Would you prefer a joint well known for its taste over a fine dining restaurant? Well, the answer would more often be yes than no. But then, there are certain situations when the answer would vary. Going out on a dinner date with your wife on your anniversary to a dhaba, irrespective of the quality of food there, would not be exactly the wisest of decisions. You don’t want to make her regret saying yes to you, at least on that day.
So, for my anniversary dinner, with this in mind, I made a reservation at Malaka Spice in Baner, Pune. Reached there at around twenty hundred hours and was delighted with the free valet parking. Not that it was required, there was way lot of parking, but these small things do make you feel special, when you have already decided to trade taste with luxury.
We were then ushered into the restaurant, where our maître d’hôtel or attendant for the evening introduced himself to us. But then, honestly, these fancy things were for the wife. I couldn’t undermine the fact that a major reason why I had come over was for trying out something new. So, we finalized on the Thai cuisine.
Now, unlike me my better half does not relish non-vegetarian dishes a lot. So, whenever we go out for dinner, either one of us has to compromise. Eventually we learned to share. It’s more like a deal we strike on entering a restaurant. If it’s a non-vegetarian starter than a vegetarian main course shall follow and vice versa. Though this was the not the right evening for me to discuss such logistics with her, I thought I better do so, rather than regret later. After all, we do not go to restaurants with free valet parking every week.
A vegetarian soup and main course was decided and I had to settle with a non-vegeterian starter. Not exactly a win-win for me. Coming to the soup, the names were all fancy and new to us. We went through the descriptions and took help of the attendant to finalize one. We ordered the Tom Yum Phad soup, which was described as a hot and sour soup with lemongrass, lime, coriander, chillies and galangal.
I must mention out here, how I am always impressed with the menu in such places. The way they can make ordinary dishes seem exotic. So, I smartly commented that it was nothing but the regular hot and sour tomato soup. The guy who has prepared the menu must not be on a salary, but a revenue sharing model where he gets a cut of the extra amount they are charging for a regular soup with their exotic descriptions.
Well, long story short; I was proved wrong. It was actually a brilliant soup and I totally relished it. As for the ingredients mentioned earlier, turns out that in the right proportion they do give a beautiful flavor to the soup. Well that gave away some of my skepticism and I realized may be this was an honest attempt to making Thai soup.
For the appetizer, other than the soup, we had ordered for Chicken in Pandanu. Contrary to the words appetizer or starter under which the dish was listed, it was actually quite filling. Being honest to its name, it was actually chicken kebabs wrapped in pandanu leaves. Hence, the name. Of course, there was no rocket science to that. Because of the fact that wifey did not like the first bite of it, I took upon myself the humongous task of finishing the kebabs myself. I would not say that it was bad, the blend of spices just did not work for her. For me, this was my most anticipated dish for the evening. Needles to say, chicken was the reason. Referred in Thai as the Gai Har Bai Toey (as mentioned in the menu) the kebabs are marinated in herbs and Thai paste. I reckon it was the Thai paste which brought in a distinguished flavor to it. It made me feel that I had actually tried something new.
Now, coming to the main course, we decided on the well known Thai Green curry (referred as the Malaka Thai Green Curry in the restaurant) and Thai Chilli rice. Perhaps we did not want to experiment anymore after my wife’s reaction to the Chicken in Pandanu.
At the time when we ordered for this dish I was not exactly sure what kaffir lime leaf; one of the ingredients in the Thai chilli rice meant, but it was definitely something new. Of course I learned about it later and its wide us in Vietnamese cuisines. The Thai chilly rice whose vegetarian version we had ordered was absolutely close to what we have tried in any Thai restaurant till date. And when I say this, I mean it in a good way.
The drinks that we had were the common ones. Basically, two mocktails – a melon freeze and a fruit punch. We had actually asked our attendant to extend our regards to the bartender, for the drinks were simply soothing to the tongue and throat. Perfectly prepared and made us feel happy with every sip.
At the end of the dinner, it made us really happy when we were given two complementary chocolate mousse for dessert. It was my wife’s reaction to the appetizer which prompted the hotel staff to go that extra mile. What better way to end the dinner? The food really made us happy. We did make it a point to mention that there was nothing to apologize for the starter. It is not like all tastes work well with everyone. All in all, an evening made special and of course, more than anything else that I had anticipated, it was Thai food that did the trick.