Tavern Grill – The Crème de la Crème

One thing that has become quite common in Karachi is the sudden surfacing of restaurants serving mundane burgers and fries/steaks, Mexican and similar dishes. Every now and then there’s a new burger joint opened there, sandwich place here, or steak located around the corner. When one has so many choices to choose from, in order to survive, not only does the quality have to surpass that of its competitors, but so must the customer service. Nowadays, certain places miss the mark based on various factors; maybe the quality of service isn’t what you would expect from a new place; or the picture you saw of a dish on their Facebook page is clearly NOT what you have in front of you in your plate; or maybe the small plate of ‘barely visible’ pasta is exorbitantly expensive. What ever the reason for your dissatisfaction and resenting taking the decision to visit that specific establishment, when you DO find a place which meets the mark in this smorgasbord [pronounced “sch-mor-gaz-bord” – a metaphor used to indicate any diverse group; synonymous with a vast array of possible choices] of restaurant options, you feel ecstatic and gastronomically awakened!

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Situated at a prime location, Tavern Grill greets you with a welcoming entrance and staff, escorting you up a spacious wooden staircase. Playing, is a selection of excellent music from an era devoted to worthwhile and meaningful compositions, rather than just a catchy tunes with nonsensical words, which is almost everywhere; and in my opinion, is simply noise, nothing more. The menu is diverse in nature, ranging from burgers to steaks, Mexican to Italian, and places in between. However, the vital point to note, which makes Tavern’s wide array different from others who do the same, is that the dishes are competently created and consistently cooked; a rare feature to see.

The owner, Mr. Zubair Dossal, is always present, to not only greet his customers personally at their tables, but also to keep a watchful eye on the quality of food and staff. This courteous host reveals a quality and element many restaurants have been missing; that of care and concern regarding the customer’s needs and satisfaction, not just the monetary benefit hoping to be gained from opening up a restaurant.

For the starters/appetizers, the Tavern platter and Buffalo wings were ordered.

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The platter had various fried items such as thick onion rings, with crunchy onions coated in medium brown batter; and mozzarella sticks, with cheesy and stringy mozzarella, battered and fried; jalapeño poppers, large jalapenos stuffed with shredded chicken and cheesy sauce. Last, but definitely not least, my favourite from the platter; the fried calamari! 20150912_180248

But not the typical calamari you would expect to find at other places; no, the rings of calamari were moist and broke off from a single bite rather than attempting to saw through it with your teeth because it’s rubbery and overcooked. All these were accompanied with delicious sauces to mix and match with.

20150912_180304The Buffalo wings were also deep-fried and tossed in a buffalo hot sauce which was a combination of Frank’s Red Hot sauce and Tavern’s special twist to shake it up a bit. The sauce was not like the typical hot sauces found in Pakistan, which is really just Tabasco and painful to eat in large quantities or excess amount. This sauce had a balance of flavour which, if you’ve ever had Buffalo wings in America/Canada, etc., you would know exactly what the flavour should taste like; and eating these wings brought back feelings of nostalgia and happiness with each bite! The sauce made you nose tingle in delight when you smelled the wings; a blend of tangy and spicy making you crave more! In order to cool it down and balance the heat, it was accompanied with sour cream and fries.

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For those who have had the Roasters’ burger, the burgers at Tavern will give Roasters a run for their money! Tavern’s burgers are quite large in size, which will have you struggling to determine an action plan and figure out, not only where to begin, but how?

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NOTE: the orange-ish liquid at the bottom is NOT oil; it is the hot sauce that the fried chicken breast was smothered in! DELICIOUS!

Though I personally enjoy beef burgers far more than those with chicken, primarily for the reason that many people cannot cook chicken properly; and by ‘properly’ I mean that the chicken is either, completely overcooked and dry, or, in fear of overcooking it, it is raw; I may switch over to eating chicken burgers instead of beef purely based on the burgers at Tavern Grill! After inquiring from Mr. Dossal as to the method of preparing and frying the chicken burgers, I was informed that Tavern Grill individually weighs and assesses the cooking time for each chicken breast, which was a pleasant surprise!

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The burger had fresh and soft buns, a large chicken breast which wasn’t overcooked and perfectly juicy in the center, battered and deep-fried, then smothered in the same hot sauce used for the Buffalo wings.

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An Up-Close look at the Beautiful Behemoth of a burger I had! =D NOTE: the orange-ish liquid at the bottom is NOT oil; it is the hot sauce that the fried chicken breast was smothered in! DELICIOUS!

Complementing the succulent chicken breast in the burger bun were crunchy onions, crispy lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, pickled jalapeños and cheese melting off the sides. YUM! Not to mention, golden and crispy fries with delicious coleslaw.

Finally, for dessert, I tried a slice of their popular Mud cake. The size of the slice of cake was also just as generous as the burger I just had, instead of a sliver, which most places serve; it was moist, soft and decadent without being exceedingly sweet; poured on top was a thick chocolate sauce. Heaven!

[Unfortunately, I was too engulfed in its richness and deliciousness to take a picture; however, next time I visit Tavern Grill, I will be sure to take a picture of the cake slice!]

What else can a person ask for in a restaurant other than hospitality, genuine concern for the quality of your food and experience; value for money; and to have no feelings of regret or discontent when the bill arrives at your table? To find a place which has not only rekindled the flickering gastronomical fires in the customers who visit, but also in the dead embers of the culinary realm in Karachi, Tavern Grill has become a new favorite amongst many, including myself! It is highly recommended!

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One last up-close look at the Burger before ending this Post!

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Lasagna with a Twist – Urban Chef

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Chicken Lasagna with a slice removed. Layers of delicious-ness!

 

Traditional lasagna always varies from maker to maker; no two lasagnas are ever the same. However with the pressure of making lasagna that is well-balanced, also comes the pressure of competing with flavors of those tasted earlier.

Though I love all kinds of food, lasagna is one of my favorites and I rarely come across one that I can speak highly about. Thus, the curiosity as to the flavor and technique led me to order the (Barbeque) Chicken lasagna from the Urban Chef, which was accompanied with a 300g sample of dahi baray [a dish consisting of balls made from ground lentils, which are deep-fried and served in a chilled, thick, sweetened whisked yogurt sauce]. The lasagna was placed in an aluminum rectangular container, which boxed up in a cardboard box of a slight larger size with the logo of the Urban Chef on top. The lasagna, to my surprise, was hot in temperature as if I had taken a few minutes to let the lasagna sit subsequent to taking it out fresh from the oven.

 

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The boxes the lasagnas came in.

The sample of dahi baray was wonderful! The yogurt liquid in which the dahi baray themselves floated in was not exceedingly sweet; the dahi baray had soaked up a sufficient amount of the liquid whilst resting in it, but not so much that they broke apart. They maintained their shape, but at the same time, were moist, and not dry. In this scorching and unforgiving heat, this was just the pick-me-up needed. It was light, fresh, cool, and refreshing. I enjoyed every spoonful, from start to finish! At the end, I wished that I had some more!

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Dahi Baray. Yum!

Now let’s move on to the pièce de résistance, the star of the show… the lasagna! Immediately after opening the cover of the container, with regards to the elements everyone looks for in any lasagna, one box was check marked, right from the get-go, the cheese layered on top. The sections of melted, lightly golden brown and crusty cheese were browned in such a way that each slice to be cut would get a taste of the beautifully baked cheese. In every lasagna, people struggle and, at times, nearly combat one another for the edges. And the edges in said lasagna were just that; lightly browned, just like the layer of cheese, but due to the moisture being removed whilst baking, the edges were thus, slightly crunchy.

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Check out that gorgeous lasagna with the beautifully browned cheese here and there. YUMMMMMMMM

When cut into, the knife easily went through the obvious layers within with little resistance, which made clear that the pasta sheets were not overcooked to the point of turning into complete baby food. Then the time to see Urban Chef’s masterpiece in the form of a slice clearly revealed layers of lasagna pasta sheets; roughly chopped, almost cubed, pieces of chicken with a slightly red marinade that seeped deep into the meat, béchamel and cheese. The chicken chunks were clearly marinated in advance based on how deep the color went. It was a unique lasagna; not your everyday, traditional lasagna. It was one that I have never seen before, a Barbeque Chicken Tikka lasagna. When one thinks of types of lasagnas and their variations, the most that come to mind are changes ranging from meats, to purely vegetarian, and now a new culinary trend of ‘dessert’ lasagnas. And when I initially heard the title of the lasagna, immediately what came to mind were the flavours of a standard barbequed, overcooked and dried piece of chicken; however, the flavour was only ‘tikka’ so much as the intensity of spice and flavour. I would like to point out that I enjoy spicy food but not to the extent as the way it is cooked nowadays wherein there is little to no balance and mostly just red chili powder to the point where the dish is nearly inedible. The chicken in the lasagna was spicy, but not exceedingly spicy; it had that nice ‘kick’ to it and was balanced with the béchamel and cheese so that it was ‘turned down’ a little. The mix of all the components of this lasagna were perfect and in harmony.

I admire the Urban Chef’s creative spin on a classic and did not anticipate such creativity and triumph, especially with the word ‘tikka’ in the title, but it was definitely worth the gamble!

I enjoyed the lasagna and the dahi baray very much; so much so that whilst writing this review, my stomach is growling for more. Come Saturday, Urban Chef can expect to get another order from me for this lasagna!

If you enjoy lasagna and/or spicy food which is unique, then this creation from the Urban Chef should definitely be on your list!

For the Love of Cakes!

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Two-textured chocolate cake with the Opeth Logo on top

 

 

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and am more of a savory food-lover; however, I do love a good dessert every once in a blue moon. I am in favour and support of small & local businesses, rather than the large franchises, chains, etc. My opinion is that the little guy deserves a fighting chance against such colossal establishments. Therefore, you’ll see that the places I taste, test & evaluate when I want to munch on something for myself, or in the event of certain special occasions, are those of the home cooks who create masterpieces out of their residential kitchens and sell them and depend on word of mouth/social media. You never know the gems you uncover when you take such risks; and THAT is how it all begins and how most of my gastronomic decisions are made.

 

The month of May has been quite an eventful month; trying out as many new places that have popped up as my bank account would allow; each week more unique than the last. This post will be focused primarily on the cakes I have tested and tasted in the past one month; ranging from moist red velvet with cream cheese frosting, to two textured chocolate cake, and a tangy, tart and sweet and surprise in a, what seemed to be, chocolate cake. Oh, the diverse range I was lucky enough to try made this month very exciting and, dare I say, ‘fruitful’ (though there were little fruits consumed), not only for myself, but also the food enthusiasts, followers and friends I have.

 

The cake expedition was set off by two special and important upcoming days; Mother’s Day and a very treasured friend’s birthday, both a few days apart. It was decided months in advance that the small birthday celebration would take place on the Sunday, i.e., the 10th of May, prior to the actual birthday; and, at the moment of deciding that, Mother’s Day completely slipped my mind. As a lawyer, foodie and host of both events, you can imagine how hectic the two weeks prior to the May 10th weekend, and the day itself, must have been.

 

Whilst looking for cakes as special as the person for whom, in my eyes, should be celebrated on Mother’s Day, I stumbled upon a page on social media where the designs of the cakes were prepared with pure artistry by ‘Absolutely Caked’. Now, I know that when a dish/item is created, it is always intended to be ‘art’ in some form; however, this particular page caught my eye with the intricate details and in the hand-painted illustrations on fondant discs which were placed on the cakes ordered. In addition to that, there were also the hand-crafted stunning gum paste flowers which were indistinguishably similar to their real counterparts; from one bloomed rose on top, to entire branches of cherry blossoms wrapping around the cake.

 

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Mother’s Day Cake with a hand-crafted gum paste Calla Lily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With clever names and flavours which I have seldom heard of, I chose the ‘Marie Antoinette Guillotine’ cake, based partly because I am a history buff and because the combination seemed quite intriguing. Furthermore, I also requested that a Calla Lily be crafted and provided a picture from the internet of a beautiful white & purple Calla Lily which started at the bottom the petals, near the stem as deep eggplant purple and slowly faded and turned to a soft egg shell white, which was to be placed atop the cake.

I was flabbergasted with the impeccable detailing in the Calla Lily, which was almost an exact replication of the image I sent. When the cake was cut in to, there was a precise ratio of the elements inside; a soft vanilla sponge with a layer of tangy lemon curd sandwiched in between, covered with a nearly half-inch thick layer of chocolate ganache. If the chocolate was to be eaten on its own, it would be far too rich, however, there was such a sublime balance of tangy, sweet and tart. Delicious! Though the size of the cake compared to the price was a bit small compared to others I have tried, it is definitely a cake on which you wouldn’t mind spending a little extra money for special occasions and/or people.

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Marie Antoinette Guillotine Cake

For the next day, I chose another at-home baker, ‘Kakes by Karimi’, who would make a cake and half a dozen cupcakes for my friend’s birthday. When asked for a suggestion as to a delectable cake, I was requested to try their ‘two-textured’ chocolate cake which was a chocolate cake and chocolate frosting, but the modification which made this specific cake special was in the perfectly tempered chocolate disk in between. The cupcakes were red velvet with cream cheese frosting; and the designs for the cake and cupcakes were of awe-inspiring, amazing and famous band logos. For all you metal heads, you must not be strangers to the following bands & logos; the cake had a logo of ‘Opeth’, and the six cupcakes had the logos of ‘Tool’, ‘Megadeth’, ‘Dream Theater’, ‘Pink Floyd’, ‘Rush’ & ‘Iron Maiden’. Because I was very specific about the detailing of the logos, they were printed on paper and then placed on the fondant, which were removed at the time of consumption. Though I would have liked it to be edible, in order to avoid disappointment, the logos were printed as mentioned above, which I didn’t mind at all once I looked at the finished products.

 

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Opeth ❤

 

The cake was outstanding and one that chocolate lovers would approve of; the chocolate tempered disk snapped perfectly as the knife cut down towards the bottom of the cake. The cake didn’t even live to see the next day!

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The cupcakes looked just as marvelous with the logos printed in the same manner on fondant rectangles and rested gently on the cream cheese frosting.

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The Perfect Birthday for a Metal Head! \m/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because the cake was so delightful, I had high expectations from the red velvet cupcakes. They were soft, and the icing smooth; however, with regards to the overall sweetness, there was much left to be desired. At the time of deciding flavours, I was told that the red velvet with cream cheese frosting is slightly different than those sold in the market and not as sweet, but I didn’t anticipate that it would as less as the ones received. If I do place an order for cupcakes or cakes in that flavour again, I will definitely request to make it a teeny bit sweeter. That being said, I enjoyed it all, as did my friends, however, if there was a winner, the cake surpassed my expectations and was the clear champion!

 

Last, but definitely not least, was a cake ordered from ‘MSA Bake Away’, whose story begins about two months earlier, at the end of March for an anniversary in the family. A 3-LB red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting was chosen and the design was also provided. On the face of it, it was beautiful and tall; once it was cut into, the layers of red velvet sponge were, as the name suggests, velvety smooth and easy to cut through; with the knife sliding through the layers with cream cheese frosting in between holding it together and a generous layer on the outside; how overwhelmingly wonderful!

 

 

3lb red velvet cake for an anniversary in the family in March

3lb red velvet cake for an anniversary in the family in March

 

Going back to the opening statement made in this post, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but that cake lingered in my mind for nearly two months and I began craving it! Such an addictive, delicious and moist red velvet cake, with a generous amount of cream cheese frosting, at such an economical rate was hard to come by; quality, quantity AND easy on the wallet!

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The cake ordered in May – 2lbs of red velvet and cream cheese frosting!

 

In the third week of May, I called MSA Bake Away again and ordered a smaller, 2-LB red velvet cake which I requested be identical in every way possible to the one provided in March. The cake was fabulous & brought me back to the astonished feeling I had subsequent to my first bite the same in March! The sponge, just as soft and moist; the cream cheese frosting, just as abundantly coating the cake itself; the flavour, unchanged and consistent to the one that made me fall in love a few months earlier; and the price, still reasonable and realistic. MSA Bake Away has gained a loyal customer who is now going to attempt to slowly try as much off the list of items made based on the consistent and trustworthy quality of the past two cakes.

 

A slice of the cake from May

A slice of the cake from May

 

 

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nom nom nom!

 

If cakes and desserts are the ‘food group’ you prefer, then these three definitely be up your alley! The generic and common desserts made from large bakeries on every corner lack a few important things which the aforementioned home cooks have provided in every bite; love, time and creativity. Creative, artistic, practical and can make a person who doesn’t eat many desserts fall in love and crave them.

Highly recommended and encouraged!