Sunday, November 23, 2014

Long Walk (Uphill Both Ways), All For Not

I decided to try Taste of India on a nice Sunday afternoon in mid-November, walking 15-minutes up the steep TIPA Road from the Main Square in McLeod Ganj. 

When I finally arrived, low and behold the door was locked (2:45 pm), the TV on, and the windows looking like they had not been cleaned in years. I had doubts as to whether the place had been abandoned or not, but the TV made me believe that their were inhabitants, food or no food, but they were nowhere in sight.

I was looking forward to some authentic Indian food after reading the many good reviews on TripAdvisor, but it was not meant to be, so I strolled back down the hill in search of other options,

CombatCritic MUST Give Taste of India 1 Bomb Out Of 10 ... MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Good, Reasonably Priced Fare In A Country Not Well Known For Great Italian

Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen
Jogawara Road, Market Area (Upstairs)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India 176219
Prices: $$$$$

Dining Room
Jimmy’s is the only restaurant in town that serves only Italian food … bruschetta (learn how to pronounce it Americans), pasta, pizza, main courses with actual meat and more! You have to look up and on the right as you walk up Jogiwara Road (from the direction of the Dalai Lama’s Temple) about halfway through the McLeod Ganj “market” (shopping area) on the way to the Main Square to see Jimmy’s neon sign up on the third floor.

TV and Asian Style Seating Area
The restaurant is large by Dharamsala standards and nicely appointed with marble-top tables, nice modern colors, plenty of windows, and movie posters on the walls. They have a large screen LCD TV, which happened to be televising a cricket game while I was there. There are two small areas, one in the front as you walk in and another in the back near the TV, where those with good knees can sit at a low table on mats Asian style. Being an old military retiree and disabled Veteran, I went for a table and chairs.

The menu is large with numerous antipasti (appetizers), both veg (vegetarian) and non-veg as they are referred to here, several primi (first courses), including pizza and pasta dishes, as well as homemade ravioli, lasagna and gnocchi, and, finally, secondi (second courses – think meat) where you can choose from chicken, mutton, or pork prepared in a variety of ways. They also have many drinks, including milk shakes and lassi (a yogurt-based drink found throughout India similar to a milk shake, but without the ice cream).

Veggie Bruschetta
For my antipasto, I decided to try the mixed grilled vegetable “bruchetta” (90 Rupees/$1.46 - spelled “bruschetta” in Italy and unlike the pronunciation used by most Americans, pronounced “brew-sket-a”, not brew-shet-a, as the “sch” in Italy is pronounced like “sk” is in English). What I received was four large toasted slices of the best Italian-style bread I have had in India to date with an abundance of tasty grilled veggies (eggplant, mushrooms, onion, and bell peppers) with melted mozzarella cheese on top. Normally, bruschetta is served with cold vegetables (tomato, vegetables) on top and no cheese, but I was quite pleased with the taste. Bravo!

Gnocchi in Pesto Cream Soup, I Mean Sauce
For my primo, I chose the handmade gnocchi with ham in a pesto cream sauce (190 Rupees/$3.10). The gnocchi was excellent and perfectly cooked, not too chewy and not falling apart in my mouth, and the sauce was flavorful, not requiring salt, pepper, or added cheese as is the case with most pasta dishes I have had in India, but with a touch too much garlic (and I love garlic). My only complaint, and I shared this with the owner before leaving, was the same as at many restaurants in the U.S., and that is that there was far too much sauce. Proper pasta is served “al dente” and lightly basted in the sauce just prior to serving by flipping the pasta in the pan containing the heated sauce, but many restaurants outside of Italy overdo the sauce and mine was more like a thick soup with the gnocchi and ham being overwhelmed by the sauce. The owner shared with me the reason it is served this way and that is because his Indian customers are used to thick sauces (think curry, jalfraizi, and vindaloo) and believe that al dente pasta is undercooked, so he is catering to the majority of his clientele. Fair enough.

Chocolate Milk Shake
Feeling hungry and decadent, I also ordered a chocolate milk shake with ice cream (120 Rupees/$1.95) because I had read that they had an excellent peanut butter milk shake (not on the menu) on TripAdvisor. If you order a milk shake in India, do not expect what you normally think of a shake in western countries as they do not contain ice cream unless so stated. Drinks in India are routinely lukewarm as refrigeration is not great and ice is not a good idea because of potential water-born illnesses, so your milk shake will likely not be cold and frosty as you would expect. Mine tasted good enough, but the ice cream was not fully blended and at nearly $2 it was probably one of the worst values in my restaurant experiences here in India.

CombatCritic Gives Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … With Deductions for Excess Sauce and Costly, Unfrosty Shake … More Bombs Are Better!






















Key Words: Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen, Jimmy’s, Jimmy, Italian, kitchen, pasta, pizza, restaurant, McLeod Ganj, mcloed, ganj, Dharamsala, India, Jogiwara, road, market, CombatCritic, travel, value, menu


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Palaco Handmade Crafts: Beautiful, Ornate, Handmade Crafts ... Reasonable Prices ... Outstanding Service!

Palaco Handmade Crafts
Shop #5 Temple Road (Behind State Bank ATM)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, HP, India 176219
Phone: +91 97364 86748
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/PalacoCrafts

I would have missed Palaco Handmade Crafts if i had not started talking to the owner Taj while waiting in line for the ATM. The shop is behind the State Bank ATM on Temple Road about 125 meters from the Main Square, heading toward the Dalai Lama's Temple, and just 50 meters from the Buddhist Stuba (Buddhist Temple with prayer wheels) in the middle of town (same direction).


The shop is in the back on the left and is small, but filled with beautiful treasures from Tibetan, Kashmiri, and Indian craft makers, normally small families and individuals and not the mass produced garbage you find in many shops.

Silk and Kashmiri (Cashmere if you are American) woolen scarves, bedspreads and carpets, intricate inlaid wood trays, bowls, lamps and other small furnishings and knick-knacks, brass "chakra" bowls, Buddhist "tangas", purses and bags, and many other crafts are avaialble at very fair prices.

Taj is a wonderful person, inviting me for a cup of saffron tea made from VERY EXPENSIVE kashmiri saffron on my first visit, he is truly a warm and friendly person. Their prices are so low that you do not need to haggle like most stores in India, knowing that you are getting a good deal and an outstanding value.

CombatCritic Gives Palaco Handmade Crafts A Rare 10 Out of 10 Bombs ... BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: Palaco Handmade Crafts, Palaco, handmade, crafts, Tibetan, Kashmiri, India, Indian, McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, Dharamsala, Dharmsala, silk, wool, Taj, purses, inlaid, wood, Temple Road, Shop #5

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mediocre Service, Non-Existent WiFi ... Superb Thai Curry

“Mediocre Service, Non-Existent WiFi ... Superb Thai Curry

The Clay Oven

McLeod Ganj, Himachal PradeshDharamsala 176219India

The restaurant sits just off the main square on the TIPA (Dharamkot) road and looks nicer than most in McLeod Ganj with wood beam ceilings, earth tones, and a nice terrace. 

The free WiFi was nearly non-existent, so don't bother if you need to get anything done while waiting to be seated, get your menu or your food.

I stood at the counter waiting for a table for nearly 5 minutes while employees danced around me saying nothing and with just three parties in a place that seats 50. I finally got my menus another 5 minutes after the grumpy guy (owner?) at the register ignored me and I sat myself.

I ordered the green chicken (Thai) curry (200 rupees - $3.20) and waited close to 30 minutes ... but IT WAS WORTH THE WAIT! Accompanied by white rice, the curry came in a clay pot, was generous in size, and hot, not scalding. The flavor was as good as any green curry I have had stateside and I have had quite a few. Spicy, but not overly hot, there were chunks of white meat chicken, mushrooms, and onion with just the right curry to rice ratio. Good stuff and at $3+ it was definitely the best value in terms of curry I have experienced!

The food quality and value alone would rate 9 BOMBS, but deducting 1 BOMB for lousy internet and another for mediocre service ...

CombatCritic Gives The Clay Oven 7 Bombs Out Of 10 ... MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!








Key Words: The Clay Oven, clay, oven, Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj, Mcleod, Ganj, India, Thai, Tibetan, Indian, curry, coffee, Italian, pizza, pasta, menu, travel, value, CombatCritic

Snow Lion Restaurant ROARS ... Good Food, Excellent Value!

Snow Lion Restaurant
Jogiwara Road (Opposite Buddhist Temple - Stuba)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala 176213, India
Phone: +91-1892-221289

Prices: $$$$$

The “snow lion” is a mythical creature featured on the Tibetan flag and I had seen the Snow Lion Restaurant while walking by on the busy main market street in McLeod Ganj, but had not entered because there were normally no free tables. I sauntered in one evening after seeing that the popular table by the front window was free.

No sooner had I sat down than two young Russian girls asked if they could join me, a common practice here in Himachel Pradesh. They were mildly friendly and soon went about their conversation while lounging on the couch opposite me. Many of the tables have double cushioned seats, so many of the young bohemians with unwashed dreadlocks and tattered clothes make themselves at home while surfing the internet (not just here, but in many cafés), feet on the seats and all. The restaurant is clean and comfortable with semi-bright lighting and the staff is very friendly and inviting.

The food is strictly vegetarian and the menu offers a wide variety of appetizers, entrees, drinks, and desserts. Momos are a Tibetan specialty, a savory pastry filled with vegetables, potato, cheese, meat or a combination thereof and served either steamed or fried. I tried the fried potato and cheese momos (80 rupees - $1.30), consisting of eight large pieces with soy and chili sauces available for dipping. Fresh and flavorful, Snow Lion's momos are very good and an excellent value.

I had seen “sizzlers” on several menus around town, so I decided to try the vegetable sizzler as an entree, adding some crispy-spicy potatoes and the lemon-ginger-honey tea (40 rupees - 65 cents) I have come to love. The potatoes arrived first, very thin French fries with a tasty seasoning and some VERY HOT slices of red and green chili intermixed. I decided to save most of them to accompany my entrée. The sizzler, aptly named because it is served on an iron skillet, much like fajitas would be served at a Mexican restaurant stateside, sizzling and steaming. The assorted vegetables, including
green beans, carrots, tomatoes, onion, cauliflower, and squash (I think) sat upon large cabbage leaves and was tasty although not well seasoned. I added some chili sauce, a condiment used like catsup here, and tossed the rest of my spicy French fries in for good measure. I have to say that for an all vegetable meal, I was quite full, but not so full that I could not resist the wonderful dessert options.

I asked if they had vanilla ice cream because the “eggless” apple pie looked scrumpdidiliumptious. They did, so I ordered a hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The pie was lukewarm, not hot, but it was very good as was the ice cream. The crust was crisp and delicious and the filling sweet, but not overly so. A nice finish to a very good, well-priced meal.

The WiFi is moderatley fast, the environment comfortable and inviting, and the service efficient and very friendly, and I understand that they open fairly early, by Indian standards, for breakfast. The only drawback is that the loo (toilet) is upstairs and is NOT the “western” variety, so be prepared to squat and bring your own TP as it is rarely found in public toilets, including this one. Snow Lion also offers rooms above the restaurant, so if and when I have a look, I will update this review.

CombatCritic Gives Snow Lion Restaurant 9 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!



Key Words: Snow Lion Restaurant, snow, lion, restaurant, McLeod Ganj, McLeod, Ganj, Dharamsala, India, cafe, coffee, free wifi, wifi, Tibetan, momo, menu, travel, value

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Carpe Diem: Sieze the "Lait" ... "Cafe au" That Is!

Carpe Diem Restaurant and Pizzeria
Jogiwara Road - Above Cinema
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India
+91-988-219-2294

Cuisine: Breakfast, Coffee/Tea/Beer, Indian, Italian, Thai

Prices: $$$$$

Rooftop Terrace
I heard good things about the pizza, understanding that they have a wood-fire oven. The place is not easy to find unless to look up to the third floor of the building above the cinema on Jogiwara Road. The indoor restaurant is up one flight of stairs, but the rooftop terrace is quite nice if the weather permits.

The indoor restaurant was empty at 8PM on a Sunday night, but the terrace was packed, leaving one table for me. The crowd seemed to be young, American/European/Australian bohemians dressed in baggy clothes with dreadlocks, which is extremely common in McLeod Ganj at least. There are six or seven tables with chairs and a sitting area with low tables and mats to sit on (do not forget to take off your shoes).

Mutton (Lamb) Pepperoni Pizza - 210 Rupees ($3.40)
The menu is eclectic, but I had to try the "excellent pizza" I had heard so much about. I ordered the non-vegetarian pepperoni pizza (210 rupees - $3.45), thinking that it would be the standard spicy, greasy, pork variety we American expect ("pepperoni" in Italy is green bell peppers). The pizza came rather quickly and looked quite good actually. Not huge, it was thin and crispy, much like the pizzas you get in Rome and the flavor was also decent ... until I got my first bite of pepperoni. I actually like lamb from time to time, but not on my pizza. The pepperoni was obviously made of lamb (mutton here) and although not disgusting by any stretch, it was a little off-putting because it was not expected. Beside the taste of lamb sausage, the pizza was good, but next time I think I will order a vegetarian option or go with a Thai green curry or Indian dish.

One of the few restaurants that serves beer (you better like Kingfisher), the menu is huge and the prices are fair, a little higher than many places around town. The service was fast and friendly.

CombatCritic Gives Carpe Diem An Initial 6 Bombs Out of 10 ... MORE BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: CarpeDiem, carpe, diem, Jogiwara Road, breakfast, café, Thai, pizza, Dharamsala, food, Ganj, restaurant, beer, India, internet, Italian, McLeod, McLeod Ganj, menu, restaurant, Thai, Indian, terrace, travel, value, CombatCritic

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Himalayan Café and Restaurant: Fast (Free) Internet, Nice View, Tasty Food, Excellent Prices

Himalayan Café and Restaurant
Bhagsu Road (100 meters east of Main Square)
McLeod Ganj, India

Cuisine: Breakfast, Coffee/Tea, Tibetan, Chinese (Italian and Thai Available High Season)

Prices: $$$$$


Terrace and View of McLeod Ganj
I literally stumbled upon the Himalayan Cafe and Restaurant (the streets here are rough, rough, rough) while walking on Bhagsu Road, heading from the main square in McLeod Ganj toward Bhagsu Village (heading east). I might have missed it had I not seen the sign advertising "High Speed Internet", so I walked up the steel staircase to the terrace (right).

Terrace
The covered terrace at the top of the stairs has several tables with a few overlooking the valley below and all have a nice view of the Himalayan foothills. The indoor café below has just a few tables, but is warm and inviting with a few western-style tables and one large table with Asian-style seating (pads).

Chicken Thenthuk and Tibetan Butter Tea
The menu (see photos below) is varied and the prices reasonable. They have breakfast, Tibetan and Chinese dishes year round with Italian and Thai selections during the high season. I had Tibetan butter tea (40 rupee - 65 cents) and the chicken thenthuk (100 rupee - $1.60), a Tibetan dish of handmade noodles (long, wide, and thin, then cut into small pieces) in broth with a variety of fresh vegetables. The butter tea actually has butter in it and is slightly salty, creamy, and rich, an unusual taste that works quite well actually. The chicken thenthuk was warm, delicious, and filling, chock full of veggies and noodles, and just what I needed on a cool Fall day.

Lamb Thukpa
My friend had the mutton (lamb) thukpa, a large bowl of broth with assorted vegetables, and long noodles (that look like spaghetti), topped with fine slices of crispy lamb. Chili sauce is a condiment here and can be added to any dish, making it hot and spicy, but all the dishes I have tried are well seasoned and excellent with or without any additions.


Indoor Café
Easy to miss if you are not looking closely, Himalayan Café and Restaurant is a quiet respite from the hectic pace on the street below, offering free, fast wi-fi and a chance to unwind over a cup of coffee or tea, a light snack, or a full meal. The service is efficient, but even though their English is good, I did not feel quite as welcome as in other local restaurants.

CombatCritic Gives Himalayan Café and Restaurant 8 Bombs Out of 10 ... BOMBS ARE GOOD!






Key Words: Bhagsu Road, breakfast, café, Chinese, Dharamsala, food, Ganj, Himalayan, Himalayan Café and Restaurant, India, internet, Italian, McLeod, McLeod Ganj, menu, restaurant, Thai, tibetan, view, travel, value