The Beat Goes On at Tabla, One of City’s Most Exciting

103006 article moira The Beat Goes On at Tabla,  One of City’s Most ExcitingFloyd Cardoz, the chef at Tabla, has just come out with his first cookbook, One Spice, Two Spice (William Morrow). His book is subtitled American Food, Indian Flavors, and that’s what his restaurant is about, too.

Tabla, which Mr. Cardoz co-owns with restaurateur Danny Meyer, introduced the public to a new cuisine when it opened eight years ago. It was a marriage of Indian aromatics with classic Western techniques. People who went expecting traditional Indian cooking found instead naan made with pumpernickel and capers, samosas stuffed with duck magret, spiced crab crakes served in poppadum shells with tamarind chutney, and for dessert, grapefruit sorbet flavored with mustard seeds. Mr. Cardoz, who grew up in Goa and Bombay, had worked as Gray Kunz’s chef de cuisine at Lespinasse (where there were just four Indian spices in the kitchen when he arrived, and over 25 by the time he left).

People either loved the food at Tabla or hated it. I had mixed feelings at the time. When a dish worked, it was terrific. But as I made my way around his menu, there were times when I thought: This is fascinating and original, but do I really want to eat this again?

The magnificent-looking restaurant sits on two levels in the MetLife building overlooking Gramercy Square, with a luminous padauk wood staircase and jade and coral mosaics on the walls. When the dining room first opened, it was noisy. That has now been fixed with thick curtains, fabric under the tabletops and upholstered seats on the backs of the chairs. The lighting upstairs is better than it was but still needs work. Although dim, it beams down from overhead, turning the people underneath into Easter Island sculptures. Apart from that, the room is very comfortable and the service, as in all Danny Meyer’s restaurants, is impeccable.

On a recent evening, two of us plunged into Tabla’s eight-course chef’s market tasting menu ($92). It began with a line-up of tuna toro with pickled ramps, scallop ceviche topped with black pepper, and two half-moons of buttery foie gras with pineapple. Hamachi and mackerel cru arrived with a dollop of tomato sorbet and a tomatillo ginger salsa that wonderfully complemented the richness of the fish. Black bass, coated with crisp rice flakes, was served with corn, shell beans and linguica (Portuguese smoked pork sausage). A coconut curry came with sweet Scottish langoustines, and a black-pepper-and-cumin curry with seared Kobe beef; the sauces were subtle and understated. The squab was outstanding, rare underneath a crackling golden skin and served with a tart plum jus. Dessert included foamed pear cider with nutmeg madeleines and a coffee soufflé. This was the epitome of New American cuisine, with its emphasis on greenmarket produce and top-notch ingredients.

The three-course dinner menu costs $64. Mr. Cardoz’s signature crab cake in a poppadum shell came with an avocado salad flavored with toasted cumin and lime juice and a tamarind chutney that was so good I’m going to try it at home (there’s a recipe in Mr. Cardoz’s book). The tamarind adds a deep lemony flavor that perks up just about anything. Duck samosa was a little dry but was served with a wonderful salad of chick peas tossed with orange peel, golden raisins and tamarind (I preferred the “fire-roasted” sweet corn samosa that had been on the menu the previous week, but was now no longer in season). Rosy slices of lamb with mint and black pepper were outstanding. So was a warmly spiced skate-and-crab gumbo with brown basmati rice. But the pork was the all-out winner, silken in texture, with a thin crackling and a tamarind-mustard jus.

Desserts include a creamy vanilla kulfi (served with a grapefruit spoon so it doesn’t slide across the plate), shaped in a cone topped with gold leaf and accompanied with warm, dense gingerbread cake. There’s also a mango lassi, and a chocolate flourless cake with chocolate-chipotle mousse. The caramel in the petits fours is amazing, with a hint of smoked pepper. They should sell these by the box.

One of my guests at the three-course dinner confessed that she’d met a friend for a drink downstairs before she came up to meet us. They had ended up having a “snack” at Tabla’s ground-floor bread bar, which has two tandoori ovens and serves food that is more along the lines of Indian country cooking. Naan sprinkled with rosemary, greenmarket beans with coconut, mustard and curry leaves, and chunks of roasted beets tossed with chilies and chewy strips of toasted bacalao were among the dishes they’d consumed. That didn’t prevent her from going on to have a hearty dinner with us afterwards.

I’d made pretty much the same choices at the bread bar on the previous Sunday night. A friend and I arrived at 10 o’clock, just as things appeared to be winding down and the restaurant was emptying out. Instead of slamming plates and turning chairs upside down on tables, the staff could not have been more welcoming. On Sunday nights, if you buy one bottle of wine, you get the second one free.

Tabla has settled down to become one of the city’s great restaurants. Now let’s see if I can reproduce Mr. Cardoz’s Goan-spiced crab cakes at home.

Floyd Cardoz, the chef at Tabla, has just come out with his first cookbook, One Spice, Two Spice (William Morrow). His book is subtitled American Food, Indian Flavors, and that’s what his restaurant is about, too.

Tabla, which Mr. Cardoz co-owns with restaurateur Danny Meyer, introduced the public to a new cuisine when it opened eight years ago. It was a marriage of Indian aromatics with classic Western techniques. People who went expecting traditional Indian cooking found instead naan made with pumpernickel and capers, samosas stuffed with duck magret, spiced crab crakes served in poppadum shells with tamarind chutney, and for dessert, grapefruit sorbet flavored with mustard seeds. Mr. Cardoz, who grew up in Goa and Bombay, had worked as Gray Kunz’s chef de cuisine at Lespinasse (where there were just four Indian spices in the kitchen when he arrived, and over 25 by the time he left).

People either loved the food at Tabla or hated it. I had mixed feelings at the time. When a dish worked, it was terrific. But as I made my way around his menu, there were times when I thought: This is fascinating and original, but do I really want to eat this again?

The magnificent-looking restaurant sits on two levels in the MetLife building overlooking Gramercy Square, with a luminous padauk wood staircase and jade and coral mosaics on the walls. When the dining room first opened, it was noisy. That has now been fixed with thick curtains, fabric under the tabletops and upholstered seats on the backs of the chairs. The lighting upstairs is better than it was but still needs work. Although dim, it beams down from overhead, turning the people underneath into Easter Island sculptures. Apart from that, the room is very comfortable and the service, as in all Danny Meyer’s restaurants, is impeccable.

On a recent evening, two of us plunged into Tabla’s eight-course chef’s market tasting menu ($92). It began with a line-up of tuna toro with pickled ramps, scallop ceviche topped with black pepper, and two half-moons of buttery foie gras with pineapple. Hamachi and mackerel cru arrived with a dollop of tomato sorbet and a tomatillo ginger salsa that wonderfully complemented the richness of the fish. Black bass, coated with crisp rice flakes, was served with corn, shell beans and linguica (Portuguese smoked pork sausage). A coconut curry came with sweet Scottish langoustines, and a black-pepper-and-cumin curry with seared Kobe beef; the sauces were subtle and understated. The squab was outstanding, rare underneath a crackling golden skin and served with a tart plum jus. Dessert included foamed pear cider with nutmeg madeleines and a coffee soufflé. This was the epitome of New American cuisine, with its emphasis on greenmarket produce and top-notch ingredients.

The three-course dinner menu costs $64. Mr. Cardoz’s signature crab cake in a poppadum shell came with an avocado salad flavored with toasted cumin and lime juice and a tamarind chutney that was so good I’m going to try it at home (there’s a recipe in Mr. Cardoz’s book). The tamarind adds a deep lemony flavor that perks up just about anything. Duck samosa was a little dry but was served with a wonderful salad of chick peas tossed with orange peel, golden raisins and tamarind (I preferred the “fire-roasted” sweet corn samosa that had been on the menu the previous week, but was now no longer in season). Rosy slices of lamb with mint and black pepper were outstanding. So was a warmly spiced skate-and-crab gumbo with brown basmati rice. But the pork was the all-out winner, silken in texture, with a thin crackling and a tamarind-mustard jus.

Desserts include a creamy vanilla kulfi (served with a grapefruit spoon so it doesn’t slide across the plate), shaped in a cone topped with gold leaf and accompanied with warm, dense gingerbread cake. There’s also a mango lassi, and a chocolate flourless cake with chocolate-chipotle mousse. The caramel in the petits fours is amazing, with a hint of smoked pepper. They should sell these by the box.

One of my guests at the three-course dinner confessed that she’d met a friend for a drink downstairs before she came up to meet us. They had ended up having a “snack” at Tabla’s ground-floor bread bar, which has two tandoori ovens and serves food that is more along the lines of Indian country cooking. Naan sprinkled with rosemary, greenmarket beans with coconut, mustard and curry leaves, and chunks of roasted beets tossed with chilies and chewy strips of toasted bacalao were among the dishes they’d consumed. That didn’t prevent her from going on to have a hearty dinner with us afterwards.

I’d made pretty much the same choices at the bread bar on the previous Sunday night. A friend and I arrived at 10 o’clock, just as things appeared to be winding down and the restaurant was emptying out. Instead of slamming plates and turning chairs upside down on tables, the staff could not have been more welcoming. On Sunday nights, if you buy one bottle of wine, you get the second one free.

Tabla has settled down to become one of the city’s great restaurants. Now let’s see if I can reproduce Mr. Cardoz’s Goan-spiced crab cakes at home.