Chocolate always elevated her to a happier plane. It induced her “Cheshire cat smile” and many giggles. The thrill of unwrapping the foil carefully to avoid the spilling crumbs and the joy of the impending sugar rush was a heady combination. Consuming it was a blur. Twas over before she could pause and relish it.
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My final year of college was punctuated with black lists, last-minute assignments and long waits at the library for photocopies. But the highlight of that year was our frequent visits to Café Basilico. I forget how the mother discovered the place but I remember her telling me that it has great desserts. I didnt need to know anything else. I was just about beginning to relish the taste of a baked cheesecake and Basilico seemed to be the answer to my prayers. Since then the parents have always indulged me to a trip to Basilico for special occasions, on random days or just to soothe some ruffled feathers.
It had to be Basilico for that last dinner just before I moved away from home. And it didn’t feel like home in Bombay until I visited it again once I returned. Yes, it is an expensive place to eat at. Some folks also find it pretentious. But it’s extremely challenging to be frugal when it comes to cheesecake.
We got used to the menu over time. Dinner ranged from soup and pasta to sandwiches. The parents gradually fell in love with the tomato cream sauce there. That was their treat while cheesecake was mine. Dessert was not negotiable. My heart broke a little one evening when I learned that they were out of cheesecake on a Saturday. While I was poring over my soup, someone had placed an order for the entire batch. Since then I took to reserving a slice for myself even before we had placed an order for dinner.
I also remember throwing a fit one evening when the parents informed me that they had gone there without me one evening. I felt betrayed and wasn’t mollified until they got home some cheesecake for me. The father also secretly confessed one evening that he hated cheesecake. “I fail to understand what you and your mother relish in this.” I could only sheepishly nod in response.
I was thrilled when they opened a branch in Bandra. But I always found something lacking in their service there. On a crowded night and otherwise. Sometimes they would refuse to warm up the cheesecake for a few minutes, the other times, the ice-cream was too runny. But because it was cheesecake, I almost never complained.
Gradually, this poor service extended to other areas. Orders weren’t served on time. The bread was placed on the table long after the soup was over and the bowls had been cleared away. And the pasta wasn’t cheesy enough.
And my trip to Basilico this previous weekend tops in my list of grievances against it. The cutlery was unclean. Sticky with the remnants of the previous to be precise. Asked the server to replace all, he grudgingly replaced just one set. Soup was served after a long delay. No sight of the bread. The pepper mills weren’t replenished. I had to pick up the mills off three other tables in order to get my quote of pepper. And the staff didn’t attempt to remedy it all.
The server asked us if we’d like home-made bread along with the pasta. We said yes. It never came. By this time, I was quite put off with the state of affairs. The mother enquired about dessert. I said no. We asked for the check. We noted that we had been charged for the cheesecake, although it hadn’t been served to us. The server mumbled something but failed up to conjure up a decent explanation. He returned back give minutes later with a revised bill.
I left the restaurant, seething and disappointed. It was one of the few times I hadn’t eaten the cheesecake there. Out of choice. The mind kept replaying images of all the happy times we had had at that place. I felt a little disoriented. A little disconnected. A little sad.
That night we hopped over to Le Pain Quotidien for some cheesecake and chocolate tart. It was a somber event. On the ride back home, the father remarked that he wouldn’t be visiting Basilico for a while. I found myself nodding in absolute agreement.