it good. The sizzler is a must try and very share-friendly. It has carefully spiced chicken chunks, sausages, plantains, beans and rice, grilled veggies and a sunny side up on top! So much fun!

By this time I was stuffed and happy and only thing I cared for were desserts. I was glad I saved some space in my tummy for the dessert shakes. We tried the RED VELVET SHAKE and the CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER AND PRETZEL SHAKE. Each one a beauty to behold and just as yummy. Whipped cream, the chocolaty garnishing, the creamy smooth shake....we were in love. Plus the Red Velvet shake actually came with a hunk of cheesecake with red velvet base!!
Yay to that!

I'm mostly happy that something like Asanjo exists in this part of the town. And the red velvet shake only means I'll probably live there on the weekends.

Asanjo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kolkata as I know it: Peth Pujo-The Kolkata Food Festival

I have always had a love-hate relationship with Kolkata. Introduced to this huge, buzzing metropolis as a gangly 17 year old, fresh out of home from a comfortable, sheltered, small city, I was immediately intimidated and overwhelmed with the craziness of it all.

                   I was repulsed by the constant cacophony of the milling populance in the streets, the jarring prospects of destitution on the side walks and the sometimes-unbearable, sweltering heat that was too much to bear for someone hailing from the cool Himalayan foothills. Needless to say, I pined for home and drove my mother half insane with the continuous cribbing. It's a good thing my bad-ass mother is not the mollifying, over-indulging kind. She instead told me to grow up and deal with it.

And I did.

"Kolkata is an acquired taste", I have always recounted to anyone who'll listen to me chatter about my new-found love for the city. Well, it is. And it's a taste that grows on you by the minute. Of course, there are still lot of things to dislike about the city as all cities have. But, I found, there are more things to love about it than you'd initially imagine.

Chef Anirban, from Kolkata himself, tries to give us a tour of this confusing city through the epicurian route (Which is, perhaps the best) and take us through the journey through the myriad tastes of this huge small-town.
         He captures not only the traditional, bengali classics but also the fact that Kolkata has forever celebrated its religious and ethnological tolerance. The puchka and tele-bhaja (deep fried snacks) may be a fixture in the food geography of the city but it would still be incomplete without the stir-fried chicken chow-mein or spicy egg roll at the road-side stall. The typical Ramzan and Eid fare is enjoyed by Muslims and Hindus alike. Christmas and Easter means a surge of people of all religious backgrounds thronging to St. Paul's Cathedral and enjoying the bakes of the season.

So, The Cafe at Hyatt Regency celebrates this diversity with 'PETH PUJO- The Kolkata Food Festival'. The expat and anglo-Indian influence of Kolkata finds its representation in Chef Anirban's fest in the GRILLED CHICKEN and SHEPERD PIES. The China Town which is just as much a part of the city is given a spot in table with the BAOs and DIMSUMs which made the traces of Chinese in my heritage, pleased. Not to mention, the mouth-watering traditional bengali food is at the pride of place in the huge spread.

Prioritizing my plan of action, I made a bee-line for the PUCHKA and JHALMURI stall. In the past 3 years of living in Maharashtra, perhaps this is what I have missed the most. The JHALMURI brought back memories of my mother topping up a bowlful of puffed rice, onions. peanuts and savory chanachur with pungent mustard oil. Now mustard oil is something that makes all the difference which (I take the liberty of saying) makes sure Jhalmuri trumps over Bhel.

The PUCHKA is not your average pani-puri. You get no choices of sweet or spicy water as they do here in Maharashtra. You are thrust a bowl made up of dry Sal leaves. The huge pot of carefully spiced, tamarind water given a good stir by the puchka-seller with his hands elbow deep in it. And you leave all the flavor and hygiene choices to him as you surrender to the bursts of flavor while hurrying to keep up with his pace of disbursing the spheres.
Well, you surely get a taste of that experience at the festival but you have to be in Kolkata to know what I am talking about.

There were also thoughtfully placed noodles and rolls stands. I immediately asked for a chicken egg roll, my favorite snack from back home perhaps. I laughed a little at how disconcerted I was with the hygiene and cleanliness which is not a choice on the street of Kolkata. The all too familiar 'Dada' or 'Kaku' rolling out the dough and handling your food with his un-gloved hand is weirdly comforting. But I marveled at how close the roll came to what I remembered.

Kolkata high-tea means political and worldly discussion during the mandatory evening 'adda' with rounds of hot, steaming, sweet tea with occasional puffs on the cigarette and newspaper lined plates full of deep-fried goods. I found some as I wandered through the buffet table. KOROLA BHAJA, good ol' BEGUN BHAJA, AALU BHAJA, all greeted me as I quickly filled up my plate. There were the Mochar chop and Beetroot chop which were duly devoured and only reminded how much I had missed these Bengali snacks.

The mains were over-whelming yet delightful. I had already put a good dent in my appetite with all the snacking but I did make sure to taste a little bit of everything. LUCHI and ALU DOM was every bit the comfort food I crave. GHEE BHAAT with CHANAR DALNA was spot on with the authentic flavors of bengal.

I went on to CHICKEN CHAAP which was one of the best I've had in Pune. I wished I could have eaten more of it but I was fuller than I'd want to. MALAI CHINGRI and DOI MAACH were my choices in fish and they did not disappoint. I, myself, find the task of carefully maneuvering through the countless, tiny fish bones a bit daunting and hence I limit my intake of it as such. But the joy in the faces of my fellow diners reflected the quality of the dish itself. With that I rest my case.

The dessert section was the most awaited one. There were tiny 'bhar's (pots) of delicious MISHTI DOI and ROSHOGOLLAs. The MISHTI DOI was stellar but I found the other sweets a bit drab. I only say this for the sake of reporting and by no means, did that affect my view on the festival that night. There were the usual bakes and desserts to be had but I settled for a bowl of JAGGERY ICE-CREAM which had a really distinct 'Gur' taste that I loved.

Talk about sweet endings.

Well, It really was a rather nostalgic and very appetizing trip down the memory lane for me. I invite you as well to take this adventure yourself and experience Kolkata as I know it, not just as a slice of Bengal but as a mixing pot of all cultures and religions as single, beautiful yet intriguing entity.

A huge shout out to the ever so warm and welcoming, Ankoura of Hyatt Regency for having us over and a round of applause to Chef Anirban for pulling this off.

Peth Pujo- The Kolkata food festival at The Café at Hyatt Regency Pune is on till the 30th of April 2017. The buffet has new dishes introduced everyday and costs Rs. 1050 for lunch and Rs. 1299 for dinner.

The Cafè - Hyatt Regency Pune Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato