Monday, December 6, 2010

Lalit 2nd Anniversary Celebrations & Food tasting @ the OKO

My first exposure to Japanese food was 4 years back, when we lived in Japan for about 18 months. P and his friends told me me that "Vegetarian" in Japan means "vegetables also" and not "vegetables only". You can now imagine how that would make a vegetarian like me, feel. So, we got there & settled into our new home very easily. I'll never forget my first few weeks in the country - not knowing the language, it was a rather tense few weeks. On hindsight, I find it comical now.

I was greatly urged (read compelled) to try the cuisine by P and friends. I remember my first tentative dips in this unknown (scary) pool. First japanese food I tried was Inari Sushi - it was yummy. Loved it. From those first tentative steps, trying out Zaru Soba, Yassae Tempura (vegetable tempura), Ume (plum) Sushi, Onigiri, etc., now I have come to love vegetarian Japanese food. It still amazes me, how delicious something as simple as a sour plum placed in a ball of plain rice, and wrapped with seaweed (Ume sushi and Ume Onigiri) tastes! Japanese cuisine has an emphasis on subtle flavors that enhance the natural taste of the ingredients. None of the rich, spicy or heavy flavored stuff that is found in other cuisines.

When Madhuri of Cook-Curry-Nook called me, and gave me details of the event and venue, I went online to find out more about Oko. When I found out it was a Pan-Asian restaurant, the first thought that came to my mind was - wow - I hope they have good Japanese food. The next thought was, Pan-Asian. To me, Pan-Asian means two things - Thai food and Japanese food - and I love both cuisines. But the two cuisines cannot be more different from each other - while Japanese food has the subtle flavors, Thai food can cause your eyes to water, with how spicy it is! And the flavors in Thai food are also a lot more complex - with Kafir Lime, Lemon Grass, Ginger, Chilli, Sugar, all contributing strong flavors.

Somehow I don't consider Chinese cuisine to be part of Pan-Asian - possibly because of how familiar Chinese food is to me - but in Tokyo, I realized how different Indian Chinese was, to Chinese Chinese! I think we should send an Akshay Kumar "From Chandni Chowk to China" - to teach the Chinese how to make good Chinese food - Gobi Manchurian and Hakka Noodles ;-) Maybe that will fatten them up a bit, so we can win a few more medals at the next Asian Games!

So, then I met Suma, Shubadha, Ramya & Madhuri (whom I knew from before). We met, we talked & we were in the thick of conversation. Didn't feel for a minute there that we'd just met! Here's a picture of us -

From left to right - Suma of Cakes & More, Shubhada of Shubhada's123, Madhuri of Cook-curry Nook, Ramya of Mane Adige& me!

At Oko, I was impressed by the ambience - the covered terrace gives the feel of an open air restaurant, but still shields you from the elements. The view of "Namma Bengaluru" was impressive - lights glimmering in the distance, and long lines of tail lights of vehicles reminding us of how better off we were where we were, rather than stuck in a Satuday evening traffic jam - a contrast that was highlighted even more by the giant peaceful Buddha at the entrance.

Even though I had never met any of the other bloggers before, it was just a matter of minutes before we were all chatting away like friends catching up after a long time. It was amusing to note that all of us were vegetarians - trying out cuisines that are renowned for their non-veg options! Thankfully the Chef at Oko's was up to the task of preparing vegetarian options for us.

We started off with Char grilled Okra with Teriyaki sauce. I havent had such a dish before, have never even heard of something like this, so I was a bit apprehensive - but there was no reason to worry - the dish was awesome, right from taste, texture, presentation, and it turned out to be a winning start. The Vietnamese skewered Tofu was also done right, with the Tofu having a silky texture.

While the veg Sushi rolls were nice, I really missed Inari sushi and Umesushi. These two dishes could be good additions to the menu, and improve the choices for vegetarians.

The Yasai Teppanyaki was a bit of a letdown - simply because Teppanyaki cuisine is as much about the art of preparation as it is about the ingredients and presentation. In Teppanyaki cuisine, the chef prepares the food right at your table - in fact the table is usually set around the chef's cooking surface. At Oko however, the Teppanyaki dishes were just bought to our table like all other food.

For desserts, while the selection looked good, unfortunately only Azuki Bean Jelly was available. This was probably a touch overcooked.

Service was prompt and polite. However, I think the staff needs a little bit more exposure to the cuisine, so they can answer questions about the menu, and help with ordering decisions.

On the whole we had a very pleasant evening, with great food and even better company. The only thing that would have made the evening better would have been to have P around. He would have totally totally totally loved the food, and would have done justice to it, he being a real foodie and a non-vegetarian too.

Oh - before I forget... the highlight of the evening was the signature Lalit cocktail - A peach iced tea with a hint of vodka and hiding some other mysteries. This is something I'd go back for!


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