Saturday, November 13, 2010
I am very excited to share this restaurant review with you, but I'm very sad to tell you that one of my favorite restaurants, Tabla in New York City, will be closing for good at the end of this year.
Tabla was one of my family's favorite restaurants when I attended Fordham University for two years. In 2001 my mom found Tabla in a list of New York City's best restaurants, so we decided to try lunch there. It was love at first bite. Because of all of the delicious and intricately flavored dishes I've had in India, I was in love with the Indian flavors that touched each dish. My mother never developed the same passion for Indian food, but she enjoyed the fusion cuisine that combined different flavors in new and unique ways. That was a while ago now, and I was still enthralled with Manhattan, but I remember we went there on a very cold, gloomy day and found refuge in the perfectly spiced dishes and warm teas. We ate and ate with bankers and businessmen around us, sad when we had to return to the cold and misty weather, but happy that the good food had warmed us.
Near the end of our trip in Connecticut, my boyfriend Serrano and I stayed with his brother Poblano, who lives in Manhattan. I had mildly entertained the idea of eating at Tabla while we were there, but I knew it was a little out of our price range. However, I did show Poblano information about Tabla, thinking he might be able to eat there during restaurant week, but I noticed in many yelp reviews that the restaurant would be closing December 30th of this year. It didn't take my two fellow foodies much convincing that we should eat lunch there the next day. It wasn't like we'd get another chance.
We showed up for a reservation at 2 pm the next day, two of Serrano's friends from Connecticut in tow. Before the hostess reached for our menus so that she could seat us, she looked at us all and said, "We're happy to have you."
We sat in a corner booth downstairs, and the large windows gave a pleasant view of Madison Square Park. When our server came to get our drink orders, I asked for a limbu pani (lime juice and water) with vodka. She told me that no one had ever ordered that before, but thought it was a good idea for a drink. Whenever I've had limbu pani in India it's always been served with flat water, but the lime juice mixed with sparkling water gave it an edge I really enjoyed, and I couldn't taste the vodka, which was perfect.
We asked our server why Tabla would be closing its doors for good, and from her answer it was clear that the recession had hit the restaurant quite hard. Tabla is a two-story restaurant and can handle a large capacity of people, but its size had become a problem. When I ate there in the past, it was almost always crowded, and there were so many servers that they would literally sweep the table with everyone's dishes at once. I also loved that they would notice when everyone was done, and then at least two servers came and picked up everyone's dishes at once. That small attention to detail, along with the amazing dishes, made Tabla one of my favorite restaurants.
This time, however, we decided to order a few dishes from the lunch menu and split them. The first dish we had was a Wild Mushroom Fricassee, which had polenta, coconut milk, and black cumin. We all loved the combined textures of the polenta and mushrooms, and the flavors were great.
Directly in front of where I was sitting, covered by napkins to keep it warm, was a treat all the boys indulged in--Naan stuffed with Chili Cheddar Cheese. I didn't eat it, but they all thought it was delicious and politely devoured it. Before I went gluten free Naan was one of my all time favorite breads, but I'd never tried it without garlic and butter smothered all over it. I think that this was a clever idea and a perfect example of fusion food.
To the left of it was Scottish Salmon Ceviche, which was served with pomegranate, pineapple, and almonds. It was quite good and fresh, but not an all-around favorite. Poblano and I quite liked it, and between the two of us, we finished it off.
To the right of that dish is the Goan Guacamole, which was served with lotus root chips, which you can see to the left of the Guacamole. I'm not usually a fan of lotus root, but these must have been cooked two different ways so that they were crispy and crunchy, not thick and hard. They were a perfect and healthy alternative to chips, and I would even try recreating them at home. The Goan Guacamole was good and had some Indian flavors in it, but Serrano and I loved it best when we mixed it with some of the Mint Chutney (that green soupy-looking stuff to the far right) we ordered on the side, which, by the way, was worth the extra cost. Mint Chutney is probably our favorite garnish, especially with Indian food, and Tabla's version did not disappoint.
Above the Guacamole was the Hamachi Tartare, which was served with green tomatoes, peanuts, and Pasilla de Oaxaca Chile. This dish went pretty quickly, and I thought it was very good. And, once again, it was a perfect example of how to fluidly fuse the cuisines of two very different regions together.
See the dish that looks like a miniature version of a taco salad? That was Tabla's Crab Cake, which was served with Goan Guacamole and Tamarind Chutney. The shell was made from papadum, which is normally served in Indian restaurants as a snack. I loved the idea of making a shell like that out of papadum, and it went perfectly with the crab cake. That dish also went very fast, and to have the perfect bite you had to combine all the elements at once--the papadum, crab cake, guacamole, tamarind chutney, and watercress. It was delicious.
Above the Crab Cake you can see the Tandoori Black Pepper Prawns with coriander seeds and black pepper. Those went first. We passed them around and they were gone. Everyone loved them. I wish there had been more of them. Tandoori, coriander, and pepper are some of my favorite flavors, and they were perfect on the prawns.
For dessert I enjoyed a trio of their freshest sorbets. They were lovely and--best of all--dairy and gluten free.
I am very happy that my last memory at Tabla was a very positive one. We tried a variety of dishes, all of which our server agreed were delicious, and the service was excellent as usual. Since the restaurant was about to close to set up for dinner, it was nicely quiet inside. I am very sad to see this restaurant close, but I was very pleased that Tabla is everything I remembered it to be: an excellent version of Indian fusion that excites and satisfies the palate.