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A lot to crow about

Restaurants in the city have come up with an exciting menu for the Chinese New Year

Pic by S. R. Raghunathan

Fascinating fare... at Orient Pearl, GRT Grand.

FORTUNE COOKIES are as good a place to start as any, especially considering we're at the threshold of the spring festival. Or (for those of you who hiccupped your way into 2005 and are waiting for an excuse to celebrate again), the beginning of the Chinese New Year. The year of the Rooster. At the Oriental Pearl at GRT Grand - a restaurant that clearly believes in wooing lady luck judging by the number of Feng Shui bamboo fans and plants they own - the fortune cookies are a highlight of the meal.

Now fortunes as a rule tend to be cryptic, and their edible counterparts are no different. The last cookie I read, for instance, said, "Constant grinding can turn an iron rod into a needle." Fortunately, the GRT cookies aren't quite as philosophical. My crumbly friend said (and I'm not making this up) `Wow, you could charm the socks off anyone. So go for it.' Now that's what I call an honest cookie.

So, of course, the Oriental Pearl gets a good review.

But seriously, their line up for the Chinese New Year's pretty fascinating, since it features a blend of traditional Chinese dishes and cooking techniques and popular Indo-Chinese spices. So, while the food is unfamiliar enough to justify eating out (you really don't want to hear your grandmother go `But I can make this at home' all through dinner do you?), it's still got the required zing and smoke that all good desis require for a truly memorable dinner.

Our meal began with a Cheng Do Crab, which is soft shelled crab slathered in spicy, roasted chilly sauce and fried to a crisp. The fiery crab was accompanied by a rather unusual vegetarian starter — crisp buttery corn kernels tossed with shredded onions and flakes of red chillies. Crunchy outside and sticky inside, they went brilliantly with a flamboyant sauce served with the chicken, which had been parboiled, wrapped in silver foil with vegetables and then fried.

Skip the soup. The crab in the `asparagus crab meat soup' is rather overpowering and the Cantonese long soup looks like the Kerala backwaters, afloat with all kinds of unfamiliar weeds. (Though, if you're into mysterious greens lovingly intertwined with stringy bean thread, you might enjoy this.)

However, the meal bounces back with the stir fried prawns, which are an interesting combination of soft, steaming prawns coated in soya sauce, generous handfuls of crisp rice flakes and a sprinkling of aromatic chopped leeks, and the zima chicken, which is smeared with chilly sesame onion sauce. Their zucchini pickled chilli, however, is a rather washed out collection of ostensibly steamed vegetables. The maitre de suggested we eat it with the red chillies. Ten glasses of water later, we figured, he probably just didn't like us.

So much for the fortune cookie!

Do try their fragrant basil fried rice and wholesome buckwheat noodles though. The desserts are ok, so even if you have no space left, you'll live.

Meanwhile, the Taj Coromandel's Golden Dragon (55002827) is also getting ready for the New Year, and the accompanying festivities, all of which will begin on February 9, the first of the traditional 15 days of celebrations.

At Chinatown, (28112246) which promises to serve four special dishes, and complimentary starters for the New Year, the Chef will be preparing pao, a fluffy steamed and stuffed Chinese bread, for the occasion. Chin Chin at The Residency (28253434) intends to celebrate with a sea food festival featuring Chinese styled fish, crab, lobsters and prawns. For those of you who believe in sweet endings, this festival, which is on from February 9- 20, will feature Kelemag, a traditional Chinese dessert of toffee carrots topped with ice cream.

And Mainland China's (28238345) attempt to rule the roost involves lots of chicken as part of their "Rooster Delights" festival, including Beggar's Chicken, which takes 12 hours to prepare and a unique Tangerine Peel Chicken.

So, it sure looks like there'll be a lot to crow about this year.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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