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bigboss

"James" Restaurant

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This is going to be a rant, since I need to write this post having just walked in the door from the most underwhelming meal I’ve had in this city in ten years. My two friends, let’s call them Jerry and Sean, came down from New York to visit for the day. Sean wanted us to go to James restaurant for dinner, because he’s friends with the sous chef and pastry chef there from a previous job. Joining us were two other friends, let’s call them Jim and Pat. Pat is friends with the owner’s wife from a previous job. We arrive for a 6:30 reservation with bottles of wine, since they don’t yet have their license, and sat in the private dining area-separated-by-a-velvet-drape. The owner’s wife greets us and says they’d like to cook for us. My understanding of this statement from years in the restaurant business is that you willfully and generously cook for your friends and/or other restaurant workers at minimal or no charge as a professional courtesy. I’ve done it a million times. I’ll return to this issue later, though, after a discussion of the food.

Amuse: brandade on a baguette crouton. The brandade was austere in its lack of flavoring other than salt cod, no garlic or herb taste, and it was cold. The crouton was cut and toasted with no treatment of flavor from oil or seasoning.

Risotto made with Prosecco and an Oyster: Undercooked, pre-blanched rice in a winey liquid with no butter or cheese, no creaminess at all. On top a shucked oyster. (nice bernadaud china however)

Olive oil-Poached Bass with Chickpea Puree and Fennel: Very nicely cooked piece of fish over a smear of utterly flavorless chickpea puree, a dab of flavorless parsley oil and some thick shaved but undressed fennel. Why no taste? Why? All these ingredients can be made into flavorful things.

Pappardelle with Duck? Ragu and “Umbrian” Truffles and Bitter Chocolate: Served at or below room temp somehow and quite dry. Once again no taste. Truffle, flavorless. Histrionic grating of chocolate over dish, flavorless.

Braised and Crisped Pork Belly with Cabbage and 30-Year Balsamic: Once again, the pork was devoid of any salt, pepper, herb or spice flavoring. Why? And we’re not talking about any $10/lb Kurobota pork here that has intrinsic taste. Also, the crisp skin stuck in your teeth like caramel. Cabbage in chiffonade, blanched and picked up in a beurre nage. No indication of any balsamic vinegar, young or old.

Roasted Squab over Parsnip Puree with Squab Sauce and an inexplicable plate of Salt-Cured Foie Gras on the side: Flabby skin, grainy puree, no seasoning, what the hell with the foie gras?

Hanger Steak with Smoked Potato Puree and Beaujolais Reduction: I swear to God that this dish tasted exactly like a hot dog. Puree was smoky but again was grainy and devoid of any butter or cream or seasoning. Why? How can someone get steak and potatoes wrong? Why? (beef was like a 2 oz portion)

Cheese: banal

Dessert: Mostly good. Chestnut cake with figs was the best dish all night. Slice of chocolate pate on a piece of toast was laughable. And the torrone petit-four I can almost guarantee was bought from Claudio’s.

Overall this meal was of unacceptable quality. Furthermore it took FOUR hours. We’re talking half hour course times when we represented almost half of the guests in the room. Why? This isn’t Per Se or Minibar. And the final insult: we were charged for five tasting menus at $90 each. IS THIS A PRACTICAL JOKE? There isn’t even a tasting menu option on the a la carte to give the guest a sense of expectation. Seriously I nor any of us there are interested in getting free food as a end of a dining experience. We enjoy food: it’s our passion and our jobs. This whole dining experience was an affront to my professional sensibilities, from the length of the meal to the quality of the food preparation to the price they expect to get for it. They have no business asking prices proportional to those of Vetri, the Fountain, Le Bec, the Bass or Lacroix. If this isn’t some sort of joke then good luck, James et al; you’re gonna need it. Once again this is why I cook at home.

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Wow, sorry to hear about that experience! A few of us had been eager to check this place out. Still might - but thanks for the heads-up anyway...

Abstractly, it seems to me that $90 would be a pretty fair price, maybe a bargain, for an 8 course tasting menu made up of the kinds of things you were served. But that presumes that the food would actually be good, and that you knew ahead of time what you would be charged.

The dishes you described sounded like they could be interesting, and a few of us took a peek at the menu a little while ago and thought it looked good. Bummed to hear you thought the execution was so poor.

Obviously it wasn't a practical joke, so what do you think was going on really?


"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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A few of us had been eager to check this place out. Still might - but thanks for the heads-up anyway...

Uncle Phil, methinks we shall be dining elsewhere.

In fact I was invited to this dinner by "sean and jerry" whom I am well acquainted with.

Thankfully I declined because I am having a huge meal at RAE today.

Bigboss......when you say pork was devoid of salt and pepper, how is that possible ?

Dont you have to cure pork belly with a spice mix first a-la cafe Boulud ?

It is a bad bad bad move to steer people to a tasting menu without discussing the price especially if the final price may be way more than the people want to spend, furthermore, the fact that the restaurant owner knows you guys makes it unforgiveably egregious.

This statement....

"The owner’s wife greets us and says they’d like to cook for us. My understanding of this statement from years in the restaurant business is that you willfully and generously cook for your friends and/or other restaurant workers at minimal or no charge as a professional courtesy."

is absolutely correct.

So what happened is they took advantage of your freindship and basically took you to the cleaners, lame lame lame.

I am sure "sean and jerry" are pissed since they took a bus down to philly from NY to spend $90 to eat lame food in south philly when they could have stayed home and had dinner at Jean-Georges for the same price.

Hey Murkury, lets hear your side of the story.......tee hee..... :huh:


Edited by Vadouvan (log)

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I am so disappointed to read your review! I have a res for tomorrow with some friends. Maybe I'll change it. If we go anyway, I'll post a report.

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V: as I have made the Cafe Boulud recipe like a ba-zillion times over the years, I too was amazed that pork belly could or would be prepared without a light cure. It makes the pork fat taste so good. I'm curious to hear how RAE is, if you don't mind sharing later.

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Indeed my friend, Indeed.

Hey Philadining, what was that quote ?

"The belly by which all bellies shall be judged AKA pork creme brulee"..... :laugh:

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Remember what Hambone always said BB "it's all words on a page" Obviously the door swung both ways. Sorry to hear about your truly unpalatable meal. 90 dollars for a tasting menu without wine is unacceptable. When we started the chefs table at Lacroix, for 10 dollars more than that you had the wine flight.

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I was there last week and also had the seven-course tasting, though we weren't guests of the chef. Not that it would have mattered, apparently. I agree that they definitely need to make the customer aware of the exorbitant price up-front. If I remember correctly, the regular menu was much more reasonable, entrees were $15 - $28 or so. The tasting price is way beyond what you might expect based on the regular menu prices. In light of the fact that you can now have a prix-fixe at Le Bec-Fin for the same money, they definitely have to deliver something special. I don't think they did, though my complaints are a bit different. I should say that I don't think the prix-fixe at Le Bec-Fin is worth $90 either, but you do also get all the other parts of the old-school fine dining experience there.

My main problem (other than the price) was the main ingredients of the dishes. We had a seven-course tasting. The last two of those courses are cheese and dessert, so that leaves five 'main' courses. The first three courses that came out were scallop, oyster (the risotto), and langostino. I'm not big on shellfish, especially oysters. I like a well-done scallop once in a while, and this one was well-done, but for three of our five courses to be based on shellfish seems ridiculous when there are so many other delicious types of animals, fungi, and plants to be had. Preparing 60% of a tasting menu based on shellfish puts way too much faith in the assumption that your guests are crazy about shellfish, and we hadn't expressed a preference for them. The only explanation I can come up with is that they got some very good shellfish that day and wanted to show them off/use them up. But for $90 per person, they could have asked if we'd mind having half of our dishes consist of shellfish.

The only dishes Bigboss and I both had were the risotto and the hanger steak. I found the risotto a bit too crunchy (undercooked) and lacking the creaminess you normally get from agitating the rice constantly. As I mentioned I don't care for oysters, so this one wasn't a big hit with me. They do use carnaroli in it, though. While the hanger steak didn't blow me away, I did like it, though based on Bigboss' description it seems like ours was just prepared better. I liked the smoked potatoes a lot, but again, what Bigboss describes sounds different than what we got.

One thing I did really love was the slow-cooked pork. I believe that it's prepared by roasting the meat for a very long time at a temperature just a bit higher than what you'd like the final cooked temperature of the meat to be. However it was done, it was a great piece of pork.

Anyway, if anyone decides to go, just order off the regular menu. It's a lot cheaper, and the items on the regular menu that caught my eye interested me a lot more than what I ended up getting with the chef's tasting. The tasting just isn't worth the price they're charging, I'd rather go across the street to Molcajete Mixto for three dinners.

I should add that I'll probably go back to James. They had only been open for a week or maybe 10 days when I went, and the dishes I had that were not shellfish were good enough to bring me back, especially the pork. I definitely won't be doing the chef's tasting again, though.


Edited by Buckethead (log)

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I'd say it was more a misunderstanding than a practical joke. I doubt if there was any malice or trickery intended on James' part.

What was interpreted as "we'd like to cook for you" was likely intended, perhaps ineptly, as "you have to try our tasting menu - we'll thow in some surprises." The new restaurant owners might have thought, "Isn't this nice, friends coming to support our new venture." Sounds more like miscommunication than anything else.

BigBoss's write-up is a rather harsh review for a very new restaurant. Most professional reviewers give a place some time to get all the kinks worked out. Most chefs will complain that it is unfair for a review to be aired so soon after a restaurant's opening.

I know what "they" say - once a restaurant starts collecting money for their meals, they are fair game. But still, I would hope for some empathy and understanding for a very new restaurant. And, not to take anything away from the credibility of BigBoss's observations, I hope others will look for themselves. Anyone who has put their dreams and soul into opening their own restaurant deserves, at least for the first few weeks, some tolerance and, perhaps, private rather than public feedback.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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The practical joke has nothing to do with any sort of "trickery " vis a vis the price of the tasting menu. It's that by their own mission statement on the website they purport to be a fine-dining establishment in Bella Vista. The food was nowhere near the level of fine dining in this city let alone in comparison to any national or international standard. It's Busch League. Look at what else they say on the website: "our service is impeccable; the dining environment, elegant yet friendly." This wasn't Fountain service. Nitpick: every single plate had a thumbprint on it from the servers. The dining room looks pretty cool, but has few of the appointments that separate casual restaurants from fine dining ones. Hell, there weren't even linens. Vetri has the market cornered on "rustica" in this town. That space is not hyper-fancy, but has unique touches like the espresso machine and the prosciutto slicer as integral parts of the interior design. And the food is damn tasty, if annoyingly simple to me, which goes back to my basic complaint about this place. As Buckethead mentioned, you can eat three good meals at other restaurants in the area for the same price. And did I mention that it took FOUR hours?

GordonCooks: I was just along for the ride.

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I also found the tasting menu to be a bit too expensive (at least in terms of a price/ value ratio). personally, I found the food, generally good, but nothing was really extraordinary. I loved the atmosphere and decor. the service was excellent.

i wish it was a bit more of a wine gastropub (which maybe it will be when the liquor licence arrives). i will definitely go back.

*edited a little because, after reflection, i feel holly is right about reserving judgement.


Edited by Yannii (log)

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If you want to keep your friends "Sean" and "Pat" on good terms, it's probably best not to rip on their other friends in such a public forum.


Edited by stephenc (log)

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I need to chime in on this experience (of which I was a part). As a member of the party that shared bigboss' meal I too have some opinions on the matter, both relating to the food and the dining experience in general.

First and foremost I would like to say, that based on my first impressions of the space, I was excited. By no means is it a fine-dining establishment, but it feels like more thought and effort has been put into the space than the majority of philly eateries. It's a comfortable space and I love to think about the potential that their big bar/lounge offers. The private dining area, where we ate, is a nice secluded room which would be great for bigger parties (8-12) out to celebrate. The decor and design, while simple, are pleasant. Like I said before, it looks thought out.

We were presented with menus which seemed interesting enough. Progression of dishes from smaller plates to pastas and mains. Rather routine in format. None of the food really jumped off the page, but the prices seemed about what one would expect. Firsts from $8-$14. Pastas from $14-$18 and mains from $22-$28. More or less standard pricing for this type of philly restaurant. We were informed that they offered three tasting menus as well (five, seven and nine courses), but no further details were volunteered. Our server told us that a tasting menu had been prepared for us (as mentioned by bigboss members of our party friends with the owners and cooks) with no mention of scope or price. He simply asked if we had any restrictions or allergies. Now, this was a table of five industry professionals who were here because of close relationships with the management. Granted, there are no hard and fast rules that apply in these situations, but there are certain reasonable expectations that one can have. This is not to say that we came in thinking the meal was going to be free. Far from it. But to tell a party of professionals/friends that they are cooking for you and to then charge them for every single dish (including coffee) of a tasting menu is amateurish. I understand this is a business. I understand the economics of restaurants. But $90 for a mediocre tasting menu at a new (certainly not fine-dining) restaurant in philly is absolutely absurd. ABSURD.

Now, I don't think the food was awful, but it was mediocre. Perhaps it's due to the young nature of the restaurant. Perhaps their concept of cooking is different from mine. Whatever. Some dishes certainly showed potential. Some elements were well executed. The proteins were all well cooked and well seasoned. Other components, though, were dreadful. The risotto was par-cooked (and nothing more). The smoked potato puree was coarse, chunky and somehow watery. It tasted as if someone roughly mashed potatoes and doused them with water from a hookah. No trace of dairy. No hint of butter. No tease of smoothness. In general every dish lacked a necessary element of acidity. Oh, and nothing seemed to be served hot (or cold). Each dish hovered in some strange range between room temp and warm. All in all it was not what were expecting. Desserts were, overall, quite good, with the exception of some strange overly intense chocolate pate served on fried bread.

Again, I'm not ready to say the situation is hopeless. I think with some changes the majority of dishes that we had could have been quite good. The ingredients were of good quality and some of the techniques used seemed sound. The space is pleasant. The china is interesting. The service was attentive and efficient. There are people in the kitchen who have a clue. Whether their advice is being followed, that's another story. Based on my meal, I would say no. At the end of the day it was simply a disappointing meal. I don't really know what else to say.

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I'm curious to hear how RAE is, if you don't mind sharing later.

It looks like I have to work a little later than planned tonight so we decided to go for dinner next wednesday, I will let you know how it is .

If you want to keep your friends "Sean" and "Pat" on good terms, it's probably best not to rip on their other friends in such a public forum.

Its a forum for honest discussion, considering how they felt decieved (thier opinion not mine) they should be able to discuss the dynamics, let's continue to reserve sanitized bullshit reviews for chowhound.


Edited by Vadouvan (log)

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My last word on the subject....I have no opinions of the food since I havent been but this statement I wholeheartedly agree with.

This is not to say that we came in thinking the meal was going to be free. Far from it. But to tell a party of professionals/friends that they are cooking for you and to then charge them for every single dish (including coffee) of a tasting menu is amateurish. I understand this is a business.

Hey Murcury..

he smoked potato puree was coarse, chunky and somehow watery. It tasted as if someone roughly mashed potatoes and doused them with water from a hookah. No trace of dairy. No hint of butter. No tease of smoothness.

I see you have been spoiled by Mr Robuchon..... :laugh:

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Hey Murcury..

he smoked potato puree was coarse, chunky and somehow watery. It tasted as if someone roughly mashed potatoes and doused them with water from a hookah. No trace of dairy. No hint of butter. No tease of smoothness.

I see you have been spoiled by Mr Robuchon..... :laugh:

Very true. Very true indeed. That said, one of the first dishes I learned to make in a competent fashion was a more traditional (ie, more potato than butter) potato puree, courtesy of none other than bigboss.

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I'm curious to hear how RAE is, if you don't mind sharing later.

It looks like I have to work a little later than planned tonight so we decided to go for dinner next wednesday, I will let you know how it is .

If you want to keep your friends "Sean" and "Pat" on good terms, it's probably best not to rip on their other friends in such a public forum.

Its a forum for honest discussion, considering how they felt decieved (thier opinion not mine) they should be able to discuss the dynamics, let's continue to reserve sanitized bullshit reviews for chowhound.

Considering the restaurant is only a month or two old, and considering that friends of friends operate the place and consider it their lifeblood, I think it would be more fair to them, along with friends "Sean" and "Pat", to discuss problems or misunderstandings such as this personally first instead of taking it to an influential public forum such as this, which is read by pretty much every food critic in the country, and starting a post with such a hysterical title.

They served the orignal poster an 90 dollar eight course meal that included truffles and fois gras. Obviously it wasn't up to the OP's standards, but the original posting made it sound like they pissed in his coffee or something.

By the tone of the original poster, I would begin to question how close these "friends" of his really are. If I were the owners of the restaurant, I'd begin to question how close my friends "Sean" and "Pat" really are, if their "friends" tried to sink them this way on a public forum.

edited to add: since the OP is the former executive sous chef of La Croix, I would think he'd be more judicious regarding his comments on public forum, since these kinds of things rarely don't come back around and bite you in the ass.


Edited by stephenc (log)

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Considering the restaurant is only a month or two old, and considering that friends of friends operate the place and consider it their lifeblood, I think it would be more fair to them, along with friends "Sean" and "Pat", to discuss problems or misunderstandings such as this personally first instead of taking it to an influential public forum such as this, which is read by pretty much every food critic in the country, and starting a post with such a hysterical title.

They served the orignal poster an 90 dollar eight course meal that included truffles and fois gras. Obviously it wasn't up to the OP's standards, but the original posting made it sound like they pissed in his coffee or something.

By the tone of the original poster, I would begin to question how close these "friends" of his really are. If I were the owners of the restaurant, I'd begin to question how close my friends "Sean" and "Pat" really are, if their "friends" tried to sink them this way on a public forum.

edited to add: since the OP is the former executive sous chef of La Croix, I would think he'd be more judicious regarding his comments on public forum, since these kinds of things rarely don't come back around and bite you in the ass.

Complete Rubbish.

You dont get it.

If you went to a "friend's" restaurant and the said "friends" say "can we cook for you"

There is a clear unsaid understanding that you serve the standard app, entree ,dessert and insert a few more courses and charge a slight premium over the 3 course.

ALL CHEFS DO IT.

They should have been charged $60 max.

It's not because they want a deal or discount, it is a standard overture of goodwill in the industry.

In real world terms, this would be like say you went to buy a car and you had good credit, your brother-in-law is the finance manager at the dealership and before you say anything he says "I am going to hook you up with the factory discount and a great interest rate, let me take care of it, just sign here". You drive your car home and the first payment note comes to you and your interest rate is 22 %..........yeah you would be pissed.

Seperately the number of courses and buzzwords like foie gras and truffles has nothing to do with the cost of a meal, foie comes in cans as do truffles. Simply sublimating it into "an 8 course meal that included foie gras and truffles" is meaningless.

by the way what are "Umbrian truffles" ?????

You could on the face of it disect the original menu that was posted.

Salt Cod for Brandade costs nothing.

Risotto with Prosecco is meaningless as prosecco has no defining flavor in cookery and you cant eat the bubbles plus each oyster costs 75 cents.

30 year old Balsamic isnt old enough to make a specific case for its age.

Pork Belly is $1.68 a pound.

Hangar steak is $2.95 a pound, dry aged ribeye is $12.95 a pound.

"Beaujolais reduction" is nonsense since Beaujolais is mostly garbage even for drinking short of the Cru's like Chenas, Julienas, Morgon, Moulins a Vent, ect ect.

Number of courses means nothing.

edited to add: since the OP is the former executive sous chef of La Croix, I would think he'd be more judicious regarding his comments on public forum, since these kinds of things rarely don't come back around and bite you in the ass.

Obviously since your initial post, you have done research to reach the above conclusion and the *implicit threat* of "since these kinds of things rarely dont come back around and bite you in the ass" seems to me to be a threat to engage in retribution ..........in the very behaviour you claim to despise and that is basically hypocritical.

The tone further begs the question what is your true allegiance or connection to James restaurant is ??????

Believe me I am neutral in this situation, my issue is I despise any encouragement of sanitized posts. Since we are all being honest and passionate, lets call a spade a spade.


Edited by Vadouvan (log)

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This has been a very informative topic to read.

I think we all agree that it's not cool to suggest, even inadvertently, that somebody should pay one price and then charge them another. Still, as a member of the general public, it's hard for me to get all misty-eyed at the injustice of somebody having to pay full price for dinner.

Like philadining, I thought that the menu described sounded pretty good. Obviously if it's not well-prepared, the best menu in the world will be lousy. But the original post had a strong odor of sour grapes wafting from it: that's a flavor that tends to ruin the experience of a meal.


Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)

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I don't know, I do not think this has to do with insider etiquette so much as it has to do with the difficulty and unpleasantness of discussing money. Restaurant people are not the only ones to get meals "comp-ed." I was invited to the opening of a restaurant and the owner told us all food (but not wine) would be comp-ed. This was clear before we arrived. And there are lots of instances where prices are unlear, for example "specials," when the waiter does not volunteer the info.

I would have been vexed also (probably more so, since I am miserly to a fault), but in the end the fault is your own because you didn't ask. And I do not mean that as a criticism, I have found myself in similar situations, but the fault was always my own for not making the implicit, explicit.

Nothing changes the fact that you were dissatisfied, which is not less significant that the restaurant's having disappointed any other paying customer. By charging you as much as they did, (in my view), they essentially declared "open-season" on criticism. Had the meal been free, THEN I would recall that "beggars can't be choosers."

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      Grease or spray two 8" round pans or an equivalent volume square or rectangle.
      Place the cocoa in a medium (4-5 cup) bowl. Add the hot water and stir with a fork to break up any clumps. Allow to cool down a little,  then add the vanilla extract and the mayonnaise or salad dressing spread. Beat well to eliminate lumps. In the bowl of an electric mixer or larger regular bowl if making by hand, sift in the flour and add the sugar and baking soda. Mix the dry ingredients to distribute evenly. Slowly beat in the cocoa mixture. Mix until the batter has an even color. Pour immediately into the pans. If making two 8" rounds, weigh them to ensure they contain equal amounts.
      Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the center of the top springs back when touched lightly. (The toothpick test does NOT work well on this moist cake!) Allow the cake to cool a little and shrink from the sides of the pan before removing. Removal is easier while still a little warm.
      Good with or without frosting.
      Good beginner cake for kids to make.
       
       
       
    • By Sheel
      Prawn Balchao is a very famous Goan pickle that has a sweet, spicy and tangy flavor to it. 
      For the balchao paste you will need:
      > 8-10 kashmiri red chillies
      > 4-5 Byadagi red chillies
      > 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
      > 1/2 tsk turmeric powder 
      > 1 tsp peppercorn
      > 6 garlic cloves
      > 1/2 tsp cloves
      > 1 inch cinnamon stick
      > Vinegar 
      First you will need to marinate about 250 grams of prawns in some turmeric powder and salt. After 15 minutes deep fry them in oil till them become golden n crisp. Set them aside and add tsp vinegar to them and let it sit for 1 hour. Now, make a paste of all the ingredients mentioned under the balchao paste and make sure not to add any water. In the same pan used for fryin the prawns, add in some chopped garlic and ginger. Lightly fry them and immediately add one whole chopped onion. Next, add the balchao paste amd let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in the prawns and cook until the gravy thickens. Finally add 1 tsp sugar and salt according to your taste. Allow it to cool. This can be stored in a glass jar. Let this mature for 1-3 weeks before its use. Make sure never to use water at any stage. This can be enjoyed with a simple lentil curry and rice.
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