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 25th & Madison, on the Park

UPDATE 13 April 2005 - It was back to the Bread Bar, home sweet home, or perhaps home spicy home. The weather was awful, so we went for the beef cheek frankie, a sort of ultra rich beefy roll up, as comfort food. We were extremely comforted.

UPDATE 2004 - Tabla is better than ever, upstairs and downstairs. How do they do it?

To start with, Tabla is a beautiful restaurant. It is dark and full of warm colors inspired by the Indian subcontinent, and this makes the view of Madison Park all the more beautiful. The food, too, is inspired by the cooking of India, but also by more modern American trends with an emphasis on good, fresh ingredients and straight forward preparations. It is the Indian influence that makes Tabla unique.

Tabla serves lunch and dinner in the dining room upstairs and they have a bread bar that starts serving at noon and serves through dinner. They are planning to serve the bread bar menu outdoors on the corner, which should add some outdoor life to this rather business-y part of town.

The Restaurant

The lunch and dinner menus overlap, at least conceptually, but dinner is only served in multiple course tasting menus. We went to town and had all seven courses. There was skate with Goan spices, a scallop and lobster fricasse with red wine curry sauce served on dark leafy greens, halibut with eggplant and shitake mushrooms with a mysterious oriental sauce, rabbit crepinete, beef oxtails with a ginger vegetable risotto and frizzled horseradish, duck magret and fois gras with a rhubarb compote and much, much more.

The skate was sweet, as usual, but the Goan spices including cumin, among others we could not place, gave it an additional depth of flavor. The red wine curry sauce, clearly fusion cuisine, added fruity and savory notes to the sea food. The dark meaty flavor of the oxtails were enhanced by the green ginger notes of the risotto. In each case, the dish started with familiar notes, but Tabla added their own Indian take, with a marvelous result.

We know what to expect with a veal shank terrine. They start with this, then they add some sauteed greens. So far, so familiar, but then they finish with kumquat jam, and it all comes together, like no where else in New York, or the world, as best we can tell

Tabla also serves wonderful Indian breads with the food, including paratha's and nan's, but more on this below. They have a wine list, but we tend to go for the teas. They bring an array of teas to your table, herbal and traditional, and they will match them with your courses like wines. We'll also recommend the margaritas, which are unusual, but excellent. They start with tequila and fresh fruit juices, but then they add tamarind extract and they line the glass with salt, sugar and citrus rind.

At Tabla, we even eat dessert and cannot say enough good things about their kolfi, dense, vanilla ice cream like confection served with stewed apricots with mint and ginger. They also have the most delicious lemon ices made with lots of lemon zest.

The service is excellent - warm and welcoming as usual in Danny Meyer's restaurants. We often arrive looking like refugees from the jogging track, but here we are treated like royalty.

The Bread Bar

The service in the bread bar downstairs is as good as in the restaurant above, but the atmosphere is a tad less formal and the meals are a la carte. It is down here that you can really indulge your love for Indian breads, all hot and steamy from the oven or fry pan. Even better, they stuff their breads with lentils, lamb stew or cheese and serve a variety of chutneys for dipping.

The caldo verde is a reminder that Portugal was one of the first Western nations to colonize India and one of the last to be kicked out (of Goa), but Tabla is about food, not politics, so they add coriander to the mix and come up with something special. The wild striped bass we had was served with caramelized shallots and a rich green curry sauce that reminded us of a great kangaroo green curry we had once in Darwin and was just as good.

If you want a great restaurant meal based on a unique, individual vision, try Tabla upstairs. If you want the same unusual vision, but want to eat more lightly, or during the afternoon lull, check out the Tabla Bread Bar.

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