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More to eat...and how!

If fun dining replaced fine dining as a motive for eating out in the past year, 2004 might just see a growing wave of fitness cuisine, so we can gorge ourselves healthy, says SUMITRA SENAPATY.

OUR CITY has a deluge of new restaurants. Just when one thought it would not, could not support one more eating-out option, much less more fine dining, along came some 30 new places in 2003, offering as much glitz and sizzle as ever, be it an Olive, Fire, Mantra, Shalom, Tangerine or

Odyssey, any which way you like it. So it's pretty amazing that people still have a figure - either physically or in the bank! But one can't complain at the relentless pursuit of the new and different - just sit back and enjoy it.

Not too long ago, going out to eat was an event; even fast food was special. But today dining out is a necessity, and `healthy' will be on the minds of many who will weigh the benefits of sensible eating against self-indulgent tendencies. People are getting finicky when it comes to things like

freshness of food, and interest in organic foods is bound to grow, expanding from home kitchens to restaurants.

Ethnic restaurants have sprouted, pretty much, profusely. Chor Bizarre opened new outposts at Noida and Gurgaon. Banana Leaf opened yet another branch at Gurgaon, offering us more South Indian delicacies, along with Coco Palm. Babu Moshai at Chittranjan Park with its steamed hilsa and mishti doi type of fare is ideal for authentic Bengali cuisine. Not Just Paranthas opened

In West Delhi, bringing with it an astounding 100 varieties of paranthas. We also got East 101 at the Global Business Park, Gurgaon, along with Nanking at Vasant Kunj and The Near East at Vasant Vihar.

Yet more restaurants, lounges and bars unfurled their warm interiors. Moshe's Oliva at Munirka with its grilled foccacia, Israeli hameen and the blueberry cheesecake became one of the city's favourite haunts, as did the Olive Kitchen and Bar at Mehrauli, Delhi's Mediterranean outlet and great for things like mushroom cappuccino and potato gnocchi in walnut cream sauce with gorgonzola. Fire and Agni opened inside the Park and is rapidly becoming a gustatory boon for those who appreciate Indian cuisine with a trendy twist. Fire's salmon tikkas with dill, Caesar salad with chicken malai kabab and the South Indian coffee pannacotta are some interesting variations, besides organic vegetables, organic red rice and organic nine-grain roti.

Apart from just convenience and quality food, intriguing is the fact that people are thinking about which restaurants are good for meeting people and which are good for spotting celebrities, as well as the more traditional considerations, such as type of cuisine. Think F Bar and Lounge, SSteel,

Djinn's, Dublin, Patiala Peg and Maroush for a spot of belly dancing.

The year gone by we've liked our food to be not too wacky. We look forward to choices when it comes to ordering wine, we want to be able to dine in an atmosphere that's buzzing, not boring, and we definitely want all this at prices that allow us to return - and not just for an occasion or two.

As to watering holes, lounge bars seem to have sprouted in every direction - 18 Till I Die at Greater Kailash-II, Pluto's at Vasant Kunj, Rhapsody Lounge on National Highway 8, No Escape in Connaught Place, Delhi's Devils at South Extension-II, RG's, Groove, Waves and Liquid. Even Viceroy at the Claridges has got a new façade.

Because of the frequency with which diners drink and eat out today, variety is paramount. Twice as many appetizers as entrées are the need of the hour, and that's exactly what chefs are coming up with - an expanded version of tapas, antipasti, dim sum, our Indian kababs and snack attacks, meze

and even the French amuse bouclé. Sure makes sense for today's lifestyles. Diners can eat a little or a lot, can socialise while sharing and yet need not overtax the dining budget.

While we have delighted in the new, some things thankfully remain unchanged: Pasta at Diva, tiramisu at Flavors, dal Bukhara at Bhukara, reshmi kebabs at Dum Pukht, dim sums at Taipan, cheesecakes at Basil and Thyme, appams with fiery curries at Dakshin and the peanut-butter malt at American Diner. And it's all about fun dining now, not fine dining. Because isn't this what

dining's all about? Relaxing with family and friends and feasting on great food, prepared by great chefs.

In case 2004 brings us another deluge in dining, who knows? We can probably expect a matching number of fitness centres and a great deal of spa cuisine to gorge ourselves healthy.

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