A few years ago, Bombay had a stylish watering hole called Rain. Set in the winding bylanes of Juhu, purposely obscure with no signboard in sight, this restaurant was a place where you would go not just to eat but to mingle, gawk and have a fabulous evening. Every time I spent an evening at Rain, I left with a special feeling that comes from perfect food, perfect ambience and perfect service (that grey haired uncle who would find you just the right table and the right drink).
Then, some two years back, Rain closed down, and someone replaced it with Café Penne. Gone were the brilliant frozen Red Eyes; my standard order of Cottage Cheese Tortillas & Mexican Corn Rice and the complimentary bread basket that had more appeal than anything I ever ordered on their menu. Instead, there was this slightly casual restaurant claiming to serve Italian food.
Penne took time getting it's act together. My first couple of visits were not disastrous but mediocre. So it was after a year and a half that I found myself at Penne again last week on a friend's insistence.
The restaurant has a large martini selection that turned out to be moderate to good – friend’s appletini was great and my esspressotini okay-ish. The appetizer (deep fried stuffed mushroom) had a delicate herb flavoring and came with an equally good dip. Breads could have been better; but they won me over with their Neapolitan Pizza. Thin, crisp and just perfect for folding over and eating like you would do in Italy.
And yet, Penne misses the buzz of Rain. Where there used to be a jostle to get to the bar, there is a mass of empty tables at prime dinner time. And I think I know why : good it may be, but fabulous it is not. Penne's biggest shortcoming is that it isn't Rain, and can never be!