Monday, March 13, 2006

A cuisine carnival (The Hindu's Metro Plus)

Note: I had written this for The Hindu's Metro Plus supplement. You can find the original review article on The Hindu's site here: The Hindu Metro Plus - Cajun Food Festival Review

I had started my piece with

“Well, he sings a song about a crowded hole
He sings a song about a jelly roll
He sings a song about meat and greens
He wails some blues about New Orleans

- Elvis Presley, lyrics from ‘King Creole’

but this was clipped by the edit team.

A cuisine carnival

The good times roll with Cajun and Creole fare at The Leela Palace

MYRIAD TASTES The Cajun Food Festival showcases an eclectic range of cuisine that combines African, French and other European cuisine styles

New Orleans is famous for its Mardi Gras festival and jazz, but its distinctive cuisine which combines Cajun and Creole origins is not so well-known. Cajun cuisine originates from the cooking style of the French-speaking Acadian immigrants to Louisiana.

In contrast, Creole cuisine blends more elaborate classic European styles of the settlers. Both cuisines use capsicum, celery, and onion often, and a spice mix of parsley, bay leaf and cayenne pepper.

The elegant Citrus restaurant at The Leela Palace is hosting a Cajun Food Festival until March 17, with a dinner buffet crafted by Chef Paul Rajarajan.

We started the buffet sampling the sweet potato and apple salad, fried tomatoes with shrimp remoulade and stuffed artichokes with grilled goat cheese, followed by oyster shooters (accompanied with a tomato purée and Tabasco chaser) and a house salad with Creole croutons. All of them were delicately prepared with attention to detail. The chicken pecan pate was a good accompaniment for the Creole artichoke bread. In addition to these, the buffet offers a wide range of starters.

Besides the French, Cajun food also has African influences, which are apparent in the Gumbo, a chowder-like soup. The buffet offers both a z'herbes (vegetarian) gumbo and a chicken andouille (sausage) version, both of which are excellent.

Traditional Cajun food is usually cooked in three pots, one for the main dish, one for rice, and the third for the vegetables of the season. We sampled the celebrated rice-based jambalaya, which is common to both Cajun and Creole cuisine. It was somewhat mild, flavoured with Spanish paprika instead of cayenne pepper.

We went on to try the grilled blackened pomfret fillet, a mild and smoky dish — not originally Cajun — that was popularised in the '80s by American diners. The beer battered corn with chilli butter was passable. The beef on char grilled capsicum polenta with Creole butter was tender, juicy and well marinated and had us going back for second helpings.

When we got to dessert, it was hard to choose from the myriad options being served up at the counter. We chose the classic banana fritters with vanilla ice cream and the king cake, and were not disappointed — both were excellent.

The items on the buffet have been carefully selected, ensuring it caters to a wide range of tastes. Health conscious? Vegetarian? Seafood lover? Gourmand? Sweet tooth? The buffet has something for you.

If there was anything amiss in the buffet, we might have hoped for a small wine selection bundled into the price, similar to the Citrus Sunday brunch. Apart from a mermaid figurine, a saxophone on a high chair, and piped blues music, there wasn't much in the way of a theme ambience.

Bottomline: The New Orleans official motto goes "Let the good times roll" and their food is definitely a celebration in itself. Leela has a splendid Cajun food line-up at the buffet that could rival the best Nolas in the world, and is a rare opportunity to try out the exotic cuisine.

The Cajun Food Festival is on at Citrus till March 17. For information, call 30571340.

Ambience: Good, but not quite all that jazz

Service: Self-service buffet, courteous staff

Specialty: Cajun and Creole food

Wallet factor: Rs. 1,500 per head


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