Eighteen Candles

ITC Gardenia,
1, Residency Road,

17th February, 2017

You are seventeen going on eighteen. Hey, it’s time to think. Better beware, be canny and careful. Hey, you’re over the brink.

‘Everyday is a day to celebrate’ – a statement heralded by many an optimist, especially the most ardent of optimists. While I admire their enthusiastic spirit, I am bemused by their delusional point of view and detached from reality attitude towards life. After all, some days are just more important than others . For instance, there’s the day you were born (Day 1!), the day you become a teenager (Day 13!), the day you transform from an adolescent to an adult (Day 18!), the day you can walk into a bar and not be refused by the bartender (Day 21!), and so on and so forth. As life passes by (as swiftly as it does), each milestone becomes a distant memory locked inside a vault, accessed on only the rarest of occasions – be it a family gathering (‘Do you remember the time…’) or a rewatching of old home cassettes (turned mp4 file) on a lazy Saturday morning. It is, thus, pertinent that these ‘special’ days, these ‘memorable’ milestones be celebrated in an everlasting manner.

Of the four members that constitute my family, three (including myself) have had the pleasure of experiencing some of life’s ‘distinct’ moments. We are also proud members of the ‘Adult’ club, evident by our lifetime membership card payable through blood, sweat, and tears. On the 17th of February 2017, we welcomed a new member to the adult club, our fourth member, my little sister! A momentous occasion such as this surely required an equally memorable celebration. And what better way to commemorate the new addition than an all expenses paid (by Father Inc. of course!) dinner at one of Bangalore’s extravagant and lavish Italian restaurants – Ottimo.

Settling on Ottimo as our dinner destination neither involved a lengthy screening process nor was it a difficult decision. All it took was a few minutes on an online restaurant search engine, the use of a couple of filter options, e Ecco! (the Italian ‘voila!’) Ottimo! Even at first glance, Ottimo seemed too luxurious a restaurant to find itself fully booked, especially on a weekday – a statement that is neither meant to be offensive nor derogatory in anyway. Surely, there was absolutely no reason for me to reserve a table. Right? After all, not everyone can afford such a lavish meal on a daily basis. Why, then, did I proceed to the ‘Table Reservations’ section and reserve a table for four at Ottimo? Your guess is as good as mine. However, I may not be shooting in the dark when I say that it might have had something to do with being cautious, for the cautious seldom err.

The hands on the clock were placed at an angle slightly more acute that they were five minutes ago, as the first foot made its way on to the hard, concrete floor just outside the door. We were late! And the circadian chaos that is Bangalore traffic did not make things any better. Time (and problems) like these often serve as the perfect reminder as to why I prefer to stay at the cautious end of the field. My driver, on the other hand, turns out is a proud inhabitant of the other end of the field (the not-so-cautious-much-more-reckless end). Perhaps it was the aura of worry looming inside the taxi or the constant glances to the mobile phone that drove him to reenact a scene from the Vin Diesel classic – Fast and the Furious. On a normal day, changing lanes without indicators, jumping red lights, and driving at the speed of light would not catch the attention of the Bangalore Police. However, this was no ordinary day. Oh no no no….I told you some days are just more memorable than others. On this fateful day, even a slow creep across the white line was enough for the police to arrive in full force and request that the car be pulled over by the side of the road. It was only when our driver returned to his seat that we were told that we were pulled over not because the car was an inch over the white line but because our driver had unpaid parking tickets. Talk about the other end of the field!

In spite of the chaotic traffic and the brief police interruption, we drifted into the driveway at the ITC Gardenia not ten minutes into our reservation time. As we stepped out of the car, observed the man playing the flute sitting in the centre of the foyer, and entered the hotel, we were directed towards the restaurant. As we approached the restaurant, there was a feeling of stepping into something (for lack of a better phrase) way out of my league – a presumption that would later prove to be justified. The entrance to the restaurant was regal in its entirety – from the dark mahogany pillar with the metallic engraved name plate to the transparent wine cellar, housing a selection of a hundred of Italy’s finest wines. As we were guided to our seats, I was approached by the maitre d’ of the restaurant, who, perhaps judging us by our more formal look, enquired as to whether the reason for our visit to the restaurant was more than just a luxurious meal. Ensuring that my sister was not within earshot, I informed her that it was indeed a special night and that we were celebrating my sister’s 18th birthday. The interiors of the restaurant – the open kitchen, the various paintings of vegetables and herbs hanging on the walls – were quite impressive and regal, even moreso than the entrance. The sofas (and I point this out separately because of the online reviews I had read earlier),  dark emerald in their appearance and smooth velvet in their touch, might seem revolting to some, however, they exuded a certain majestic vibe, and with the engraved seal of Ottimo, I just could not help but stare at them.

My staring contest, however, was interrupted when the waiter brought us our menu cards as well as the chalkboard comprising of the day’s specials. As intimidating as the entrance was, the dishes on the menu were even moreso. Authentic as the hair on my head, the dishes, in their description, seemed a class above those being served in other Italian restaurants in the city (and good ones too!). There was not a single dish on the menu that did not seem too rich for my blood (and for my stomach!). It was perhaps, as a result of this descriptive extravagance, that I thought it best to have a light supper. However, my family thought it different and proceeded towards ordering two ‘antipasti’ (appetizer) dishes.

I don’t recall having to wait too long for the appetizers to arrive. In pristine fashion, the plates arrived at our table and were placed right at the centre. On the left, a dish with a name long enough to rival even that of a pure-bred Sri Lankan (the perfect benchmark). Two lard-like lumps of blinding white buffalo mozzarella sat on two perfectly proportioned slices of tomatoes, protected from behind by a thin veil of parmesan crisp, and garnished with sprinkles of pesto and olive powder displayed on the plate as two straight lines converging at an approximately 45 degree angle. On the right, a dish synonymous with Italian cuisine and the perfect representation of the Italian country. Six rolls of thinly sliced prosciutto (parma ham) sat on the plate surrounded by ten minuscule globules of bright orange musk melon. Prosciutto E Melone – an apt name!

Of the two appetizers that sat at the centre of the table, it was the vegetarian cheese tower that impressed me the most. From the surprisingly light buffalo mozzarella and the tangy aftertaste from the slice of tomato seated underneath to the intriguing sheet of parmesan crisp and the almost cocaine-like lines of pesto and olive powder. The most interesting element on the plate had to be the parmesan crisp. While I believed the crisp to have the look and texture similar to its European counterpart – the tuile (French) – in fact, it was akin to another delicacy, one from another continent and famed in the city of Bangalore – the Dosa! This in no way implies, however, that the dish tasted anything like a dosa; it was Italian to the core.

 ( From left to right ): Caprese Di Bufala Tiepida Con Pomodoro Basilico E Pesto Della Casa; Prosciutto E Melone; Ravioli Di Coniglio; Ravioli Di Zucca; Dolce Alla Rovescia
(From left to right): Caprese Di Bufala Tiepida Con Pomodoro Basilico E Pesto Della Casa; Prosciutto E Melone; Ravioli Di Coniglio; Ravioli Di Zucca; Dolce Alla Rovescia

As a fan of the cold cuts, something that would normally be seen on my plate during brunches or buffets, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the prosciutto, a dish I had never tried before but heard a lot about and seen plenty on television. When it arrived, I wasted no time in digging my fork into one of the cured slices and popping it into my mouth. As the slice of prosciutto on the fork made its way towards my mouth (in slow motion of course!), I caught a whiff of the uncooked meat. It was too late to abort as the fork made its way into my mouth and the ham touched my tongue. The pure rawness of the meat, coupled with the high levels of salt synonymous with prosciutto was too much for my tastebuds. It required a gulp of my strawberry drink to get the awful taste out of my mouth. Sensing the disgust on my face, my father suggested I accompany the ham with the musk melon globules lying on the plate. The sweetness of the musk melon was sufficient enough to abate the unpleasantness and sourness of the raw prosciutto meat. I was finally able to truly appreciated the dish for its taste.

With my appetite slightly subdued, I thought it wise to go light for the main course. Of course, given the richness in the descriptions of every dish on the menu, this was certainly not going to be an easy task. Tired of scouring through the menu repeatedly, we decided to allow the waiter to decide our dinner for us. By the time the waiter left for the kitchen with our order, he looked 10 years older.

The first dish to be served was the vegetarian Ravioli Di Zucca – a classic north-western Italian dish of roasted pumpkin mixed with creamy ricotta cheese enveloped inside minuscule pasta ‘dumplings’ (ravioli) garnished with a spoonful of melted butter, sage, and cream sauce. The second dish to be served was the Ravioli Di Coniglio – a similar dish to the vegetarian except with far less pumpkin and far more rabbit (Guess it was ‘wabbit’ season!) garnished with a splash of balsamic vinegar and wild thyme. The ravioli is one of the lighter dishes in the Italian cuisine and was thus an easy selection for our meal. As I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts, the key to a good ravioli lies in the cooking of the pasta. Like most dumplings, perfection lies in the balance between thickness and cooking duration. Too thick and the inside fillings won’t get cooked through; too thin and the pasta tends to break and leave holes (or as Gordon Ramsay says ‘THEY’RE BURST!’).

Often times restaurants aim to please their audience by creating extravagant descriptions of the various dishes on their menu; and more often than not we find ourselves disappointed as they fail to meet our hyped up expectations with a far inferior replica of what was promised. However, there are times when the perfect restaurant comes along and delivers exactly what was promised. Ottimo is one such restaurant. The raviolis were cooked to perfection (right in the middle!), the sauce on both dishes were definitely not overpowering, and despite their diminutive stature they were able to quench our hunger for the evening. While I did not have the opportunity to try the vegetarian dish (given the small portion on our plates), the rabbit ravioli was everything I hoped it would be. It truly was the perfect dish for someone who was trying rabbit for the first time. Moist, succulent, and the popular phrase ‘tastes like chicken’ is probably the best description of the filling that I can conjure up as I write this blog.

With appetizers and main course completed, it was now time for desserts. As we do when we dine together as a family, we ordered one dessert split into four ways. The dessert – Dolce Alla Rovescia (Upside Down Tart!). In presentation, the dish was a close replication of the famous ‘upside-down’ scene from Inception (see clip on the left). Served inside a very clean and impeccably transparent glass, the fruit reduction – an almost jelly-like substance – sat at the very bottom, while the swirl of whipped cream remained stuck – in a perfectly inverse position – on a crisp, stiff, frosted cookie topped with a sprinkle of sugar powder. Crack! A sound not unlike one heard at a French bistro. It was an excited birthday girl with a spoon in her hand (Novel idea – Girl with a Silver Spoon) who cracked the biscuit open like a hammer-happy pyscho opening up his victim’s heads. As the biscuit, much like the head, collapsed in and of itself into the fruit-filled glass, the cream slowly detached off the biscuit. No sooner had the cream touched the reduction below than our spoons dug into the dessert. Licking the dessert off our spoons, there was no doubting the brilliance of the dish. The fruit reduction, now a perfect blend with the cream, was certainly sweet (as I had hoped it would be!), but with the crumbs of powdered biscuit fallen inside, which in itself were not sweet, the dish was the perfect mix of sweet and savoury. Not surprisingly, in line with the rest of the evening. 

Our stomachs feeling richer than they usually do after a five star meal, it was time for the customary squiggle in the air – the sign for the cheque. However, it was as I turned around that I observed the staff walking towards our table with a small chocolate cake, candles and all. It seems the answer to the staff’s query at the start of the meal had not fallen on deaf ears. Our birthday celebration was made even sweeter with a personal visit from Italian MasterChef – Chef Vittorio Greco – who wished my sister and thanked us for our visit. Unable to polish off the entire cake, we requested it be packed, and asked for the bill.

As we had expected (but not hoped!) the bill was not exactly a sight for sore eyes. Rather, a bill, like the one we received, was probably THE reason for sore eyes. Everything has a price. And I suppose this was the price one had to pay for perfection! Well then, it was worth every penny! We knew it would be a while before we made our way back to Ottimo, perhaps another ‘special’ day to celebrate. However, there’s no doubting that each moment that passes between now and that day would be spent thinking about the meal we had just had. It truly was Ottimo (in English – Excellent)!

Ottimo - ITC Gardenia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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