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The Bread Bar at Tabla

Bread Bar is the oddly named casual sibling to chef Floyd Cardoz’s fine-dining Indian restaurant, Tabla.

I say “oddly named” because bread isn’t any more prominently featured here than at any other Indian restaurant. It’s a small section at the end of the two-page menu. If you didn’t know otherwise, you’d think it’s a bar that serves bread with your cocktails, and that’s not what Bread Bar is at all.

In the fine print (a/k/a/ the website), Bread Bar bills itself as “home-style Indian cuisine,” but of the four dishes we tried, none would be encountered in the typical Indian restaurant. There are traditional dishes on the menu, like Tandoori Lamb, Chicken Tikka, and Naan, but most of the items—at least as described—seem just as novel as the upstairs fine dining restaurant.

Tabla is the the quietest member of Danny Meyer’s restaurant brood. It’s not as well known as Union Square Cafe, for which the company is named; nor Eleven Madison Park, for which Frank Bruni has such a shine; nor The Modern, where chef Gabriel Kreuther just won a James Beard award; nor Shake Shack, so adored by the burger mavens; nor the perennially booked Gramercy Tavern.

But we have no reason to doubt Floyd Cardoz is just as talented as those other chefs. We awarded three stars when we dined there three years ago, the same as Ruth Reichl in the Times a decade ago. Tabla still serves a prix fixe menu, and at $59 it’s actually $5 cheaper than it was in 2006. The Bread Bar a different restaurant, for all intents and purposes, but its only Times write-up was a 2002 rave from Eric Asimov in $25 & Under. If the paper has mentioned Bread Bar since then, I seem to have missed it.

The space is typical of the casual “front rooms” attached to fine dining restaurants. Reservations aren’t taken, and the atmosphere is very much a bar that serves food. The dishes are served family style—meaning they come out as they’re ready—and the server recommended sharing, which we did.

The à la carte menu has 6–7 choices in each of five categories: Cold ($6–15), Hot ($9–15), Vegetables ($4–24), Fish & Shellfish ($16–38), and Meat ($18–23). There are two tasting menus ($54 or $89). Breads and chutneys are $4–10 each.

Some of the prices are tough to comprehend. In the Creamed Spinach Samosa ($15), and the only other ingredients are garlic, chickpeas, and radishes. The server said that it was just a single samosa, and she was at a loss to explain why it would be the most expensive hot appetizer. Why is the most expensive seafood dish the soft-shell crabs at $38, when lobster is only $23? I’m sure there are reasons, but not that we could make out from the menu.

Family-style menus tend to induce over-ordering, but we resisted that. Two of the small plates and two of the larger ones were more than we could finish, especially as the entrée portions were ample.

It’s also hard to tell what counts as an appetizer, and what’s just a side dish. Onion Rings ($10; above left) flaked in chickpea batter were perfect, but a bit odd to eat on their own. A Sunny Side Spiced Up Egg ($13; above right) worked beautifully as a starter. My girlfriend was skeptical of the dish, but the egg contrasted nicely with arugula, applewood smoked bacon, and gingered chicken livers.

Incidentally, all of Danny Meyer’s restaurants are offering a special “egg” dish during the spring, with $2 from each sale going to City Harvest. The Feedbag’s Josh Ozersky tried them all on a single evening, demonstrating that even his legendary appetite had its limits. But this is a great dish, and it’s a pity that it will come off the menu on June 20.

The Berkshire Country Pork Pan Roast ($18; above left), marinated with apple cider, cinammon, and mustard seeds, was the better of the two entrées. The pork was tender, the seasoning well judged.

A Pulled Lamb & Mustard-Mashed Potato “Naanini,” or “street sandwich” ($23; above right) seemed far too carb-heavy. The potatoes seemed to be there, not so much for flavor, but merely as a binder to hold the lamb together. The lamb was pretty good, though. It was an enormous portion, probably 50 percent larger than it needed to be. Imagine eating three pieces of quiche at one sitting.

This is a Danny Meyer restaurant, and naturally the service is first-rate. Some of the prices seemed dear to us, but with judicious ordering you can put together a fine, inexpensive casual meal.

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

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

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