How about a steamy and out of the box dining option?

You have to admit, sizzlers are rather 1980. Ubiquitous at birthday dinners in those days of big hair, printed tights and Michael Jackson's Billy Jean. The restaurants were inevitably dark and dramatic, with crisp white linen, drippy candles and pompous waiters. The sizzler was inevitably the evening's big ticket event: arriving in a haze of sound and fury. Placed in front of you ceremoniously, as peppery steam enveloped your table. Beyond exciting in the days before molecular gastronomy, high-pressure culinary foams and gadget-gaga sous vide. When it came to ‘dramatic', a sizzler was the King Lear of the menu.

Today, it's still a staple of ‘Continental' food. Which used to mean foreign and fancy in the days before Indians started watching Master Chef. Now, it's that rather square genre of food blanketed in white sauce, cheese and pepper. Actually, let me hastily add, that much-loved rather square genre of food blanketed in white sauce, cheese and pepper. This is the food of summer holidays and special dinners. Foie gras, bacon ice cream and buck wheat blinis topped with salmon roe are undoubtedly exciting. But sometimes, there's nothing as comforting as a carb-heavy, cheese-blanketed meal. Atkins addicts, close your eyes. This is about to get intense.

My sizzler is cloaked with cheese. And I mean cloaked. Think Dakota Fanning of the Volturi, hooded, draped and sweeping. We're at Yoko Sizzlers, newly opened on Khader Nawaz Khan Road in an attempt to figure out what all the fuss is about. (Tel: 90430 43090 or 4218 0888.) My Steak Yoko Style has peas, long slices of carrots and beans and an emerald lump of spinach besides the meat, which is juicy, tender and subtly spiced. Cooked medium, it's easy to cut through and stays hot though most of dinner courtesy the incessantly spitting metal sizzler plate. Eating it without burning your palate is a challenge and makes me wonder if that's the eternal lure of the sizzler: adventure, challenge and dinner, all at one go. The cheese blanket is, in my opinion, quite unnecessary. My friend, who's disappointed with her rather insipid chicken sizzler disagrees and scoops most of the cheese onto her plate. But then she's a butter-loving, doughnut-eating, sugar addict whose idea of a healthy pre-gym snack is two ghee-soaked ladoos with a fistful of potato chips. We also sample a steak shashlik, beautifully cooked but drowning in pepper.

Being vegetarian at a sizzler restaurant isn't much fun. There are options of course, starring a paneer satellite, but it can be tough to dodge the meaty steam that lovingly envelopes every table as the food arrives. Dessert's a universal pleaser: a sassy brownie sizzler, dense and heavy, blanketed in chocolate sauce and topped with a precariously balanced, plump, creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The restaurant décor is unexciting, boxy with routine furnishing, but the service is thoughtful and, thank heavens, the steak knives sharp. More efficient than glamorous, which — if you think about it — is exactly what old-fashioned dining is about. (A meal for two is roughly Rs. 800.)

If you want something more Page Three, check out the new Box at Escape, Express Avenue. An ‘in-cinema lounge,' they offer a private dining space for patrons who want to snack extra-elegantly before and during the movies. How it works is, you get together a minimum of six people and then get to socialise over samosas, French fries and milkshakes for 15 minutes before the movie. Then, during the interval, you can gather at the Box again for a more substantial snack, such as burgers or pizzas. Honestly, it seems like a lot of work to me. I prefer eating popcorn, as immovable as a slug in my seat. But then, I'm hardly Page Three. They need a 24-hour notice, so call 90031 00013 and 87545 50112 for reservations.

More alluring is FLIP, their newly opened tea lounge in the library area of the cinema. (Aren't we Chennaiites getting posh!) It offers the likes of coffee tiramisu, grilled sandwiches and burgers along with fancy teas and coffees. Think Assam second flush, berrie and herb tea and fresh spring tea, along with Columbian Execlso, Kenyaaa Masai and Papua New Guinea Sigree coffee. Roughly Rs. 250 per head.


Shonali MuthalalyMay 11, 2012