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Modern Indian and Crazy Good Wine at Pukka

Sometimes I feel like bag of hammers but other times, I am the luckiest girl around. I get invited to my share of food events and menu tastings but occasionally I get to attend one that feels more like a great dinner out with fantastic wine at a place that I would happily return to every week if it were just a bit closer to me. Fellow blogger, momwhoruns, invited me to a media event to introduce items from the spring menu for a new restaurant that has been getting a lot of good buzz in the west end called Pukka. I won't call it an Indian restaurant because owners Harsh Chawala and Derek Valleau would prefer that it be known as a great restaurant that happens to serve Indian food. I understand the difference. It's not the we don't have other high end Indian restaurants, like Amaya's Indian Room which is also a favourite, but this place feels just a bit younger. I could totally see myself coming here with a big group and making lots of noise celebrating something at the massive front table. 

prosecco with pomegranate 

Derek, a sommelier himself, said that he was inspired by a visit to Vij's in Vancouver and wanted a place where you could pair great wines with the flavours of India in a warm, inviting environment. He has enlisted the talents of longtime friend, Peter Boyd (sommelier at Scaramouche since forever as well as working with most of the top level chefs in the city at some point) to create a small but diverse wine list with some really surprising choices. The guy is absolutely without pretension and doesn't make you feel like a half wit, which I am, when he is explaining the unique challenges of pairing wine to the flavours of Indian cuisine. 


It's easy enough to just throw a riesling at a curry but a Côtes du Rône? Get out of town.
He poured us a Domaine Des Lauribert  Côtes du Rône along with our main dishes and it made the food sing. Sing, I tell you!

south indian vegetable curry - look at those colours
tawa monkfish

tandoori chicken tikka with an unexpected green, herbal hue for a change of pace
The white we had with the salad and appetizers was something I have never even heard of but it's grassy smell gave way to a nice, dry, fruity taste (he later told me that it was the peach flavours that make it work exceptionally well)  that even went nicely with my salad - I don't often like to drink wine with really acid foods like salad, but this glass of '12 Gruner Vetliner, Rabl (what the hell is that? which one is the actual grape??) from Austria was perfect. As for the salad, it was one of my favourite things on the menu - bitter greens and paneer with spiced pumpkin seeds and a chili orange vinaigrette. Do you know how tasty a salad has to be to have me say that about a place serving Indian? That I loved the salad?

bitter greens and paneer

Boyd comes in one day a month and they do a wine event for a very reasonable $50 a person and I love that they warn you, right up front, that it's going to get boozy so don't drive. 

come on, fiddle heads and paneer for the love of pete

okra fries that fooled me into eating half this container

Anyway, the food, served family style to facilitate sharing,  was fabulous. I was truly overjoyed when I saw that the chefs had incorporated fiddleheads into a dish because although I am pretty sure that fiddleheads might be found in parts of Northern India but it's not something we often see on Indian menus here in Toronto. I even ate and thoroughly enjoyed their okra fries and okra is the only vegetable on earth that I generally despise. I inhaled half the order before I realized that THESE were the okra fries - crispy, not oily or slimy. I have spent my entire adult life listening to people try to convince me that they can make okra that I am going to love it and it never happens. Well, it just happened. If this place was in the east end, I would drop in at least once a week for okra fries and a glass of wine at the bar. Damn you west end. Damn you to hell.

butter chicken
The universal favourite, butter chicken, was rich and creamy with a hint of sour - it was milder than I like but it was buttery and delicious and came in a lovely little vessel. I also really enjoyed the Tawa Monkfish with it's tangy, fresh mango, tomato and red pepper sambal. It's something I could see myself eating all summer. 

To be honest, the only dish that didn't work for me was the Seared Spiced Duck Breast. Perhaps it was a hair undercooked but it was a kind of hard to cut and my table neighbour and I found it chewy and a bit too much work to eat. Out of the 8 or 9 dishes I sampled, the duck is the only thing I wouldn't order again so I think that is pretty impressive.

All in all, my only complaint would be that I would like a bit more heat in some of the dishes but I did notice that other tablemates were reaching for nan and water so they might actually be catering to the majority of people who will find it about as spicy as they can handle comfortably. The servers appeared to be attentive and knowledgeable - it was nice that the restaurant was open and functioning so that I could observe how the other diners were being treated. Often at these organized events you don't really get a feeling for the vibe of the place during a regular dinner service because they are only dealing with the invited group of people who are going to tell people about their experience so we aren't always getting the same treatment as your average customer. I also got there way too early so I got to wander around and take pictures and nose about. Everyone dining there appeared to be quite content and left with happy faces and unbuckled belts.

seared spiced duck breast wasn't my favourite but the presentation was beautiful

Desserts were better than I expected with a chocolate mousse cake packing a bit of a heat punch leading the pack. I was looking forward to the Eton Mess but I only found one tiny piece of meringue in my serving. I think that was more about the fact that they gave us a small sample of each dessert and I assume that if you order the full sized dessert, this wouldn't be a problem. The flavours were nice and fresh but keep in mind, if you don't like the flavour of oranges, you want to skip it. It's a very orangey eton mess. Carrot cake was my least favourite of the three, which is strange because I generally love carrot cake. When I eat here again, I will skip dessert and just eat more food but if are a dessert person you will find something to your liking. 

I did not manage to get any photos of dessert because by that time it was dark, I had enjoyed a few glasses of delicious wine and my camera seemed to be very far way, on the floor, in my bag. It's the sign of a good night out when I can't manage to capture any of the desserts so you can consider the lack of photos a good omen.

oh yes, I will be back

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