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Conrad Hotel - Dare to Pair with Mount Gay Rum

I recently attended a tasting dinner that featured pairing with

Mount Gay Rum

at the


restaurant in

Conrad New York

as part of their Dare to Pair series.


One hears frequently about beer, wine, and, less often, cocktails paired with food. The latter is typically not as much a harmonized menu as a table side collaboration with the mixologist/bartender (if any good). That is to say, that the cocktails are paired by the diners as they go along rather than it being a concerted effort by the chef.

In context of that, and given

1. I am not a particular fan of cocktails, except for a precious few that I slip into.

2. I prefer wine to accompany my food as I find it ever more sippable and I have a better palate for it.

3. I love rum - Mount Gay XO is one of my favorites, and, much like whisky, I tend to sip on it slowly without any accompaniment other than good company. It is my unwind spirit.

Needless to say, when I heard of this series, my curiosity was piqued. So, I went.


In a private tasting room overlooking the Hudson, the evening began "

Dark and Stormy

" and then we plunged directly into the fine tasting Mount Gay Black Barrel neatly paired with succulent oysters topped with rum jelly. This was a stunning pair and the best of the evening. A fine tip that I picked up from the national ambassador for Mount Gay was that a few drops of rum intensifies the delectability of oysters. So next time you are at an oyster bar, move over white wine, here come the gentlemen and ladies of the saloon!

Over the course of the evening, we tasted tuna tartare, pork tenderloin with freekeh falafel and finally a upside down pineapple cake paired with sazerac, XO and, finally the 1703! The cocktails were well crafted and the rum was sublime (and abundant) as you would expect from the maker. We were regaled by stories of rum making, the skills of the master blender as well as how to best enjoy the spirit.


My verdict on the food is that the components of the plates need simplifying. Spirits have a strong flavor statement and it is imperative for the food accompanying to have a solitary strong note that complements the drink. From the successes of the evening, the best pairings were those that were clean and uncomplicated. The opening course sent a strong, promising statement, which, unfortunately, got diluted by the end of the meal. The mango puree in the tartare was too sweet and would have served better, incorporated as chunks with the tuna, and, the pork plate had too many components. Given the higher sugar palate of spirits, the food need more acidity to create a magical balance.

Having said that, I applaud Conrad for, indeed, daring to pair spirits with food and showing that it could be done. It was a very enjoyable evening and I learnt a few new ways of appreciating a beautiful, smooth spirit such as rum. I look forward to what the chef has to offer as the series evolves.


For this run, they have two more in the series -

Pairing with Hudson Whiskey, which, is a brilliant locally distilled whisky - March 19

Pairing with Remy martin April 24

Tickets are $110 per person

{Disclaimer: I was invited as a guest of Conrad Hotel for this tasting dinner. All opinions expressed are my own and I have received no further remuneration for writing this article.}

{TNY} Taste New York: Bohemian, NYC

{TNY} Taste New York: Bohemian, NYC

Well, it's a PDT.. So, after a few attempts, I got through to making a reservation one fine evening this Spring. It was a lovely experience. The drinks are fantastic! The food is perfectly cooked. And, the atmosphere is intimate but not crowded. 

We opted for the tasting menu, which, well, is way too much food to go around but I still ate every bit of it, even though I was stuffed by the third course! It was that good! Through the meal, what piqued me was the reason behind the intent to keep it a PDT and make it that hard to get through. By the end of it, I realised something. And, I cannot thank them enough for their choice of policy!

Read More

Inside a Restaurant Kitchen - Lacroix, Philadelphia


When you walk into the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, you are instantly transported away into an era of understated indulgence. Oxymoron-ish as that may sound, the discreet elegance reminiscent of a bygone era is upheld in this stately hotel with notes of the European through a sumptuous English afternoon tea and an ethreal modern French dining experience at, what is, in my humble opinion, the best restaurant in the city -



Captained by a beguilingly young (only 29!!!!!) but very talented chef, Jonathan Cichon, the restaurant is a brilliant confluence of comfort served with couture. I had the fortunate experience of being served by the chef himself in a paradisaical evening of perfectly executed and stunningly plated courses accompanied by an immaculate choice of spirits. So decadent was the gastronomy that I returned the very next day for a very long and leisurely Sunday brunch. Oh! And, a note about the brunch, the spread runs through the restaurant

and the kitchen

! And, the staff are more than friendly to have a bit of banter with.

This restaurant is indeed on par with the best in New York. If you are looking for an excuse to visit Philly, this one will provide ample amounts of it!

{This is a photo heavy post.}


Executive Chef Jon

The Kitchen
Baby Heirloom and Morell
Doug - plating octopus, main service
Jon - crab course
Octopus plated
DSC_0656-1 copy
Meat Station
Chris & Adam

A little sweet and a little savory...

Cracked Pepper and Parmesan Crackers1

Soo.. How was everyone's first weekend of 2011? Mine has been relaxing, peaceful, catching up with friends... that sort of thing. :) I think, indeed the perfect weekend for me!

I watched the movie, True Grit. I was pleasantly surprised by it, especially, since I was completely baffled by the Coen brothers' previous production, No Country For Old Men! Jeff Bridges rocks as usual and Matt Damon gives a dependable performance. But, the true star of the movie is Hailee Steinfeld, who delivers an impeccable performance as a determined and tad headstrong 14 year old!

On the note of Jeff Bridges, also watched Tron: Legacy. Bridges was good as usual but the movie felt two years too late in graphics and effects. After Avatar and Iron Man, I have just come to expect a lot more in the next generation movies... too much, you think?

Fruit Cake

New Year resolutions? I plan on eating and staying healthy, getting more exercise and eating more fruits and trying real hard to keep my metabolism from spiralling downward, now that I have crossed the psychological and physiological age mark! :)

On a related note, I think a PlayStation or Wii would be a good investment. NYE showed that these games are a whole lot of fun while making for a fantastic work out, not to mention, keeping the competitive spirit throbbing. It does help the confidence and enthusiasm when you are kicking ass!! :D

Places to eat: Spice Market. Funky ambiance with really interesting lighting fixtures and even more interesting (read: backless, but in a nice way, not at all suggestive!) waitress's outfits. Food was good and of course my company made it all tick! :) It was a girls' night out and a total blast! :)

Cracked Pepper and Parmesan Crackers close

Now, coming to this blog, I wanted to start the year by bringing you a little bit of sweet along with a little bit of savory, an yin and yang for the palette. Start a leisurely evening by nibbling on these Parmesan and Cracked Pepper Shortbread and end the evening by indulging in a rich Fruit Cake with a White Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting & Fresh Raspberries....

A good combination for the shortbread, which has a bite to it (from the Tellicheri peppercorns), is a borderline sweet Cherry Tomato and Cranberry Chutney that I made over the summer from the produce from the local farms. The light sweetness balances the pepper's spice in shortbread. The cookie itself is buttery and rich.. :)

The Fruit Cake I share here is a family recipe from one of my friends. This cake is typically made during Christmas but it is apt for any special occasion, such as the start of a new year! :) In Kerala and Tamil Nadu during Christmas, bakeries are filled with the tantalising aromas of caramel and rich dried fruits which go into the making of this deceptively decadent Fruit Cake, which also goes by the name of Plum Cake.

Fruit Cake slice

So, that's from me. What are your plans and goals for this year ?

Parmesan and Cracked Pepper Shortbread

1 cup flour
7 T butter, room temperature
2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
3/4 cup fresh grated parmesan (you can add more for added flavor)
1 tsp salt

Whisk together the butter, salt and pepper until well mixed. You can do this using a hand whisk. Slowly sift in the flour and continue mixing into the butter. Add parmesan and mix. Shape the dough in a flat disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes until just firm.

Roll out the dough to 1/3 inch thickness on a floured surface. Cut out 2 inch circles using a cookie cutter. Bake the shortbread at 350F for 10 minutes. Rotate the tray 180 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes until light golden in color.

Celebration Fruit Cake with White Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting & Fresh Raspberries
{One 8 inch cake}

Fruit Cake
{Recipe courtesy: Mathew Family}

250 g all purpose flour
250 g sugar
250 g butter, room temperature
6 eggs, separated
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup of brandied dried fruits (recipe below)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla paste
1/2 tsp salt
2 - 3 T liquid caramel

White Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting:

125 g mascarpone
125 g white chocolate
5 tsp whole milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
5-6 Raspberries

Melt the white chocolate in the milk over a double boiler. Set aside to cool. Transfer to the fridge for an hour. Mix in the cooled chocolate to mascarpone to make a creamy mixture. Fold in the nutmeg. Set aside until the cake is ready.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and beat to mix well. Mix in the vanilla paste Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the yolk mixture. Drizzle in the caramel and mix well and set aside.

Beat the whites to stiff peaks. Fold a third of the beaten whites to the flour mixture to loosen it. Add the rest of the whites and gently fold into the flour mixture. Stop as soon you don’t see any white streaks. Gently fold in the nuts and brandied fruits.

Transfer to a oiled and lined 8 inch spring form pan and bake at 350 F (180 C) for 45 minutes until the cake is set and passes the toothpick test. Cool on rack for 10 minutes in the pan. Release the cake from the pan and cool to room temperature.

When the cake is completely cooled, spread a thick layer of the white chocolate and mascarpone frosting over the top of the cake. Decorate with fresh raspberries.

Eating New Orleans

August - Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche at August

NOLA, oh NOLA! :) Blissful times! We went there for the sole reason of "pigging" out. I guess I could have used the more elegant term "Culinary Vacation" but I am not going to be shy here. Five joyous days of indulgence in the cuisine of the region; creole to French and back, is not something to be coy about at all!

New Orleans has been on our list of places to visit for a very long time, ever since, we were first acquainted with the rich history of the areas cuisine. Food Network then brought us Emeril and John Besh and dreams were visited and plans were plotted. This Thanksgiving was the time for the plunge and thankful were we that we got experience some of the best highs, culinarily speaking!

Left: New Orleans Museum; Right: At the Old French Market

Along the Bayou
Houses along the Bayou

That is not to say that we did not take in the place in any other way. Frommers recommended three walking tours through different parts of the city - French Quarter, Esplanade and Garden District. We really liked strolling through the rich Garden district neighbourhood, in complete awe of the palatial houses, including the one the Manning brothers played in.

Vibrant Colors of the region
At the French Market

The Esplanade area was richer in architectural history with gorgeous houses, albeit not always in the best condition. It also plays host to a lovely little Spanish restaurant, Lola's that dishes out simple and flavorful Spanish creations. The paella is fragrant and so good! And, if you are there, don't miss the nougat ice cream!

The historic French Quarter, perhaps, is the most visited part of the city, by most tourists. However, it's hold on us, teetotallers, was rather tenuous, except for one strong link to the place that we re-visited oh! so many, many times; Cafe du Monde! Here, I tasted coffee like home. Chicory coffee, people! It just rocks my world! And, of course the beignets under mountains of powdered sugar just pairs beautifully with that rich, flavorful coffee! We began and ended our days, and a few times in between, with stops by this 24 hour coffee shop.

Cafe du Monde - Beignets and Chicory coffee
Coffee and Beignets at Cafe du Monde

New Orleans cuisine has many elements to it. And, the best part about it is that the best the city has to offer is accessible to every wallet in town. We dined at big name restaurants and small local ones. In the end, we felt that the big name ones offered much higher value, especially since many of them have a simply fantastic deal of $20 pre-fixe 3 course lunch!

My personal favorite was John Besh's restaurant, August. He is known for the use of seasonal and local ingredients in his cooking. After dining there, we were just blown away by the creativity and elegance of his dishes. I, for one, am really hoping that he has near-term plans for opening a restaurant in NYC! {Mr. Besh, you listening?}

Appetizers at August. Left: Duck Confit Salad; Right: Pork Rilletes

Entrees at August. Left: Brandade de Mer Ravioli; Right: Veal Grillades

Of course, no one can leave NOLA without a stop at atleast one of the Brennan restaurants. I was simply amazed at how many there were! We ate at two and both were simply awesome.

All in all, it was a fantastic stay in the city, despite being surprised by an unplanned-for cold front and a couple of rainy days! :) It just added to the spirit of it all... :))

Left: Dessert at August, Butterscotch Pudding with Apples 3 ways. Right: Dessert at Sucre

Recommended Restaurants

Bourbon House
Palace Cafe
Red Fish Grill
Mother's (awesome biscuits)

NO Tram
New Orleans Tram

Share your creations tagging @ashafsk on Instagram and hashtag #MadeFromFSK