Dario’s in Koregaon Park has been a favourite with vegetarian foodies, expats and people seeking a quiet, authentic Italian meal, for a couple of years now. A place owned and run by Chef Dario Dezio, Dario’s is known for using fresh, seasonal and local produce in their preparations; and since there is a strong Sicilian influence on their food (Chef Dario has his roots in Sicily), the strong Sicilian flavors seem to work very well with the Indian palate. I, along with a few other food-bloggers, was invited for the launch of ‘Thalitalia’, a new concept launched by Dario’s which basically has small tasting portions of Italian food, served like the Indian thali, to cater to the needs clientele who would like to try many different dishes at the same time.
The restaurant is located in the serene environs of Lane 1, within the Sunderban hotel and everything about this place has a colonial charm. They have an indoor air-conditioned section done up beautifully in white and purple and paintings by the the chef himself. The al fresco seating is equally pleasant, with a lot of greenery around and the company of a few wild peacocks.
The ‘thali’ in the Thalitalia concept consists of 5 starters, 2 salads, 3 pastas, a risotto and 2 desserts; all served in three courses as tasting portions. The menu changes every day, depending on the availability of fresh produce; so dining experiences may be different on different days. This is what we sampled at this tasting event:
Virgin Mojito: We started off the meal with a refreshing glass of virgin Mojito, pretty good.
Bruschetta: The classic bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, oregano and olive oil, served on a crisp piece of bread; this Italian classic was probably the best item on the starters menu with all its clean and fresh flavors.
Polpette di lentiecchio: they were basically breaded and deep-fried lentil and potato balls and went well with the salsa-like sauce served with the first course; but I wish the proportion of lentils to potato in it was higher.
Crostini: had oven-roasted and sliced bell peppers for a topping. The only dominant taste was the sourness from the roasted peppers (which is a good thing, because fresher the bell peppers, more is their citrus and Vitamin C content) but it needed a bit of something else, perhaps some fresh herbs or seasoning to balance the taste.
Arancinelle: I quite liked there crumb-fried rice balls which had a tomato sauce as a flavor base, and the taste and textures were pretty good.
Hummus: was quite good, but needed a suitable bread to go with it.
Tomato and Melluci salad: While the veggies in both the salads were super fresh and retained their crunch, the dressing could have been more flavorful. I would have also rather preferred a single salad with more ingredients and a better dressing, than two very basic salads.
Home-made bread: was fresh and soft, but again needed a bit of that olive oil-crack of pepper kind of dip on the table to go along with it.
Pizzas: Both the pizzas were good in terms of taste and had a nice, thin, crisp base when they came to the table. I loved the freshness of the basil on the slice of Margerita, and although I otherwise liked the Siciliano, I wish there were some more bits of sun-dried tomato on the slice (there was only one tiny bit). Also, since they were served on the same plate as the pasta and the risotto, they soaked up some sauces from those and got a little soggy towards the end. The pizzas could probably be served on a separate, smaller plate.
Penne arriabiata: was what I liked the most amongst the pastas, works perfectly for my palate that likes strong flavors like the acidity of the tomatoes and heat from the chilli flakes. The penne was perfectly al dente too.
Fusilli fulminati: while the sauce was pretty nice, I felt like the pasta was a bit overcooked.
Gnocchi ai 4 formaggio: Loved the four-cheese sauce, but the gnocchi were a bit dense for my liking, but I am anyway never a big fan of Gnocchi so wouldn’t know better.
Risotto al limone and rucola: was most disappointing on the main course plate, with a runny sauce and almost no hint of flavor either from the lemon or the rucola.
Chocolate mousse: The desserts were a bit of the let-down, and the chocolate mousse was a bit dense and had a very grainy texture.
Tiramisu: was actually a tiramisu cake, with only a subtle flavor of coffee and a bit too sweet for my liking.
The Thalitalia meal experience is priced at Rs 590 (inclusive of taxes) and is worth the price if one only considers the variety and portions of the food included. However, it is only available against a minimum order of two thalis, so it wouldn’t be useful for someone eating alone, although the concept is otherwise perfect for the single diner. It is also available only on weekdays, so I wonder if a heavy meal like that would be suitable for a quick working lunch that a typical weekday demands, and it would be nice to have the thalis available in the evening or on weekends too (if necessary at a higher price, if the operational costs demand so).
I indeed liked the concept of having tasting portions of many Italian favorites at a reasonable price point, quite a lot; but somewhere I felt like a lot could be changed in terms of execution. They could probably give an option to choose fewer items from a set menu, or serve them sequentially on the table instead of a single humungous platter, which many found visually unappealing; or maybe even offer fewer items which offer more in terms of taste. So although there are many hits-and-misses with this dining experience, I am quite sure that Thalitalia as a concept could find many takers, with just a few minor tweaks along the way.
(The review was conducted on invitation and the meal was complimentary, courtesy Dario’s)