The Baga-Calangute strip has recently seen a dip in splashy, upscale ‘dining experiences.’ The area is now littered with cheap rooms, cheap food and cheap everything else. It’s quite a surprise to come across a stylish-looking eatery amidst the chaos these days.
Buried in one of the by-lanes is the area’s newest entrant, Habanero, a trendy Tex-Mex restaurant. It managed to create quite a lot of buzz before the launch, a couple of weeks ago. I visited just two days after they opened their doors to catch up with school friends. Generally, I don’t usually review restaurants that are as young as this one. Being as new as it is, the kitchen and staff are still probably working through new ideas and processes, there could be service mishaps and a generally uneven experience. Then again, at first look, it did impress!
The ambiance at the restaurant stands out, right from arched entrance with the the Habanero Chilli logo and bright yellow name to the graffiti wall on the side. Inside, in the plant-filled courtyard, the ambiance is warm and vibrant. I personally loved the hanging stained glass lamps above every table and the vivid back-panel at the bar. Attractive!!
Picnic-table styled seating adds a laid back, communal-feel round a stage on which there is live music. We first sat right in front of the band and later realized that the speakers were located just in front of us and had us conversing in shouts. We had to move to a side table within 10 minutes.
The band for the day, Raagas to Riches was without a doubt, the best part of the evening. They belted one energetic track after the other and it was just because of the music that we stayed long after the point at which we felt that the picnic bench seating was getting a little too hard for comfort.
The servers seemed a little lost, unsure of the recommendations they were giving. I hope it was just due to the fact of the restaurant being new, and that the service bucks up in time. However, they were quick in attending to us when we arrived and brought out complimentary nachos (which weren’t great) very quickly.
While I loved the menu’s quirky design, the options were very limited and the food itself was disappointing. None of the dishes we tried was worth writing home about. It was confusing to see Mexican Thali, Kingfisher beer cheese dip and black bean hummus in a tex-mex restaurant, but not as surprising as the absence of Mexican classics like the chimichanga and guacamole.
Chicken Wings – There are few dishes more crowd-pleasing than a platter of piping hot chicken wings. We picked the ‘mini’ portion of 8 wings instead of ‘mucho’ comprising of 18. It was one of the better dishes of the evening. The wings delivered an delicious juxtaposition of habanero spice, smoke and sweet with a fabulously sticky glaze and was served with cool ranch-yogurt dressing.
Fired Up Grill Pizza – Could definitely be improved upon. It was loaded with toppings.. chicken, zucchini and broccoli (don’t know what that was doing there), and it would have tasted a whole lot better if the cheese was stringy instead of clumpy. I wasn’t a fan of the biscuit-like base either.
Pomfret with lime and chilly – We picked the pomfret off the beach grill menu as suggested by the staff and chose the lemon dressing. Ahhh! Lemon overload! The taste of the dressing was sour and absolutely overpowering and was difficult to finish, even with five people nibbling on it. It came with veggies, rice and a flour tortilla – none of which were particularly appetizing. Maybe we should have opted for the beef instead.
Roasted 1/2 chicken – Habanero seems to pull of simple dishes better than its Mexican fare. The half roasted chicken with those oh-so-pretty caramelized char marks was succulent and flavourful. Served with a variety of sides, this decent-sized portion managed to satisfy our hunger. It could have used a bit of gravy, though.
I really wanted to like Habaero, but it was just a bit off as the service and food missteps dimmed the appeal of the pretty outdoor restaurant. Like I said earlier, it may be due to the restaurant being new, but since it has a franchise in Bangalore already, I’d have expected the food to be even better than the ambiance. If you’re in the area, and you hear that Raagas to Riches is playing, drop everything and head over.
Meal for two (excluding drinks) – Rs. 1000/-
Address- House No. E181/B, The Milky Way Road, Khobra Vaddo, Baga, Goa