Tête-à-tête with the diva of Diva, Ritu Dalmia: Parte Seconde

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To bold Italian flavors and overheard conversations!
Yesterday, the first in our two-part series on Ritu Dalmia explored the life of the Indian restaurateur and chef, who might I add is also a raging businesswoman and delightful cookery show host. Indian Accent is excellent and the capital’s latest crop of women-chef driven restaurants may just owe a fair share of its success to Dalmia’s influence, for reasons other than where she’s ahead of her time and sparking the trend – is what I largely discover in this segment. And then there’s that lesson in vanilla extraction.

Course #4: Fresh Tortelli bundles filled with herbed Goat Cheese, tossed in Butter and Artichokes
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When it comes to butter, all restraint is forgotten. (And color even.) But this is comfort food of the best kind. And the goat cheese filling makes this dish a dead ringer for the phrase ‘bundles of joy’. It’s an easy out for a chef though, ladling over butter, Dalmia explains – like adding booming sound to a dramatic film scene – but I can tell this is no form of confession. Almost as if on cue, I start rambling about English cookery queen Nigella’s preachings by way of distracting myself from notorious subjects like calorie count and prepping for a very buttery food comma. “How’re you feeling?” And I snap back certain I’ve already slipped. “Would you like to try something else?” That is probably the mother hen in her speaking and I decide to make the most of her effusive warmth as she also announces she’d soon be leaving. “But I do have one last question.”

Valuable lesson in vanilla
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“Where do I find vanilla extract in Delhi,” I begin…”Khan Market, INA, so many places,” she says. Now I’m a little perplexed. I don’t think I missed a spot when I searched and yet. She signals Hitesh Doultani, Manager at Diva to bring out the pods. With a pair of scissors, she snips one open while I’m still wondering, ‘but what about the extract’ and scrapes the small, sticky vanilla seeds right off. So all those looking for a bottled version, like me, there’s your extract, thank you very much. And it’s the real deal unlike the lush Nigella-endorsed liquid; you have Ritu Dalmia’s word.

Course #5: Italian style Pumpkin and Taleggio soufflé, with creamy cheese sauce and toasted nuts
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Is as simple as it sounds and yet, it isn’t. Because while there’s the obvious play of soft-crunchy textures, there are two kinds of smooth and nutty comes bitter AND sweet. Let’s start with the first- a firm soufflé form that won’t collapse till your last bite is every bit the savory success when glazed with the cheese sauce, that occupies a generous swoosh on the plate. Emphasis on ‘generous’ as the sauce is key to keeping the soufflé moist. And the nuts are a toasted mix of walnuts and pine. It is this exact kind of deconstructing that got Dalmia giving me different ways to do a rocket-strawberry salad. Her outpost at the members-only Italian Cultural Centre is where I’d discovered that leafy gem and the café is a spectacular place to do a quiet, casual meal Diva-style.

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Not that any of her other establishments lack that relaxed air. After she ordered my dessert for me, a combination of two from the menu actually (I was suffering from diner’s dilemma), she got up to leave. But instead of sitting down again after saying goodbye, I got a good look at the restaurant’s walk-in see-through wine cellar, which incidentally shares its upper level spot with a selection of books on the staircase shelf. Getting my share of the peaceful first floor that is usually only open for dinner, I went back to my suddenly less likeable corner table.

Course #6: Dessert platter with Dark Chocolate Marquise & nut brittle, Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Gelato and Beetroot Balsamic Gelato
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First, a marriage of mousse and cake comes into its own as a dark chocolate dessert of first magnitude on a nut brittle disk. Then the pumpkin pie does what you’d (or I’d) never think- taste good. Dalmia did say we should expect to see a lot of pumpkin in her preparations but what I didn’t imagine was that it would manifest itself first into a pie and then an ice cream. Which also brings us to beetroot, or rather should. For the versatile root made for wonderful sorbet-esque endings, with tart balsamic reduction breaking the sweetness in ways I’d never imagined. My palate was like a battleground for sweet icy beet and vinegar, which I constantly kept dousing with the creamy pumpkin counterpart when the jolts got too much to bear.

“Coffee?” The server asked when I’d just finished. This Italian tradition of concluding a meal with coffee makes its Dalmia-instated appearances at all her establishments, with the only exception of cappuccino being acceptable to suit the majority of non espresso friendly Indians. I politely declined wanting to let the last of the desserts’ iciness linger and thought back to the one question I’d always wanted to ask.

“Any particular reason why you chose this name?”
“Look at me! I’m a Diva,” she exclaimed.
And I felt I had the right to believe that.

Where

Diva – The Italian Restaurant
M Block Market, Greater Kailash- 2, New Delhi

Ritu Dalmia’s restaurant chain also includes the quaint Café Diva in Greater Kailash- 1, Diva Piccola in Hauz Khas Village, The Café at Italian Cultural Centre (ICC), Latitude 28 in collaboration with Good Earth, at Khan Market and Diva Kitsch in Defence Colony.

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