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Note: Tabla closed at the end of 2010.

I’ve never ordered a tasting menu that didn’t have at least one dud—even at Per Se. That changed on Saturday evening, when my friend and I ordered the five-course tasting at Tabla. This was a culinary exercise in near-perfection, from beginning to end.

Tabla is a bit difficult to characterize. Downstairs, there is a “bread bar” that serves conventional Indian food. The main restaurant borrows ideas from many cuisines, with only the slightest hint of Indian spices. (The Michelin Guide was thoroughly stumped; they branded the cuisine “Contemporary,” the same pigeon-hole as Alain Ducasse.)

Tabla offers three dinner options: a prix fixe at $64 (you choose one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert from a fairly long list of choices); a five-course winter tasting menu at $79 (optional wine pairing, $38); or, an eight-course market tasting menu at $92 (optional wine pairing, $48).

We chose the five-course winter tasting menu with the wine pairings, which included the following:

Sweet Maine Shrimp & Fluke Cru
Lime, Cider & Toasted Spices
Champagne Brut Reserve, Biillecart Salmon (Mareuil-Sur-Ay, France) NV

Rice Flaked Turbot
Baby Spinach, Applewood Smoked Bacon and Jaggery-Tamarind Glaze
Sémillon, The Willows Vinyard (Barossa Valey, Australia) 2002

Slow Roasted Nova Scotia Lobster
Yellowfoot chanterelles, Water Chestnuts & Walnuts
Viura, Cune, Blanco Seco Monopole (Rioja, Spain) 2002

Challan Duck Two Ways
Braised Endive, Horseradish, Orange Curry
Chiraz, 3-Rings (Barossa Valley, Australia) 2004

Apple Tarte Tatin
Greenmarket Quince Membrillo, Mutsu Apple Fritter
Gewürtztraminer, Kent Rasmussen Late Harvest (Sonoma County, CA) 2003

Petits Fours, Coffee and Tabla’s Teas

(The above is from Tabla’s website, which appears to be up-to-date. I cannot swear that we had those exact wines, but I believe we did.)

The first course (Sweet Maine Shrimp & Fluke Cru) was a daring winter choice, as it was served cold. However, it worked in the context of the overall meal. The Rice Flaked Turbot was one of the top fish courses I’ve had anywhere. The duck was tender and hearty. If I had to deduct a half-point, it would be for the lobster, which was ever so slightly tough.

I was particularly impressed by the wine pairing. The wines were all a bit off the beaten path, but went perfectly with the food. And we had five glasses of well contrasted wines for $38. It has got to be one of the better deals around.

The layout at Tabla is a bit unusual. The fine dining restaurant is upstairs, but it is partly open to the floor below, and some of the sound from the bar drifts into the dining space. There is an attempt at elegance, and the tables are generously spaced, but I found it a bit chilly—and not only metaphorically; I regretted not bringing a sweater.

There is no flaw in the service, however, which is polished and efficient. Overall, this was one of the finest meals I have had in New York over the past year.

Tabla (11 Madison Avenue at 25th Street, Flatiron District)

Food: ***½
Service: ***
Ambiance: **
Overall: ***

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