Toscano

Between the Diesel 50% sale and the fact that I’ve heard so many diverse comments about Toscano, the decision was swung in favour of a UB City visit. (as opposed to a special event at Benjarong) Toscano is at one end of the food court on the 2nd floor, and opposite Soul City. As almost all the eateries here go, the seating includes an al fresco option too, an excellent choice on a windy Bangalore night.

8.30 pm on Saturday is around the time that Bangalore behaves as though it hasn’t eaten all week. So we did reserve, but still had to wait for 10 minutes for a table. It might have been more if I hadn’t pointed out a free table. :\ There’s no real waiting area, so it wasn’t  the greatest of beginnings.

But thanks to the wait, we had the time to decide what we wanted to eat. Yes, I’d have preferred doing that sitting down, but let me not nag now. :) You can take a look at the menu here. Also take a look at the wine list and watch out for the day’s specials! A complimentary bread basket arrived before the Minestrone (chicken) soup we ordered. Two dips, one seemed to be herbed butter with olives, and the other had a chilli flavour. The soup was thick, with a tasty, mildly spicy broth base, and yes, chicken pieces were spotted along with pasta and cheese! (the photos were taken using the  phone camera, that would explain the worse-than-the-usual-bad visuals) ;)

For the main course, D ordered a Linguine Chicken Aglio e olio Peperoncino and I asked for a Fettuccine e Salsiccia Piccante. (yes, just point to them on the menu card!) The former was a tad bland (for our palate, of course) despite the promise of chili in the description. But a huge dose of chicken cubes slightly made up for it. I quite liked the fettuccine though, lots of spicy sausages and a mild tang to it.

 

Despite appearances, the dishes were quite filling, and we didn’t have space for desserts. The service was quite prompt and all the above cost us just over Rs.1300.

Toscano, UB City, The Collection, 2nd Floor, Vittal Mallya Road, Ph: 4173 8800

Too big to fail

I had a bit of an epiphany a few days back. A sign of the needle shifting from social to media. In the era when the two words were grudgingly stuck together, one of the catchphrases I’d heard was ‘fail fast, learn fast, fix fast’. It was a time when the rules hadn’t been made, and experimentation was the only way to learn. Though this practice had its share of critics, there was hardly any choice.

But now there is. Facebook has an entire suite of offerings now – it’s no longer vanilla display ads, there are Sponsored stories, Page Post Targeting, Offers, to name a few  - all meant for specific purposes. They even have case studies put together over a period of time. (we – Myntra – were featured a while back too)

So, the epiphany? In a conversation, I realised that things were more serious now. Brands are now loath to experiment since the general feeling was that a lot of people would see it and it would affect the brand image. It’s not just ads, posts, but even social actions! Smelled like traditional media. Is that good or bad? I don’t know, but I do know it’s evolution.

until next time, traditional social ;)

Right of Passage : Travels from Brooklyn to Bali

Rahul Jacob

While there is indeed a lot of travel that’s showcased in the book, I think it goes beyond that. The first section consists of travelogues and when I started comparing them to others in the genre, I felt they fell woefully short, at least in terms of the sheer amounts of vivid descriptive prose I am used to. That’s until I realised that I had to change my notions of travel writing to get adjusted to the snapshot style that takes the reader quickly from Bali to Rome and Santa Fe to Madhya Pradesh. The other great part about this section is that it also serves as an excellent guide, complete with phone numbers and websites.

The second section, which focuses on Asia, though (almost of) the same length as the earlier ones, takes you a little more into what makes a place tick. This is the part that focuses more on how cities have grown (and are growing) than the actual places to see. It shows the influence of people, culture and nature and their interplay in creating the character of a place.

But I think my favourite section would be the third, titled ‘Confessions of a Frequent Flyer’, which has an enriching mix of personal experiences and sometimes, the philosophy of travel, views on hotel stays and some excellent anecdotes.

For bibliophiles, the next section titled ‘Close Encounters’ would be a treat as Rahul Jacob writes about the meetings with authors like Yann Martel, Vikram Seth etc and goes beyond what they write to their philosophies in life.

The last section is more of a showcase of Britain – London in particular, and your interest would vary depending on the subject itself. But it does offer a great deal of insight nevertheless on the recent evolution of London as a truly cosmopolitan city.

Its a wonderful read and though it might differ from the standard formats of travel writing, it will definitely take you on a journey that you’ll enjoy.

Shillonging Day 4 – Peaks and Falls

Contd from Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

Ajmal managed to be late citing tire problems as an excuse. My legs were tired too, but D seemed to be even worse off, stooping like an old woman when she walked. I laughed, but my back hurt when I did that! Breakfast was standard – paratha and omelette. The night before, Ajmal had claimed complete ignorance of where Laitlum – one of our destinations for the day – was. Though Chintu also professed no knowledge, he was kind enough to find out and draw a map for us. Google Maps helped too.

We decided to go straight to Smit, and from thereon to Laitlum. Despite the map, it was difficult to find. It was really an ‘edge of the world’ place, and though there was heavy mist, it was quite an awesome view. Unfortunately the damn mist wouldn’t allow the canyon view to pose for photos! It takes just over an hour from Shillong, so it’s really worth a trip, for the silence and awe. :) Ajmal, as usual, had no idea on where the 100 year old house in Smit was, so we had to skip that!

 

 

 

The next stop was Shillong Peak, and it had begun raining heavily again! But it cleared for a few minutes just as we reached the peak, and so we were able to catch the splendid view, though there were clouds and mist. D also got to wear the traditional Khasi costume for Rs.50. While climbing the little watchtower, D suddenly realised that she had developed a fear of steps. :D

    

Elephant Falls was next. Appearances and sounds were deceiving, and when D realised the number of steps that it would take to reach the third level of falls, she immediately balked. The first level was easy, and I went till about the second level, but from my vantage point, didn’t see a lot of sense in going to the third. I also realised that the place seemed to be a favourite rendezvous for the young Shillong crowd, and didn’t want to disturb their, erm, best practices.

We got back to Laitumkhra after spending close to an hour in Shillong traffic! This time we were adamant about finding Sesame, and finally did! It was in a little building called Shoppers Cove near the Municipal Parking Lot in Laitumkhra! We entered the dimly lit, tiny outlet and discovered that they really didn’t serve local dishes as various stories had informed us! So Pork Chilly Mushroom and a Chicken Chopsuey it was! We then went back to the hotel, totally tired.

We were too lazy to even go out for dinner, so the plan of visiting Cloud 9 in Police Bazaar was dropped. Instead we ate waffle cone ice creams at the Baskin Robbins outlet nearby. :D A sweet last night in Shillong.

Day 5: On the return trip, Ajmal was supposed to stop at Barahpani, but didn’t deem it worthy enough. Instead we got to see several man made waterfalls on the road, with truckers being the major contributors. Ajmal seemed to be focused on sending us heavenwards even before the flight, and had a curious habit of accelerating on hairpin curves and places where there were boards that stated speed limits of 20-30 kmph. Have to mention here, that we found a Kerala restaurant at 9th Mile! Seemed closed though. The Guwahati airport does have a couple of options for snacks. At Kolkata we sat at our regular CCD hangout just outside the main building and killed a few hours. Indigo proved to be as 6E as it always is in terms of sticking to time.

The trip cost us around Rs.60000 inclusive of everything – tickets, hotels, meals, taxi. We went through Traveloearth, but really wouldn’t recommend them mostly courtesy Ajmal. Both White Orchid and Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort are functional and clean. The trip was worth it thanks to the day spent at Cherrapunjee,  a couple of really nice people we met – Chintu and Angela, and for visiting a place that a favourite author set her first book in – also her birthplace. I am a huge fan of Anjum Hasan‘s writing, but on Day 1, I became skeptical of her description of Shillong. However, by the end of the journey, I could completely relate to the place in “Lunatic in my head” though it is set in the 1990s. It would seem that Shillong has grown since then, but hasn’t really moved.

Year trumpet

Last year, almost to the day, I became a social professional – not just in terms of going back to work at an office after a year and a half of being home-based, but also in terms of my domain of specialisation. I wrote then that I chose to go with this opportunity because it gave me the maximum scope to implement the concepts I frequently write about on the blog. A year later, I can happily say that not only have we evolved a blueprint for Myntra on ‘social’, but have successfully begun implementing too.

The last update from me was when we shipped the fashion blog. It isn’t as though nothing has happened since then, in fact, the reverse would be a better reason. So much has happened that I haven’t really found the time to document it here. Brand building on social networks, setting up and monitoring customer connect on platforms, product level integration – we’ve had fun. In fact, many of the things I spoke of during the India Social conference were based on experiences at Myntra.

Last week, when I wrote that “Every day is a new and exciting adventure” in the ‘About‘ page at the brand new Myntra corporate blog, I meant it. The nature of social is changing everyday, new challenges arise, but more importantly, so do new opportunities. Ecommerce is probably THE red hot vertical in India right now, the organisation itself is well placed among competition and growing at a blazing speed, and I’ve been able to do meaningful work in a function I’m deeply interested in. Along the way, I’ve met some amazing people who have helped me learn. Touchwood.

until next time, until next year :)

Shillonging Day 3 – Rooted

Contd from Day 1, Day 2….

Cherrapunjee had decided to show us why it deserved the ‘wettest place on earth’ tag. Being from Kerala, we were not really wet behind our ears when it came to heavy rains. But this was something else! Many times we saw the sky clear up, but it was like two government departments. The skies never communicated to the rains, and the latter just kept falling unabated. We wondered what we could do since the checkout time was 12. After breakfast, we cancelled the guide and the packed lunch plans, and went back to staring at the rains.

By 10.30, it had reduced to an irritating “won’t go away and won’t let you go anywhere either” level, but we decided to get out anyway. That was when Angela completely lived up to her name. Our plan was to drop the Double Decker Bridge trek plan and see the Single version, but Angela said that the path to the latter was made of stone steps, and thus more slippery, so we should attempt the former, and the longest Root Bridge and a Single Root living bridge were anyway on the way. She gave us a detailed map for us – till the point the car could go, and the longer stretch beyond. To top it, a little gift from them, and a Perk each. (we were as delighted as kids!) Then followed another example of thoughtfulness and concern when she said that we should carry plastic bags to cover our heads, and promptly gave us a few. She also advised Ajmal – no easy task – on the car route. And thus we bid adieu to the wonderful Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort.

Despite Ajmal’s best efforts, we reached the starting point of the trek. Telling him to wait there, and have a quick lunch (and come back soon) if absolutely necessary, we started out. 2500 steps, the signboard warned. Yes, we knew that when we signed up. The first 1.5 kms, Angela had told us, were the toughest, and boy, it was! Steps after steps, and steep ones at that. I gave up counting after 15. It was either my balance or the balance number I could focus on, since the steps were slippery thanks to the rain. Handrails exist for a tiny stretch much later, but at several points, you get a clear idea of how deep your final fall would be! Walking down, I remarked, was tougher, since the chances of slipping were higher. So I led the way. Staring at the map Angela had given surprisingly did not reduce the length of the trek! I wish they had some ‘you are here’ mechanism in terms of the number of steps. We finally reached the village where the right turn would take us to the longest root bridge and the left, to a single root bridge, steel rope bridge, the double decker root bridge and the end point, with natural springs. Even typing it seems exhausting! We went right and reached the longest root bridge fast enough. The mandatory photo op done, we retraced our steps, and then continued on the ‘left’ path. The cement steps feature was no longer available, and after the smooth stones threatened me a couple of times, I took my slippers in my hand and continued.

 

The steps continued to be steep, and the rain became nastier, so after several “we’ll go till the next corner and then decide” we finally decided to go back. :( Though I’d decided not to look up, I did, when I reached the village, and massively shuddered. Since I wanted to catch D in case she slipped, I erm, bravely let her take the lead. I began strongly, humming ‘how many steps must a man take before he can reach a car’, but soon had to spend more time trying to figure out when and where my next breath would come from! At one point, I even contemplated settling down in the village below, and waiting for the day a car could make its way there. D dealt with it much better. An old woman coming down said something when I smiled at her. We both understood the need for minimal communication. We successfully lost our way in the last 100m, and came upon a sight that I had come close to seeing several times in the 2.5 hours we had been trekking- God, in the form of a church. We retraced our steps and found that the great man had gone for lunch! Thankfully he deemed it fit to return soon and we asked him to take us back to the hotel. He wondered if we were talking about the Cherrapunjee one!

This was also the day that we were supposed to see the cleanest village in Asia  - Mawlynnong, but thanks to our tour operator’s excellent planning skills, it was not possible, since it was too far away! On the way back to Shillong, we also realised that the word ‘resort’ was used loosely here, and these places could actually be considered only as a last resort! Angela’s Perk was lunch! Shillong’s traffic jams reminded me of Bangalore’s worst, and we finally reached White Orchid at 5ish.

  

We asked Ajmal to come by around 6.30 since we wanted to explore Police Bazaar. That sortie turned out to be a futile one, as neither the Police Bazaar, nor its adjacent roads – GS Road, Jail Road, actually led to anything interesting.

We decided to go back to Laitumkhrah for dinner, and since the search for Sesame again proved futile, and Munchies was full, had to visit Café Shillong again. Shillong Chicken cutlets, Khao Suey and Shillong Noodles with Chilly Chicken followed. Unsurprisingly, the cutlets came after the Khao Suey (they gave us dried shrimp with it and D identified it before I killed myself again) The noodles and chilly chicken was a spicy combination, I quite liked it. We asked the restaurant manager for the directions to Sesame, and he did try to help us, with ‘look down for the signage’ and ‘near the Police Station’ being the best tips.

 

We finally returned to the hotel, knowing fully well that the next morning would be full of aches!

Heera

The review first shone in Bangalore Mirror

A stationery store named Staples on the ground floor, to a restaurant named Heera on the 4th, where time is purported to have stayed stationary – the capsule lift journey that takes you to the restaurant could seem like some layered Mughal intrigue. But time capsule it isn’t, and you realise that when you’re faced with a white door that makes you wonder whether you’ve gotten off on the wrong floor. But before all that, this is on Bannerghatta Road opposite Shoppers Stop, (map) and there’s valet parking.

If you remember Heera Panna on Church Street, you can skip straight to the next paragraph. For those who don’t, the Mughal theme is brought out reasonably well – there are alcoves separated from the main hall with bead curtains and multihued chandeliers from high ceilings which bring the theme to life. (video) You even get to wear turbans and cloaks, and if you’re so inclined, you can play with wooden swords too. If you happen to be sitting in the main hall, Rekha is likely to dance for you on the gigantic screen to In aankhon ki masti (Umrao Jaan) In case you aren’t floored by this, there is a good chance that one of those loose floorboards will do it for you!

One thing that’s to be said for the menu is that you’ll be spoiled for choice. We started with the Macchi Tikka whose red chili paste and subtle ajwain flavours made an excellent combination. The Paneer Kurkure was up next, and the crispy covering served as a perfect foil for the cottage cheese. Figuring out a clear favourite from among these two was difficult. I was expecting much from the Lal Mirch ka Murgh, but it really didn’t deliver on the spice factor and seemed to be a dish that wasn’t sure of its identity and aspired to be a Manchurian. The Mutton Chops Masala Nasheeli Champein had no idea that it had been classified under ‘boneless’ and though its masala was quite good and had a fair share of spices, the lamb pieces themselves – whatever we could judge from the miniscule meat presence -  were not really the best we’ve had. We also tried a couple of mocktails – the Red Devil did a good job with the watermelon, apple, and orange combination but the mint leaves were a bit like moss on Kerala backwaters, quite spoiling the drink. The White Orchid – lychee based, didn’t turn out a lot better.

 

 

The plethora of choice continues in the main course too. And though the Mutton Kofta curry we wanted to try out wasn’t available, it turned out to be a blessing. The Gosht Nehari that was suggested to us instead turned out to be the best of the main course dishes with a silken rich gravy and well cooked meat. The Dum Aloo can be summed up with the fact that everyone approved of it until I smirked and told them that it was a Dum Aloo. Then everyone agreed that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to taste. Cheap thrills. The Murg Masala was mildly spicy and not a bad dish, but for a ‘special dish’, it wasn’t exceptional. There are some interesting options in the roti/naan section. The Baluchistan Kulcha with a kheema stuffing is definitely recommended as is the Harimirch ka Paratha, but you would want to stay away from the Channa Pudina ki Roti. The Gosht Dum Biryani was excellent – flavourful, non sticky rice and well cooked meat complemented by a reasonably good raita.

The Rabdi Malpua was easily the best among the three desserts we tried, since both components did their jobs well and worked as a combination too. The Kulfi wasn’t bad but not really stellar either, especially on a relative note. The disappointment was the Flambéed Gulab Jamun, which had such an overdose of rum that we felt that it should have been in the liquor menu.

For about Rs.1500, you could share a mocktail, a non veg starter, a couple of rotis, a biryani and a non veg gravy, and end with a dessert.  (Inclusive of  taxes) All things considered, the food really wasn’t bad at all, though it is priced on the higher side. The service was a tad too enthusiastic and we had to finally tell them that we would help ourselves. But what really takes away from the place, despite its relatively unique theme, is its condition of disrepair. It’s a bit sad to see it fraying, and not just at the edges, like a Mughal monument that no one seems to care about.

Heera, #17, 4th Floor (Opp Shoppers Stop, above Staples), Bannerghatta Road, Ph: 9972305871, 9972934777

Shillonging Day 2 – To Cherrapunjee

Continued from Day 1

Day 2 was slightly kinder as we got up at 7.30 and had plans to start off for Cherrapunjee by about 8.30. Breakfast was paratha and omelette, served at 8. We were slightly delayed though, but set out just before 9. The journey took us through some extremely picturesque landscapes and we stifled the urge to tell Ajmal to stop the car so we could take snaps. We were secretly afraid that he might continue without us. We stopped at Duwan Sing Syiem on the way to Sohra, and then at Nohsngithiang falls before continuing to Cherrapunjee. Soon, it was easy to understand why Meghalaya is called the Scotland of the East. It has to be those endless meadows.

 

 

It was immediately after that, soon as we passed the Mawsmai caves, that Ajmal got it into his head that we had to see the Indo-Bangladesh border. Of course he had no idea where it was. So he just vaguely drove around for a few hours, despite several suggestions from us that we turn back. I have a feeling that his ancestors must have come from Bangladesh, that is the only plausible explanation for his extra bout of madness. It passed at about 11.45 and we got back to the caves. That was another bizarre experience as we splashed into the cave with another large set of tourists. Slippery as hell, the only way out was to just keep plodding ahead, amidst shrieks from kids and their parents alike. Ignoring Ajmal’s suggestions to eat at a restaurant there, we decided to proceed to our hotel, following spirited little yellow signboards along the twisty, curvy way that had some amazing views.

The Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, about 15 kms away from the main road, is an establishment that’s totally unique. We reached just in time for for a late lunch – Pork Chilly, Chicken  Neiiong and Butter Tawa Rotis. There is something very homely about the place – the people, the large hall with the computer, common television, and photographs and handicraft items on the wall. We rested for a while in our clean and functional room. A musty smell was mostly solved by the freshener that the staff sprayed just before we got in. :) There are  costlier Executive rooms too, but we had an awesome view from our room. D went out to take snaps while I napped. Around tea time, we were given a little file on local legends, and the treks we could go for. THE thing we wanted to see was the famous double decker root bridge, unique to this part of the world. But that was for the next day.

Sipping tea, watching the sunset and a view that’s one of the best I’ve ever seen, we chatted about the resort itself. The main building had a bungalow feel to it and we wondered if it was government owned. I had become a fan of the place – the little yellow signs on the approach road, the way the staff interacted with us, the copious documentation available on various aspects about Cherrapunjee, their efforts on sustainable and inclusive tourism etc- and told D that I sensed a smart and creative mind behind this. As we strolled, an oldish gentleman stopped to chat with us. We gathered that he was in charge, and wondered if he was probably a government employee, a very amiable one at that! :) Probably an IAS officer who had chosen to skip the bureaucratic rat race? It was only a few hours later that Google pointed me to the amazing love story of Denis P Rayen, who owns the place. The love in this case for not just his Khasi wife, but for Cherrapunjee itself. :) Suddenly, everything we were seeing around us, had an explanation. I kicked myself for not recognising him from the photo in the little office room and having a longer chat, which would undoubtedly have been an interesting one! Several times on this blog, I have written about the purpose of life, I think this guy has at least gotten close to nailing it.

Meanwhile, the view progressed further on a scale of awesomeness, and even the two noisy couples (and their noisier children) couldn’t take away from our experience. It wasn’t just the view – mountains and plains and the tiny town on the hill nearby, or the lights far away slowly flickering on as the sun set, it was the entire ambiance, the spells of silence…. It was magical, and by far the best part of our trip.

 

 

(more pics)

Dinner consisted of Pork Dohkhleh (highly recommended) and a Jadoh Stem Chicken, which seemed like a regional variation of the Biryani. We also made elaborate plans for the trek the next day – a guide, packed lunch – and were guided perfectly by the staff. Sometime during the night, I was awakened by a loud noise. It was a thunderclap, Cherrapunjee had just said hello. But that’s a story for the next day.