What Olive and Indigo need to learn from “badam-nu-shaak” and “idli-stew”

I had a “must-attend” wedding reception to go to, at the Turf Club/Racecourse, on Monday. I also had a friend visiting from New York, with only Monday night to spare for dinner. To make the best of a complicated situation, we booked a table at the Racecourse Olive. The plan was to wish the couple and then walk across to Olive for dinner.
As luck would have it, in the late evening, my friend called to say that he was down with a bad cold and he wouldn’t be able to make it. Disappointed, we canceled the table at Olive and decided to have a quick, light meal at the reception and to then call it an early night.
But fate usually has a trick or two kept in reserve, and in retrospect, it was downright amazing, how a supposed moment of disappointment could turn itself around and become a moment of pleasure. As things turned out, not only did we not miss going to Olive, we perhaps had a better dining experience, as well!
As soon as we finished wishing the couple, we made our way to the buffet. The layout itself was unassuming at first look, especially since most weddings these days anyway feature large spreads, with multiple tables or stalls serving a variety of different cuisines. However, once we started sampling the food, all comparisons ended.
In most weddings, irrespective of the cuisine, the food at all counters pretty much tastes the same; Punjabi, Punjabi Gujarati, Punjabi Chinese, Punjabi Italian…basically oil and masala drenched Punjabi food, with a slight twist, depending on the cuisine concerned. This one was different.
I am going to exaggerate a bit here, but that’s just to push a point. Imagine having a Trattoria, a Golden Dragon, a Muthuswamy, etc, all in one food court. The risotto was actually better than in most so-called Italian restaurants; the pizza slices were just right; there was something called an “idli-stew” that I, of Matunga Udipi restaurant lineage, had never heard off or sampled before in my life; there was a divine “Indian” dish called “badam nu shak”, which again was a first for me; there were above-average dim sums, in three flavors, including one great tasting Jain one…I can go on. We approached the cuisine like a tasting menu (Bellissima style, but without the wine pairing), trying just one little portion of each item, but I still had to pass over most of the Indian dishes, including the Amritsari dishes that my wife thought were the highlight of the spread, for lack of gastric space.
And imagine…this was all vegetarian, a good part of it Jain-compatible.
Sure, this kind of wedding spread doesn’t come cheap. But then our fine-dining restaurants are also exorbitantly overpriced for a vegetarian dining experience that nowadays probably needs to be a little redefined and perhaps shaken up a bit; if this city has to depend only on mass wedding caterers (and perhaps Ms. Vijaya Venkat and her team to a certain extent) to invent and reinvent vegetarian dishes, then it is time that the Olives and Indigos of this city came up with better and more interesting vegetarian menus, like Alinea (www.alinea-restaurant.com) or Green Zebra (www.greenzebrachicago.com), which even though located in the US of A, present a vegetarian dining experience, that has no equal in this country.
Else, who knows! All interesting, vegetarian, fine-dining in Mumbai, may one day be available only at weddings or in Ms. Venkat

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