Tabla 1

February 18, 2007

Tabla
11 Madison Avenue (25th Street)
212-889-0667
http://www.tablany.com 

On February 17, 2007, Linda, Blair, Karyn and I went for dinner at Tabla. We looked at the menu while waiting for our table; it was slightly changed from what we had already seen on the website. There is a $65 prix fixe with ten choices for appetizer, main course and dessert.  There is a Winter Tasting Menu at $79 (plus $38 for the optional wine pairing) with five courses; and, our choice, the eight-course Chef’s Market Tasting Menu at $92 (plus $48 for wine pairing.) 

We ordered right after we sat down at our corner table and were given a bowl of light cumin-rice puffs in various fantasy shapes accompanied by tomato chutney. They went well with the aperitifs we had carried up from the bar and set the tone tabla-1.jpgfor the kind of spices we were to enjoy.  Tabla’s chef, Floyd Cardoz, started his career in the kitchen of the Bombay Intercontinental Hotel. He had grown up there and in Goa which had a deep influence on him.  He eventually moved to Switzerland and learned the French techniques which he has combined with Indian spices for his cuisine.  A small cup of hot cauliflower soup followed. A basket with two naans, sourdough and rosemary, arrived. They were delicious and useful throughout the meal for sopping up sauces.  I did not think they were as crisp as they should be, though. 

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The first course was three one-bite hors d’oeuvres (right to left:) a chunk of Spanish Mackerel with little matchstick vegetables, Rock Shrimp Balchao and a Duck Confit & Foie Gras Tortellino. The first two were very substantial for their small size and filled my mouth with flavors. 

Second:
Hamachi & Striped Bass Cru
Apple Sorbet, Apple Ginger Salsa 

The two slices of raw hamachi (a rich north Pacific fish) stood up to the surprisingly strong and appropriate spices, but the one slice of striped bass did not.  The two apple condiments were an excellent counterpoint to the richness of the hamachi. The wine was a dry prosecco, an appropriate, although not imaginative, pairing. 

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left: Karyn enjoys the hamachi.    right:  the rice flaked fluke 

Third:
Rice Flaked Fluke
Pea Shoots, Fennel & Linguiça 

Like the striped bass, fluke was poor choice of fish for this course which was dominated by the flavor of the linguiça. The grüner veltliner, Hirsch Veltliner #1, served with it had a green appley flavor that provided the same counterpoint as the condiments in the previous course. The crust on the fluke, which seemed to be made of crushed rice-krispies, was interesting.  

tabla-5.jpgFourth :
Seared Sea Scallop
Long Squash, Silk Squash, Coconut Curry 

The one large scallop was perfectly seared; it did not have that unpleasant metallic flavor one finds so often in big sea scallops. The squash strips added some bulk and soaked up the coconut curry which had the right amount of oomph and was well paired with the Gewürztraminer/Riesling/Chardonnay blend,
Sokol Blosser Evolution #9 (Dundee, Oregon.) 

Right: Blair anticipates the scallop.

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Fifth:
Roasted Guinea Hen
Fall Braising Greens, Roasted Squash Puree & Spiced Quince Jus 

Each slice of the guinea hen was moist and had some crisp skin. The quince sauce which encircled the dish was a good sweet/sour enhancement. It was pleasant to go on to a red wine at this point. Some tasting menus continue the white wine courses too long. The Spanish red wine, whose name I missed, was substantial without being heavy.  

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Left: Karyn enjoys the Zinfandel with the beefloin;
Right: Blair tastes the Spanish wine with the guinea hen.

Sixth:
Dry Aged Beef Striploin
Roasted Chanterelles, Bacon Rösti, Black Pepper-Cumin Curry 

This was enjoyable, but I thought that there was too much pepper, particularly with a delicate ingredient like chanterelles.  In general, I think that Tabla’s cuisine has been made a bit hotter than it was on our previous visits. The rösti was perfect, a fine tribute to the chef’s Swiss training. The Zinfandel, Joel Gott (California) 2005, had the needed richness stand up to the pepper. 

tabla-9.jpgSeventh:
Pomegranate & Champagne Granité
Rosewater Macaroons

This light first dessert was superb, bringing out the tangy sweetness of the pomegranate seeds.  tabla-10.jpg

Eighth:
Coffee Soufflé

Passion Fruit Ice Cream, Espresso Crumble.”


This course didn’t work at all. The soufflé was in too small a ramekin and had not risen properly. The ruby port, Cockburn’s “Quinta dos Canais”, was an absurd pairing, adding sweetness to the sweet. Ruby ports are not elegant enough for this menu. But the ice cream was good.

We turned down the coffee or tea which comes with the menu and enjoyed half of the tray of petit fours, which were totally old-fashioned French in style with no Indian touch. tabla-11.jpg In general, the menu was a satisfying and enjoyable exploration of the Indian fusion concept. I think that some of the ingredients should be better chosen to stand up to the spices. I would also like to see a higher price choice for the wine pairings with more interesting and imaginative wines that would go with the innovative theme.  The service was friendly and efficient. Linda’s request for red substitutes for the white wines in the pairing was handled cheerfully. The pace of the meal was fine. But the big negative is the one thing which I thought Danny Meyer, the proprietor of this and other upscale restaurants, would have done right first: hospitality and ambience. We were greeted on entering by a scowling hostess with her hair in a bun who would have fit right in at a Soviet restaurant. She informed us without apology that our table would not be ready for twenty minutes and that we should go to the bar. Now, she knows perfectly well that the bar is jammed two or three deep with young folk who are going to the trendy Tabla Bread Bar on the ground level. She also knows that there is only one small bench where people waiting can sit, although talking is difficult due to the young folks’ music blaring. She did not offer us a menu, but provided one when asked. Fortunately Blair was able to elbow his way up to a bartender and bought us each an apéritif, mine being a generous glass of Indian chenin blanc, which was drinkable. The noise level in the main dining room upstairs is high, as is typical in New York restaurants with people having a good time. But since we started late and had the big menu, we were still there when the big tables had left and the conversation level had dropped noticeably. But this left us with the annoying idiot bass beat of the music from downstairs.  Well, we will go back to Tabla from time to time, but we would go more often if the ambience were at the level it should be.  

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