Sunday, November 2, 2014

A casual birthday celebration goes wrong at Pondicheri in Houston, TX

Where to take a special relative for a belated birthday celebration on a Sunday night? Answer: Wherever she chooses! Hence we dined at Pondicheri as it is located near the office of my dear cousin Marilyn Vilandos who is a very hard working Houston attorney with little spare time. Although I would have preferred a more upscale setting, I acquiesced since Pondicheri offers “table service” at dinner. I am not one to highlight negative dining experiences, for the most part I try not to say anything at all until I give the restaurant a second chance. Truth be told I've been to Pondicheri thrice before and it's been acceptable, although never stellar.  

Tell tale signs were in abundance as our dining experience got underway. Owner Anita Jaisinghani was at the front of the house as we entered. It is usually reassuring to see an owner on the premises, but Ms. Jaisinghani was not up to playing the role of hospitable restaurant owner. There was no sign of acknowledgement, greeting or even a smile from her on this particular evening. I found this a bit disappointing.

Our server seemed very blasé about our encounter as he mumbled the one special of the evening. Upon quickly delivering our hot Chai, I had to flag him down for a form of sweetener, as there was none on the table. There were no spoons in the utensil holder that I believe should only have a place on the table during breakfast or lunch when table service is not offered. 

We ordered papdi chaat and saag paneer samosas as starters. The chaat was average at best, but the samosas were a real disappointment, as the dough was not cooked through. It was literally elastic and raw on the inside as I cut through it. 

Rancher Thali
For dinner I ordered the “Rancher” thali with butter chicken, sayel lamb, smoked eggplant, kachumber, tumeric rice and naan bread. I also ordered paratha with yogurt and pickle.

There was a ridiculous lack of chicken and lamb on my thali, all told I would estimate it did not surpass 2-3 ounces, the sauce on the butter chicken was passable but the sayel lamb was quite watery. The smoked eggplant, kachumber, rice and naan were acceptable. The purpose of a thali is to experience multiple dishes but as you can see from my one photo of the evening, the portions are severely anemic. As a bonus there was a thimble of something resembling rice pudding, I refrain from calling it Kheer, because it was gelatinous and hard, as if it had been sitting on a refrigerator shelf for a long long time. The paratha was apparently made of potato, although there was no mention of potato on the menu. 

Marilyn chose an unremarkable dosa filled with eggplant and keema. Needless to say, we did not stay for dessert. It is disappointing when a special evening is impacted by poor service and inferior food. 

Coconut Cream Pie
Luckily we made the best of it by laughing it off and going to Del Frisco’s Grille for dessert where we ordered the most sublime coconut cream pie! The portion size should be outlawed and is large enough to feed at least three. It just goes to prove that all you really need to make an evening a success is good company! 

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