Mia Cucina (Powai, Mumbai)

I had some vague notion that Mia Cucina in Powai was the place for genuine, simple Italian food, “Nonna’s food” if you will. I checked my diary and I had visited the restaurant over 2 years ago – I had made no notes on that occasion though. I showed up late on a busy Saturday evening without reservation.

If I was running a restaurant, I wouldn’t allow bedraggled, eternal chancers like myself to enter a restaurant on a busy Saturday service without even the decorum to make a reservation. As anyone who’s worked in the industry knows, Saturday evening plays host to the worst Neanderthal “bridge and tunnel” crowd. This is the crowd that is happy to tolerate worse service (being the busiest day of the week), worse cooking (chefs are usually stressed) and for whom the dinner is just a starter to the evening’s entertainment (theatre, bar or concert).

They managed to find us a small booth next to the door.
The wallpaper is peeling off the ceiling, the menu card is dirty (a pet dislike) and the staff is of the “rush ‘em in, rush ‘em out” mentality. Rather bizarrely, there’s some Marks & Spencer tin on the wall by our table and an eclectic  mixture of popular music (Wham, Beatles etc) coming through over the PA. However the ambience is reasonable overall, the lighting is dim but not excessive (c.f Dans Le Noir) and the wooden lines easy on the eye, if not a little jaded.

I was amazed to see Suppli on the menu. A little current of excitement ran through me recalling those hot balls of leftover risotto, oozing with mozzarella, being served out of Rome’s pizza takeaways late at night. I think this is what Italians understand more than anyone else: carbs. There’s a reason Italian people are some of the happiest; it’s because if you eat a big bowl of pasta, hunks of white bread or risotto twice a day, all of life problems seem infinitely more manageable. That’s the problem with these modern low-carb diets, people become so depressed eating protein all day, every day. For heaven’s sake, have a bowl of pasta you desperate struggling, pear-shaped, Andheri-dwelling actress trying to fit in that size zero dress because Raj, your “director” / part time FWB, wants you for a new “item” (Indian code for sexy) scene.

“What kind of carbs are these?”

I was confused by what kind of risotto was being used in the Suppli. Normally one should be able to make out the individual grains of aborrio rice in Suppli, but instead some other inferior mush was substituted in. The taste was passable, but I can’t say I have ever eaten perfectly circular Suppli before. It infuriates me to see restaurants trying to pass off ersatz versions of food for the genuine article.

Now onto Nonna’s special: Pasta al Pomodoro. When done well there is nothing better. There are about 5 ingredients to an amazing tomato sauce: the best plum tomatoes you can find, garlic, olive oil, salt and basil.
I recall a famous dialogue from Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” on his epiphany on Italian food:

“You want to taste the pasta, explained Gianni…
It was, I must admit, a revelation. A simple pasta pomodoro-just about the simplest thing I could think of, pasta in red sauce-suddenly became a thing of real beauty and excitement.”

Sadly it wasn’t to be, the fresh tagliatelle pasta didn’t really hold up and the quality of tomatoes were hardly first rate. I was irked by the small chunks of garlic throughout the dish, which despite their visibility added none of that beautiful sweetness and aroma that slowed cooked garlic should have. I suspect many line-chefs in Bombay could use to learn the concept of “slithered garlic” and add that to their mise-en-place. On some evenings, I just want to run into the kitchen wielding a Sabatier Knife like Christian Bale and teach some basic knife skills! The minuscule amount of Parmesan on top of the pasta was beyond frugal. It is always these little things, that grate on me the most. For example, the watermelon and cantaloupe juice had not been properly sieved, leaving small melon seeds in the drink.

Anyway, I have had enough…I’ll skip the dessert description (soggy apple pie) and leave Mia Cucina where it belongs, on the bonfire of Bombay restaurants, that would not last for a minute in any other major developed metropolis.

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