Often, when it comes to food, I'm on a quest. I'm looking for the best tiramisu in town or in hot pursuit of that perfect risotto. And more often than not, I'm disappointed. Not because I don't go to every new restaurant, but because there are only a handful who can make a boozy tiramisu and a risotto that doesn't taste like a mushy khichri.
In the last year over 15 new Italian restaurants have opened in the NCR —some branches, some stand-alones. Bringing the total count of Italian restaurants to 40, and upping the restaurants that serve pasta (adding all the multi-cuisine restaurants) to a cool 160.
Clearly, the Delhiite has come a long way from the manchurians and chowmeins of a decade ago. Perhaps Maggi's Pazzzta, changed the mind of the middle-class Indian, who called any kind of pasta 'macaroni'.
Unlike the US and the UK, where Japanese has gained such popularity that it is available at every supermarket and deli, Italian is the preferred cuisine in the city. Today, ask the man on the street if he's eaten a slice of pizza or a plate of pasta, chances are he has. Even if it's from his neighbourhood Haldiram or from the canteen at work.
So is the spurt of Italian restaurants the need to please the 'best known Italian in India'? Well, if you go by the guest list at Tonino's, that's what it would seem to be. Perhaps that's why you can often see politicians biting into that folded thin crust or slurping at that spaghetti. Or even at Hyatt Regency's La Piazza, where the Sunjay Kapurs and the Priya Chatwals of Delhi dine.
The best bit about this Italian gold rush is that there's a restaurant for every budget. From Rs 600 to Rs 6,000, you have a meal of antipastos, pizzas and pasta. The problem is there are only a handful of restaurants that can really be called 'authentic'.
Of course, if you're looking for some genuine grub there are some great Italian joints you could head to. Baci at Sunder Nagar makes a mean pumpkin ravioli, Olive Beach's and Azzuro's pesto is excellent and Amici and Spaghetti Kitchen's tiramisu are to-die-for.
And yet, there are more than a dozen restaurants that could give Haldiram a run for its money. Italia at DLF promenade, for example, has the worst bread basket: stale and dry. You could easily give the pasta aglio olio at Gurgaon's Italiano a miss or even skip the meal altogether at Flavours at Defence Colony. In fact, if you aren't ready for the thin-crust pizza, you're better off ordering from your local Domino's or Papa Johns.
So does that mean the pasta will soon be elevated to the level of chowmein in Delhi? Will the momo stalls at Yashwant Place suddenly be dishing out spaghetti carbonara or penne arabiata in another five years? At the rate at which the restaurants are mushrooming, your guess is, well, as good as mine.
As for me, this is what I've learnt on this excellent Italian expedition: One, never trust a skinny chef. If s/he doesn't love or eat what he's cooking, chances are you're going to get mediocre food. Chef Suman Sharma and Chef Bill Marchetti, you reading this? Two, there's no such thing as too much cheese. Unless, of course, it's Amul. Could you pass that gorgonzola please?