Entries in Tabla (5)


Danny Meyer’s Tabla to Close

Restauranteur Danny Meyer announced today that Tabla will close at the end of the year. It is the first time Meyer has folded a restaurant since his remarkable run of success began with Union Square Cafe in 1885.

Tabla was a big risk in 1998, aiming to prove that nouveau Indian cuisine could work in a fine-dining environment. Its fancy upstairs dining room had a relatively expensive prix fixe format usually reserved for high-end French restaurants. It won three stars from Ruch Reichl, and a fanatic following thereafter.

As time went on, Tabla faded out of the conversation, while its next-door neighbor, Eleven Madison Park—which Meyer also owns—ascended to four-star glory. There were certainly signs of trouble a year ago, when Tabla ditched the prix fixe and installed its more casual “bread bar” menu in the main dining room.

Remarkably, Tabla and Eleven Madison Park opened within weeks of one another. The two are divided by a wall that couldn’t be removed in the landmarked building, which led to the seemingly harebrained idea of opening two fine dining restaurants practically simultaneously, adjacent to one another. Nobody can be happy about Tabla’s demise; still, twelve years is a pretty damned good run.

Meyer told the Times that it was a struggle to fill 280 seats every night. Restauranteurs’ own explanations are seldom the full story: no one ever wants to admit that their own mistakes could have contributed to the failure. Whatever the reason, Tabla will soon be no more.

He also said he is keeping it open through December 30 to give his staff time to find other positions. The fall and holiday seasons are usually the best months for the restaurant industry, and no doubt Tabla fans will want to go back for one last fling. Meyer will probably have no trouble breaking even for three more months.

What he will do with the space is unknown. It’s hard to imagine Meyer ceding prime Madison Square real estate to another operator. But that very large space is expensive, which limits the kinds of concepts that can succeed there.


Tabla Retrenches

Union Square Hospitality Group has announced that Tabla, the Indian restaurant at Madison Park, will eliminate its casual downstairs sibling, Bread Bar at Tabla. From now on, both spaces will serve the identical menu.

When we visited the Bread Bar in June, Tabla was serving a $59 prix fixe. On a Friday evening, the space looked almost empty, while the Bread Bar was bustling. The new menu (PDF here) strongly resembles the Bread Bar menu that we dined from that evening. It has a wide range of à la carte choices from $9–22 (Naan just $4), along with tasting menus at either $54 or $79.

So while USHG says that the Bread Bar has been discontinued, it’s actually the fine-dining option that’s going away. The new combined menu is basically the Bread Bar menu. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as we liked most of the food we had there.

But it does appear to be a retrenchment.


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: *


Your Seder Could Be Here

With Passover starting tomorrow, I doubt that anyone who cares about celebrating a Seder is still looking for restaurant suggestions. Still, I thought I’d share my research.

I was surprised how many serious restaurants are offering Seders or Passover-themed meals this weekend:

  • At Savoy, chef–owner Peter Hoffman cooks the Sephardic-accented meal and leads the Seder himself. Price: $110.
  • At Tabla, Floyd Cardoz celebrates Passover Indian-style. Price: $95.
  • At Compass, Neil Annis mixes a modern American and traditional Jewish menu. Price: $110.
  • At Capsouto Frères, which has offered its Seder for 20 years, the menu is Sephardic-themed, and the proceeds are donated to charity. Price: $150.

These are all wonderful restaurants—places I’d be pleased to recommend any day of the week. On paper, Tabla appears to have the best deal, not merely because it has the lowest price, but because it’s the best restaurant of the bunch.

But the pièce de resistance is Passover at Sammy’s Roumanian, where the watered-down Seder (just 20-minutes long) costs $190. Just three years ago, they were charging only $90 for it. We were actually considering Sammy’s—the 20-minute service is right up our street—but at the inflated price we’ll take a pass.

So where are we going instead? L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Same price as Sammy’s; food from another universe.



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: ***