Note: I lost all my photos for this article when someone stole my phone… waaah
After my disappointing rendezvous with chicken ghee roast at Kanua (a mishap that, I am assured has been rectified), I’d been craving the stuff. I needed a fix, and needed it bad. Good friend and fellow food-lover Dilip Mendens sensed my desperation and dragged me off to Anupam’s Coast II Coast in Shrungar Complex on MG Road. As we climbed the stairs, I could hear The Bangles, Tina Turner, Phil Collins and other Eighties stalwarts playing in my head… this restaurant, was, after all, sitting on the grave of the erstwhile Blue Fox, where we’d frequently eschewed Accountancy and Taxation classes in favor of clandestine day parties.
Coast II Coast’s decor is fabulously average. It’s your everyday “multicuisine” restaurant dressed up in its Sunday best. Although it’s clean, spacious, features linen napkins, and uniformed wait staff, fine dining ambience this definitely ain’t! When I try to figure out why – because it has all the elements, they’re just not coming together – the best I can come up with is that it doesn’t have that “done by a designer look” and the fact that the lighting is dim. Which isn’t really true – in fact, it’s so bright and well-lit that they’ve had to pull down the blinds, which is what is giving the restaurant its bizarre, I’m-wearing-orange-tinted-glasses hue. It’s neither sleazy nor hole-in-the-wall; it’s just not the kind of place you’d want to take your Prada-toting girlfriend to for a first date. Or a second date. Maybe after you’re married and have had kids?
The menu, likewise, is multicuisine, featuring butter chicken, butter naan, Chinese fried rice, and the omnipresent paneer dishes. We ignore all of it, including the “seafood” section featuring fish and shellfish prepared tandoor-style, homing in instead on a single menu page called “coastal food”. We go overboard, ordering, for just the two of us, kaane or ladyfish rava fry, steamed rice and prawn curry, chicken ghee roast and pundi, neer dosa, and, just in case that isn’t enough, kori rotti. Did I mention that Dilip is a big guy?
The kaane arrives first. It is the largest kaane I have ever seen. Kaane theory dictates that the bigger the kaane, the less intense the flavor. I beg to differ. As long as you eat it piping hot, it is very flavorful and you have the benefit of being able to get the fish off the bone very easily, unlike with the smaller fish. Again – be sure to eat it piping hot. Coast II Coast’s version has just the right amount of crisp semolina coating, and it isn’t fried to the point of being almost-burnt. I like.
The prawn curry, “boiled” rice, and neer dosa arrive next. Since I make lace-thin neer dosas myself, I am very critical of anyone else’s. I have to say that Coast II Coast does a great job. They’re thin, redolent with coconut, and you won’t find gooshy, undercooked patches on them. The prawn curry is pretty good – except for the fact that the prawns are cooked a bit more than I’d have liked, and the fact that I wouldn’t exactly call it a traditional Mangalorean prawn curry (on a subsequent visit, the prawns are done to perfection, so maybe they were having a bad day).
Next comes the dish I have been fantasizing about for days – my chicken ghee roast! The portions they serve are XL (so are Dilip and I, but we’re struggling now). You smell the ghee before you taste it. The masala is perfect – rich, moist, spicy, everything I’ve been dreaming about. The chicken is the large, naati variety, but it’s cooked the way it’s supposed to be, so the meat is tasty, and you can tell it’s chicken instead of some amorphous, pressure-cooked meat.
I choose to eat my ghee roast with pundi. For those of you unfamiliar with pundi, these are steamed balls of cooked rice and coconut, ground together and lightly seasoned with salt and mustard seeds. They’re dense and filling. At Coast II Coast they’re also very large, and you get several to a plate. This restaurant doesn’t cheat by using coconut oil (instead of coconut) to provide the aroma – you can always tell, because the pundis then become oily and slippery rather than a little sticky, the way they should be. We do manage to finish all the pundis – but now there’s the kori rotti to contend with.
Kori rotti is a quintessentially Mangalorean dish, prepared by the Bunt community. There are as many versions of the curry as there are Bunt women – each has a favorite proportion of coconut milk to masala, of onion to chilli. I like Coast II Coast’s version, but it isn’t as good as the one I learned to make from my mother in law. Who learned it from Mrs. Nayak. Who learned it from… In any case, I’d found an excuse not to finish my share. Poor Dilip!
A few weeks later, I dragged my all-too-willing spouse to the restaurant (remember what I said about “maybe after the kids”?) and we also ordered Bolanjeer fry. I mention this because they were perfect. Larger than we’re used to, but the batter was just so.
On this visit, we also discovered that the restaurant is owned by the same family that owns Usha’s (given name: “Hotel Usha”) on Balmatta Road in Mangalore – an establishment that’s been around since the late 1960s and that has developed a reputation for great Mangalorean food.
Owner Tejappa Shetty began Usha’s as small eatery called Shetty’s Lunch Home in Kundapur in 1957, where he dished out his mother’s home made chicken ghee roast. The dish was a hit, and people began to visit from as far away as Mangalore just to eat it. Shetty then established Usha’s in Mangalore and became renowned for the superior quality of his kaane,which was sourced from Kundapur – and, of course, his specialty ghee roast.
Given such a proud Konkan culinary heritage, why does Coast II Coast descend to serving Chicken Manchurian and Butter Paneer here in namma Bengaluru, we asked. “Bengaluru jana haage ne, saar,” we were told by a disdainful waiter. “Adhane kelthaare.” “Bangalore people are like that only, Sir. They ask for that only.” Amen.