Monday, March 19, 2012

An inexpensive fine-dining experience: New Santosh Dhaba

Whenever we, at home, decide to eat out, we try to ascertain whether we want just the food or the experience as well.
There are some joints in Hyderabad which may not have a great ambiance but are known for their tasty food. Like, at times, we get the Paradise Biryani parceled. Biryani packets, I am told, are kept stacked at the parcel counter and those stacks vanish rapidly. There is also a Raj Dhaba close-by which is right opposite to our old Satyam office and we employees used to frequent the place for our small parties. The office is no longer there but the Raj Dhaba still stands, though the owner laments the closure of the office as it was a source of steady profit to him. We continue to patronize the dhaba as the curries there are quite delectable and truly value for money at around 60-90 bucks per plate. Of course, the last time we got stuff from there, we noticed that they have hiked their fare as well.
The point I am trying to make is that there are times when you don't want to cook at home and get some decent stuff from outside. And there are times when you want to make the effort to dress up, keep your hunger pangs going, make an effort to drive all the way to Banjara Hills, linger over your food and enjoy the experience. Well, it is this experience that the foodie in me looks forward to once a month. But what's  happened is that the last two months, I was invited by my close family or friends to the restaurants that I already had been to and this didn't leave me the time to experiment with a new restaurant.
Therefore, I was more than eager to eat at a restaurant that offered a fine dining experience. Just as I was contemplating going out, I was asked to attend to something at Abids. Well, I hadn't really explored this part of the city for its food and therefore decided to throw in a lunch with the work that I needed to attend to.
As I neared my destination , I noticed that there was a Santosh dhaba close-by. My thoughts went to the 2 reviews of Santosh I had done earlier: Santosh Dhaba at Abids and Santosh Banjara at Banjara Hills and therefore, though I was in the mood of a fine dining experience, my mind danced at the prospect of eating at the Santosh dhaba again. I had just loved their food.
As I walked to the dhaba, I noticed to my trepidation that over Santosh Dhaba was the word 'New' written discreetly. Gosh! Isn't this the same one? As I entered, I also saw that even the environment was nothing to speak about. I sat down and went through the one-page menu and ordered for a Paneer 65 as a starter. I also found, to my relief, that this was a pure vegetarian restaurant as well. The menu has done away with frills like soup and desserts. It concentrates only on North Indian food. Even before I could decide on the main course, the starter was there in front of me. Must have taken about 5-6 minutes to arrive. It was delightful to find the paneer so fresh and soft. Though I love paneer, the rubbery taste in some of the restaurants makes me wary of trying it. While nibbling at the starter and browsing the menu, I found another amazing thing...that if you desire, you can also place an order for half plate of the main course at nearly half the price! For small eaters like me this is a blessing. Especially that day, as I had gone alone for my business and hadn't anyone to share the food with. I ordered for half plate of Punjabi kofta and one Masala kulcha. The plate came with two koftas, just about an inch across and with plenty of gravy. The masala kulcha was rolled out very thin and was stuffed with different vegetables. How can one stuff so much into the thin rotis, I wonder. The food was simply yummy and finger-lickingly good. The bill came to 242/- . Serving time is just about seven minutes. And even if you were to dab at the food with a tissue, you'd find no extra oil in the food.
Truly satiated with the taste, I went to the counter to compliment the owner on the great food that was being served here. On hearing this, the owner was flattered and offered a taste of his famous biryani. I politely declined as I was stuffed. He still insisted and I got to taste a couple of teaspoons. Even before I could put the biryani in my mouth, I could sense the delightful aroma emanating from the dish. The taste was in keeping with the rest of the meal that I had just eaten.
Somehow, we got into a chat and he showed me pictures of the fine dining restaurant  that they plan to open in a nearby place. I also came to know that it was the same owner who had run the Mango Spice at Banjara Hills and for which I had done a review. And NOW I understand what was missing from that restaurant.
To compare: Govinda  is an actor appreciated immensely for his comic timing and spontaneity. He has the rustic Virar-ka-chokra image which, try as he might, he can never shake off. Were he to try a classy Aamir Khan act, I am not sure he can pull it off. Aamir Khan, on the other hand is known for his immaculately detailed planning and not really given to spontaneity of acting.
What the New Santosh Dhaba had tried to do was something like making Aamir Khan and Govinda act in the same movie, not realizing that the clientele they cater to is different. And therefore a mishmash of menu items, the inability to add that magic pinch of class to their Italian menu.
Even when I had gone to do the Mango Spice review, I had realized that the North Indian food was much more delectable than the Italian food on offer. In the new restaurant they plan to open, they intend to have an Italian section as well. I hope they don't.
North Indian food is what they do best, and I am sure that I don't mind going all the way to Abids to taste the food again and again. If this very delectable food, combined with an oil-free preparation is not fine dining, then what is?