I could not scripted it if I tried, but I had the opportunity of dining at two splendid dining establishments in as many days. The first, dedicated to Frontier cuisine of the North-west & Punjab, the second, a fitting complement paying tribute to the best of Southern Indian Fare.
The two styles of cuisines , (for those who are under the misguided notion that Indian food revolves around Paneer & Naan) , are about as alike as chalk and cheese. Its almost like trying to understand and compare two languages which never had any common origins or script to begin with. South Indian cuisine makes full use of spices that originated in its native soil (such as pepper, cinnamon, cardamom & cloves, originated and evolved in the Southern Indian peninsula). When paired with the magical aromatic combination of Curry leaves and asafetida, the end result is truly magical.
Dakshin, the flagship ethnic cuisine restaurant at the Park Sheraton in Chennai has consistently been THE place to go for great South Indian food. Some of the best memories of my life have been celebrated with a dinner at this very restaurant, The other half's promotion to a Bell Labs DMTS, my son Ishaan's first birthday, to name a few, and the taste memories of every one of them linger on pleasantly.
I needed no coaxing to visit the restaurant once again on a whirlwind overnight trip to Chennai for a family celebration. The only difference, I allowed myself the luxury of letting Sous Chef Harish advise me on what to eat, and the end result was an unforgettable culinary journey to be savored and cherished for all times.
The Beautifully designed menu
opens up to a cornucopia of dishes.
Every table is set with gleaming brass containers of deep fried Appalams (Paapads) , Vadaams (wafers made with Rice flour) and sun dried Chiles & guar beans,
and a selection of traditional Chutney powders.
Every female guest is welcomed with a string of fresh jasmine blossoms,
And then the Feasting begins!
Little addictive hush puppies made with shredded plantains spiced with curry leaves, and classic masala Vadas with fennel. The palate cleanser at the end of the appetizers was mildly blanched Cauliflowers tossed in a heady blend of toasted cumin, crushed peppercorns and curry leaves.
I was practically in seventh heaven with these goodies when the Chef announced that they would be setting the plates out for the main course There were six different curries, each representing the different culinary regions of South India, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu as well as Pondicherry & Chettinad. These included a Tomato flavored dal from Andhra, A tamarind based curry with shallots from chettinad, a spiced potato roast, The classic 'Ishtu from Kerala, and an amazing turnip Kootu from Pondicherry made with toasted garbanzo beans.
and the surprise , a divine, crispy Okra Stir fry with coconut (For an avid Okra hater like me, I actually not only tasted it, but liked it as well).
Each one of these dishes were paired with classic breads (if you can call it that) from the south, Flaky, layered Malabar porottas, Pillowy Aapams,
Freshly squeezed and steamed rice noodles,
which were topped off with a classic dish that binds all of South India together, Thayir saadham (Yogurt rice), served up with your choice of spicy Achars & 'Thokkus' (cooked chutneys)
And in saving the best for last, Chef Harish presented an unforgettably brilliant bread pudding from the erstwhile French colony of Pondicherry, a true genius of an idea bringing together influences not just from the Southern Indian Peninsula, but also reaching out the French influences from further east in Vietnam.
The bread in this pudding is a baguette made from rice flour, spiced with cloves and cinnamon, soaked up in a creamy coconut milk reduction redolent of cardamom, saffron & Pistachio.
Anything I write about this unforgettable dinner will not really do justice to the food that is served up at this flagship restaurant. The best way to experience is to visit and treat yourself to the best food that the deep Indian South can dish out!
Dakshin is located at the Sheraton Park & Towers, TTK Road Chennai , TN 600 018, Tel : (91) (44) 24994101