Fahim’s title suggestion was Tie A Teal Ribbon Round the Mango Tree. It didn’t really work for me, so I went with this one instead.
Which is funny. Fahim’s really good at titling things. Like the article he’s writing. To Buy a Better Boob Tube. All about plasma televisions. Yeah, he’s a geek, so he writes about geek toys. Or geek guy toys. Or something like that. 🙂
The Mango Tree.
Long story short?
Had a cheap date with hubby, had lots of fun, ate a lot of great food, paid nothing.
Long story long?
I had to do another lousy restaurant review for this magazine, see. Yeah! That works! Make it sound like it was an awful experience. Okay, let’s start again. 😀
I did another restaurant review. Today’s restaurant was The Mango Tree, a restaurant featuring North Indian food. Oh, yum was it good. Have I mentioned that I LOVE doing restaurant reviews? They’re fun. Staff bends over backwards to make me happy. I get amused by the fact they virtually ignore Fahim cuz he’s the really unimportant one – the mere hanger on. And they serve their best food. And I get to tour the place afterwards.
So. Onwards and upwards, ho!
Fahim and I were greeted by enthusiastic waiters – and I do mean plural – just after I noticed a row of glasses standing at the bar balanced at a precarious angle. I didn’t think it was a big deal – I figured it was some kind of artsy sculpture thing. Well, even still, attractive and all that. But I didn’t know that they were actually balanced precariously on napkins – and staying there!
We were later given a demonstration by the bartender and I’m still amazed that it worked and more astonishing still, that the glasses didnt fall over in the time we were there.
See, the bartender wets the bottom of the glass and then drags it along the bottom of a paper napkin. And then it sticks together, or something, and he balances the glass. And it stays. And it stays. And it stays. No fall over.
I saw it, and I’m still amazed at it. I mean, it sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Wanna bet I can’t duplicate it? And the bartender made it look so incredibly easy. Deceptive so.
There was music playing in the background. I know because someone pointed it out to me. 🙂 In other words, in my little world, the background music did its job perfectly. It added to the atmosphere while remaining unobtrusive. The music turned out to not be traditional Indian music at all, but rather meditation music called Buddha Bar. Okay, and cool, and all that. It was pleasant to listen to. Okay, I’ve been getting used to pop Indian music lately – Fahim and his addictive Hindi movies be damned! – and this was nice, too.
We arrived at the restaurant before Tony. Not Tony the brother Tony. Tony the guy from the magazine Tony. Tony the guy who gives me writing gigs Tony. Yeah, that guy Tony! We were meeting him at the restaurant, and we didn’t want to start before he arrived – you know, just in case there were any problems and we in fact were not going to be reviewing the restaurant this evening. How embarrassing! But such was not the case. Meanwhile . . .
The servers had a different view of waiting. Would you like some drinks? No, we’ll wait. Thanks. Would you like some drinks? No, we’ll wait. Thanks. And so on. To be fair, it was someone different each time, and finally the director, the guy in charge, came to sit with us and tell us about the restaurant, and he starts to get impatient with these guys cuz they hadn’t brought us drinks yet! No, wait, it’s not their fault . . . and then we had to give in and order drinks instead of waiting. . .
Fahim had a creamy coffee mocktail that arrived at the table with a pretty floral-like pattern cut into it. He loved it it was sweet, it was chocolatey, and what else could he, a devoted chocoholic, ask for?
And yes, those were – with the exception of the words “a devoted chocoholic” – his exact words when I asked him to comment. Fahim is a chocoholilc. Major one. In other words, he fits in with my family perfectly. 😀
I had a mocktail with ginger beer, nelli, and lime juice – just a little bit of bite due to the ginger and it was really good. And it helps that I’m partial to ginger beer anyway. So much better than that North American ginger ale crap. Oh, so pale by comparison! Later, I had another mocktail called Hotwire – that’s the red drink picture – which was a mix of red currant and lime juices and crushed ice, and it came topped with a lime wedge and a green chilli. Artsy, too. 🙂
Finally, Tony arrived and found us. It was easy – he knew both of us. Me from the last restaurant review, Fahim from years ago. They chatted about all sorts of things – how’s life, what’s new, can YATV provide us with . . . So, business mixed in there. Well, why not?
And they plied him with drinks, too. He kept saying no, no, can’t stay. Wife waiting at home. Finally he gave up and had a soft drink. I’ll give it to these guys, they sure are persistent!
Okay, I’m giving them a hard time. They were bending over backwards to make sure we enjoyed ourselves. 🙂
The next question our server asked us was veg or non-veg? Our answer was non-veg for me, and fish only for Fahim.
See, even though Fahim can eat beef and chicken and other things other than fish and seafood, in general, it’s impossible to reassure him that the meat is halal. See, there’s the whole “is the meat halal to begin with?” issue, then there’s the “did the meat touch anything not halal?” issue, and all sorts of things relating to that. So, at restaurants, unless he knows absolutely that it’s safe, it’s better for him to stick with fish and seafood.
Okay, no problemo.
The Mango Tree serves North Indian cuisine using only authentic North Indian ingredients.
As a side note on this, Fahim later told me that North Indian food was pretty wussy – spice wise – and that North Indians can’t handle spices the same way southern Indians can. The south Indians don’t care, but the North Indians are pretty sensitive about this.
Okay then. 🙂
North India covers a huge geographical area with lots of regional, historical, and cultural differences. It only makes sense, then, that cuisine also differs through the regions.
Why do I mention this?
Why, to educate you, dear reader.
They don’t bother giving us menus. They don’t bother taking our order or anything even remotely resembling that. No, no, no – they decide for us what we’ll be eating. How about prawns? Sure! Chicken? Yeah! That’s the extent of the decisions I have to make.
Considering that I’ve been known to spend, oh, a half hour picking through a menu, and no, Fahim has been lucky enough to not have had to experience this first hand, not having a menu is prob’ly a good thing. 🙂
In all honesty, that’s fine by me. It’s their restaurant, and if they have specific dishes they want to highlight, then who am I to argue when it’s on their dime? Especially since I love all Indian food I’ve ever met before – and I really want to experience more of it. So bring it on!
Interjection. Some of the dishes we had were tandoori. I thought this was a type of seasoning, or perhaps the name of a region. Not so. Tandoori refers to the oven the food is cooked in.
Traditional tandoor ovens are cylindrical clay ovens at least one metre in height and are often sunk up to its neck in the earth with its opening being at the top of the oven. Modern tandoor ovens, such as the ones the Mango Tree uses, are a big metal box on the outside, clay on the inside, and fits perfectly in a modern kitchen.
As another note – and this whole thing is full of ’em – I had no idea that the oven would open from the top and you’d put things down into it.
Uh, what happens if something falls off the skewer? Don’t you then have to put your hand into the oven? Or some other type of instrument? And gravity’s working against ya, bub, so doesn’t that present problems?
Apparently, not even enough to deter this from being the traditional design of the tandoor oven.
Evidently, I’m the only one who thinks about these things. 🙂
The coal fire is built in the tandoor and allowed to burn for several hours to heat the oven to temperatures of 450 F. Meats cooked in the tandoor are marinated .
A basic marinade starts with curd and lime. Then, for a black marinade, pepper is added. For a red marinade, chili, onion, and ginger is added. For a green marinade, its spinach and mint, and for white marinade, cream is added. The meat is then skewered and placed vertically in the oven with one end resting in the ashes. Bread, such as roti, is pressed into the sides of the oven.
And yes, I did get to tour the kitchen. And it was clean. By North American restaurant standards. And yes, I would know. I’ve worked in two restaurants in Canada – one fast food, one a sit-down hang around restaurant/lounge for the twenties and thirties crowd.
Exit technical stuff. Enter food.
We started with Machli Tikka, Black Pepper Chicken, Shammi Kabab, and Jhinga Tandoori.
The Machli Tikka we had was red marinated fish as described above in the tandoor oven explanation paragraph, and it was flaky, tender, and flavourful. The Black Pepper Chicken, also called Kali Miri Murgh, we think, is a black marinated dish, was succulent and tasty. I’d had it before years ago – and most likely at the very least at the Edmonton Heritage Festival – and dammit but I don’t have the shortcut to that website in my list, which is a crying shame – and if you have the opportunity to go to the Edmonton Heritage Festival, GO! It’s soooo worth it – and it was as much a favourite then as now.
Another run on sentence that Fahim ought to be proud of. 😉
Shammi Kabab is a lamb cutlet, ground lamb mixed with chickpea flour and seasonings. This, admittedly, was my least favourite dish. The seasoning didnt taste quite right – I think it was just a little too foreign for me and my Western palate. Okay, it was the cloves. And the texture. The meat was ground fine – really really fine – beyond fine – and I could taste the cloves. Oh, not that much – it took me a while to figure out what the flavor was.
The funny thing was that, after I figured out that it was cloves, I confirmed it with Sukhvinder, the director, who sat at the table next to ours for a good portion of the meal, answering questions, that sort of thing. Perfectbly sociable and amiable chappie. Wow, that’s condescending, ain’t it? Nice guy. Yeah, that’s better. 🙁
Back to the Shammi Kabab. So I said to Sukhvinder something like, “This has cloves in it, right?” He looked absolutely flabbergasted. He then said he was surprised that I could tell. How could I tell? How did I know? I’ve been cooking since I was five, dude. I’ve been cooking international cuisine for decades, dude. Besides, this is a game I usually play – pick out the ingredients in the food so I can recreate the dish at home. Okay, I didn’t tell him all of that. I told him some of that, though. You can guess which. 🙂
The Jhinga Tandoori – red marinated prawns – was incredibly flavoured. It was an amazing taste explosion in our mouths. Unfortunately, the prawns were a bit too chewy – likely a little overcooked. But even with that, they were still wonderful. Fahim thought the same as me. Oh yeah, they were nummy.
And then there were condiments – mint chutney, jaggery and mango chutney, pickled onion, and lime wedges. Its a toss-up whether I preferred the mint chutney or the jaggery and mango chutney more, both were sooooo good. Fahim, on the other hand, refused to even try the mango and jaggery chutney. I don’t like it, he says. You’ve had it before? No, he says.
It’s the same as the whole Japanese food thing. Won’t eat it cuz he doesn’t like it. Never mind he’s never had Japanese before.;)
The mint chutney I’ve had before – and I loved it back then, too. It’s a fairly standard chutney, Fahim says. Okay. Cool.
We were then served Murgh Tikka Masala and Fish Goan Curry with Roomali Roti and Tandoori Roti.
Now. Another interjection.
They brought out the Murgh Tikka Masala first – chicken. Which Fahim can’t eat. So I say to Sukhvinder, who wasn’t there when the whole “veg or non-veg” thing was discussed, and I mentioned that Fahim couldn’t eat the chicken. Oh! Oops! Sorry! And quickly sent instructions to the kitchen for them to bring something for Fahim.
And here we get to something interesting.
The servers were all interested in what I wanted – another drink? Chicken for main course? But pretty close to ignoring Fahim. They didn’t even ask him if he wanted a second drink.
Okay, I’m laughing at all of this. 😀
We both kind of assume that it’s because I’m the one reviewing the restaurant, not him. It’s probably that. Or it could be my pasty white foreignness. Or a bit of both. 🙂
I’m going with me being the one to review the restaurant. 🙂
And I’m going to talk a bit more about the whole misunderstanding/north Indian food is spice wussy/bend over backwards thing in one paragraph. Or maybe two. We’ll see.
See, I mentioned that I wanted the chicken spicy. I said I liked hot food. They misunderstood. Fahim knew they misunderstood. He didn’t bother to correct their misunderstanding. So they bring out the chicken, and it’s not at all spicy. Not even a little bit. Not the tiniest little bit. So I tell this to Sukhvinder, who’s also flabbergasted by the fact that I like spicy food. And he apologizes profusely for it not being exactly like I wanted it, and orders it taken back.
It comes back a few minutes later, and I can taste the green chillis in it, and I can tell that they tried, but it isn’t hot at all. Not even warm. Not even a little bit. But, you know what? The flavor is SOOOOO ALL THERE! So who cares? I’m still happy with it.
Sukhvinder asks how it is and is it hot enough? I say, um, no, not hot, but that’s okay. It tastes great – or something like that. And he’s like, what? Not hot? You’re kidding!
Yup. Preconceived judgements about pasty white foreigners being spice wusses. Yah, I know, most of the time it’s valid. Just not for me.
So I appease him. It’s okay, I have this problem in every restaurant I eat at – I have an unbelievably high tolerance for spicy food. Yeah, I know, it’s odd given I’m so white. Don’t worry about it – no big deal. Which is all true.
So he asks me how I cook at home, and we get into this discussion about eating curries at home all the time, which surprises him, and then I tell him how much green chillis, chili powder, black pepper, and red pepper flakes I add, and he’s downright shocked! What???? You????
And Fahim tells him that I tolerate spicy food better than his Sri Lankan friends and even better than him sometimes (yeah, Fahim, honey bear, I know that’s not EXACTLY what you said, but it’s close enough, and I have a headache, and I don’t want to get into the exact nuances of every detail, so, uh, okay, honey? :D) and Sukhvinder still looks shocked. He’s not really sure what to make of me.
Yeah, I know. I get that all the time. 🙂
And that was when Fahim told me that North Indians were a bunch of spice wusses, but were really sensitive about it. And North Indian food isn’t hot at all – if I want hot Indian food, check out southern Indian food. Oh, like Madras? Bingo! Tamil Nadu state – very spicy. I love Madras curries.
Anyway. That’s it. So, uh, how many paragraphs? Who’s gonna count for me?
Roomali and Tandoori Roti are both breads. Roomali means like a handkerchief and is exactly that - very thin. It was presented folded over and over again until it was a small square package. The Tandoori Roti reminds me of pita bread its a thicker bread than the Roomali Roti, but still a round flatbread, and only about six inches in diameter. The Roomali Roti and Tandoori Roti are both eaten by tearing off a portion of the bread and dipping it into the sauces from the chicken and fish dishes, picking up some meat with it, and popping it in your mouth.
In other words, messy. 😀
In other other words, Fahim gets to eat with his hands even more.
Still a continuing and disturbing trend. 😀
What’s even more disturbing is that I also occasionally eat with my hands. Like he does. And I’m getting better at it – not as messy as I used to be. 🙂
Murgh Tikka Masala is a chicken dish with a gravy of curd, tomatoes, and seasoning. The chicken was tender and juicy, and the dish was unbelievably flavourful. Fish Goan Curry was white fish, tender and flaky, falling apart. It tasted divine.
I mean, seriously. The food was that good. THAT GOOD!!!!!
Unfortunately for us, by this time, we were getting rather full. As much as we would have liked to, we simply didnt have any room to sample any of their many desserts. Not that we were offered. 🙂 But really, if we’d asked, I’m pretty sure they would have happily complied.
In all of this, I kept asking questions here there and everywhere. The funny thing?
I’m speaking in English.
The servers are speaking English.
Sukhvinder was speaking in English.
Was there a communication gap?
Oh, heck yah!
And through all of this, what about Fahim?
Oh, no problem. He understand all of it. He understood my questions. He understood the answers I was given. He understood that the answers didn’t relate at all to the question.
And he sits back. And he watches.
And he laughs.
Finally, he tells me this. I think I may have punched him in the arm.
I think he may have cried like a little girl. 😀
The Mango Tree also offers a lounge, comfortably decorated in blacks and oranges. It offers comfortable chairs and huge, sinking sofas with many cushions. Theres a large screen television on one wall, and on another, there are water pipes. And this is where I mention that I didn’t understand absolutely, oh, everything that was said to me. I think Sukhvinder said something about reviving the use of water pipes, but I could be wrong. And I remember something about the smoke going through water, which filters it, so it’s not as harmful as smoking cigarettes, but honestly, until I see scientific studies, that’s not something I’m likely to believe. But then, I don’t smoke, water pipes or otherwise, so my opinion in this hardly matters.
Near the front door, when we were leaving, Fahim pointed out this bottle with a spigot in it. I thought, yeah, right. A glass bottle like that with a spigot? Whatever.
Then I got close enough to take a picture and I noticed a spigot.
Oh. Um, thanks, honey. For pointing that out.
For North Americans, the prices weren’t bad. For Sri Lankans, bloody expensive.
Like I said, I love reviewing restaurants. Great food and even better prices!!!!