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20.08.2018

ATM’s second floor – the club’s private dining room – had become a place where the people were stiffer than the drinks. Dhariwal, seemingly born with his finger on the pulse, confronted the discrepancy by deciding to re-vamp, keying in his MO: give Delhi people good things at good prices.

The decision to up the chill and down the snob value looks good on the property that now houses SAZERAC – a grown up American diner – in place of ATM’s fine dining restaurant, and retains a members-only space on the top, for those who like to sit around in their ties hoping that someday something ‘happening’ will happen. Now, instead of fantasizing in their lonely cloud of cigar smoke, they can just walk downstairs.

Sazerac’s named after the quintessential New Orleans cocktail: a lethal combination of whiskey, Perychaud bitters, sugar, and absinthe. The name, which has already embraced its slapdash form SAZ, is not random: like the story of ATM, it's rooted in French culinary tradition. Now, SAZ like New Orleans, it sees itself as a happy example of cultural larceny - a democratic toast to miscegenation.

This toast is palpable in Sazerac’s menu, which is almost anti-pure, and may disappoint anyone in search of right wing cuisine. Much like New Orleans, where a bahn mi and crawfish can really have it out, Saz is like a long look at America, through the lens of immigration. You’ll hear people-of-colour voices as you read the menu which skates from taco bowls to a Halal guy's rice, never letting you fixate on a singular cultural identity. A soon to go up artwork of Obama as hero, and Beyoncé as Divine enough to be future President, reminds us all of an important message in Trump’s America: bring the other in, and eat your heart out.

We settle in quickly, well accustomed to the expert ways of the Passcode Hospitality Empire. Rows of globe lights, a distressed wall, and comfortable couches conjure up the feeling of an industrially styled patio. A retro American playlist livens up the room; Donna Summers’ ‘Hot Stuff’ accompanies you as you make your way through the grandiose menu. It’s hard to self-edit, and soon you set aside the dream of ever having her slim legs and big hair. The temptation to order a three-course meal, punctuated by sazeracs, fully takes over. Goodbye Summer.

Our road trip across America begins with a PG 13 version of the Saz, where gin has been traded in for whiskey. A sweet waiter with a trenchant wit is happy to handhold, and directs us towards an ‘RD Goes Vegan’ salad, flashing a half-smile at our vow to eat light. Predictably, the blissful cocktail leads to multiple, but next time we’d skip the salad and go instead for the big embrace of decadence that follows with excellent sweet potato tacos: an appetiser that deserves nods for being top on simplicity and taste at the same time. Though the fish tacos are also good, the veggie-version is a lovely surprise.

“London Calling” – a cocktail that makes you smile and will cement any hint of dimples – takes us to the next lot of plates: a hand beaten beef carapaccio and a heart-warming queso bowl. An unlikely pairing, but together these work like land and sea: the bowl is a cheese ocean that only relieves you to sigh a sigh of love, and the carapaccio is a delicate cinema-pink luxury, accessorized with two careful shaves of parmesan. We’re very happy, and its probably written on our faces, because the chef rewards us with a freebie: kick-ass Monterey jack cheese toast, across which apricot jam spreads itself like careful cursive on a party invite.

After all this, we should be frankly, shamed enough to stop eating. But all it takes is one more Saz to make lucid the grave error of not having ordered anything from the ‘mains.’ Between ribs, lobster rolls, Chi-town steak and wings, the choices are good enough to begin a table duel. We decide to go with the girl next-door version of them all, and pile on even more cheese. The bacon mac and cheese that arrives in full costume on a just-right skillet wins what’s left of our hearts, which is already past the immigration counter and paying for a rented Cadillac to zoom off in to a big, blue American sky.

Getting there: 1st floor, 21, Sundarnagar, call 9821868288, Rs 3,000 for two with a round of drinks.

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