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A taste of nirvana

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Moment in the sun ItALIA has a bright outdoor seating as well
Moment in the sun ItALIA has a bright outdoor seating as well

RAHUL VERMA meets his idol among chefs

A thick green book, with the picture of a smiling, white-haired master on the cover, is my Bible. Ever since I was gifted Carluccio’s “Complete Italian Food” by my reluctant brother-in-law who, I am convinced, didn’t really want to part with the book, I have been poring over its pages, learning new ways to cook pasta and sauces. I have always been fond of Italian food, but Antonio Carluccio has been a veritable inspiration.

That’s why I said yes even before a friend from a public relation firm could finish her sentence — asking me if I would like to interact with Signore Carluccio.

The new place

The meeting was at a new restaurant called ItALIA, located in DLF Place at Vasant Kunj, next to the swish Emporio Mall. Italia is a Park Hotel restaurant, and Carluccio is a consultant there. The chefs have been trained by the London-based Italian chef who has more than 40 restaurants of his own across the globe.

The restaurant is huge — with 160 covers. It has a private dining room, a spacious area for those who like it casual and a lovely terrace for those who enjoy their meals out in the open. We sat out — it was a moonlit night — and had a wonderful meal and chat with Carluccio and Executive Chef Bakshish Dean of The Park.

I asked for small portions — and went from one delightful dish to another. We started with the antipasti — baked asparagus spears with a crust of two kinds of cheeses — fontina and parmesan (Rs.395) — and prosciutto san daniele with rocket leaves, bocconcini (small balls of buffalo milk cheese) served with a honey balsamic dressing (Rs.495).

Then I had a small helping of forest and field mushroom risotto cooked with morel (Rs.575) and crumb-fried lamb chops with a haricot bean salad. There was more — a truffle-scented parmigiana of potatoes, zucchini and asparagus and a gnocchi alla romana — soft potato dumplings. And we rounded off the entrees — before the desserts rolled in — with apiadine, a kind of pizza, with rocket leaves, artichoke and cherry tomato (Rs.535).

The food, indeed, was sublime. Each dish had been cooked with care, yet done simply.

And that, Carluccio stresses, is what good food is all about — simple recipes, cooked in the traditional way, that bring out the flavours of ingredients. The piadine, for instance, was superb. The crust was so thin and crispy that it was like something between a roti and a papad. I took apiece, folded it the way you’d roll a roti and popped it into my mouth — and found Nirvana!

The lamb chop, again, was soft and succulent, with a piece of cheese stuffed inside. “It’s called scorched fingers in Italian because you have to eat it with your fingers and scorch them,” laughs Carluccio.

The desserts

The dessert comprised bite-sized helpings of a deliciously baked panna cotta with raspberry sauce, a mouth-wateringly soft tiramisu and a passable hazelnut and ricotta tart. I declined the espresso, because the food was so good that I wanted the taste to linger in my mouth as I made my way home.

I went humming all the way back. The familiar green book was on my dashboard. It’s become more precious than ever. It’s now been signed by a man who knows his food.

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