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Posts posted by Toby

  1. Toby, what were these Punjabi dishes you speak of that were served at  the Diwan banquet?

    "Tandoori food -- dishes cooked in hot, clay ovens -- was brought into Delhi after India's partition in 1947. Fleeing Hindu refugees from the North-West and the Punjab came with a few clothes, a few pots, and their tandoors." -- Madhur Jaffrey, A Taste of India

    Sorry, Suvir -- while the food at the banquet was quite good and the entire evening was lovely, a subsequent visit to Diwan was a major disappointment. Although I gave your name as a reference (per your suggestion) when I made the reservation and specifically asked if the chef would be cooking that night (and was told he would be there), he wasn't there. The food was below standard (including what was called your tomato chutney, but was so definitely not); a friend from California was treating me to dinner and I had suggested Diwan. I was totally embarrassed, especially when the exorbitant (for the quality of the food) bill came.

  2. And while the food at the egullet dinner at Diwan was very good, it still seemed to somewhat follow the model of Indian restaurants in the West, what Smita Chandra in the Cuisines of India calls the "tried-and-true formula, serving [a] hybrid Punjabi [tandoori]-Moghlai [biryanis, kormas, etc.] cuisine." Many of the dishes at Tabla Bread Bar are interpretations of regional Indian cuisines less familiar to Westerners, such as the Goanese dishes (which were influenced by the Portuguese, of course), such as the Veal and Coconut Curry. Perhaps this was what was meant earlier in this thread by "unconventional" Indian food at Tabla Bread Bar.

  3. Now, since you pressed me to answer Steve's question, perhaps you would ask him to answer mine -- which I have asked many times, on many threads. In fact Steve has also posed the same question, without answering it.
    How do we identify a member of the Plotnickiist elite? How do we know whom to trust in the quest for good food?

    Jonathan, do you really want to revive the "measure" thread?

  4. Some recipes from The Babbo Cookbook:

    Warm Lamb's Tongue in a Black Truffle Vinaigrette with Pecorina and a Three-Minute Egg

    Cool Roasted Shiitakes with Barbecued Onions and Basil Oil

    Mustard-Crusted Salmon with Roasted Scallions and Pressed Beet Vinaigrette

    Tilefish in a Sungold Tomato and Cool Cucumber Gazpacho

    Duck Braciole with Favas and Pecorino

    Would anyone say Babbo isn't an Italian restaurant?

  5. Another point that has seemed to lead this thread astray is that the restaurant being discussed was the Bread Bar at Tabla, which is more decidedly Indian than Tabla (the restaurant upstairs), so there was a point to the initial comparison.

    And if you look through Indian cookbooks or google some of the menu items at the Bread Bar, you'll find lots of regional Indian recipes with ingredients and techniques similar to the dishes served at the Bread Bar (e.g., lotus root curry with greens -- lots of recipes from both Kashmir and South India/Sri Lanka).

    That said, the food at Tabla Bread Bar was just tastier. Aside from spicing, the food was lighter and less doughy.

  6. It occurred to me that maybe these dishes, on the Tabla Bread Bar menu, were actually more rooted within the sphere of traditional Indian cuisine than we had thought.

    Regarding the premise, it was the baby bok choy that really caught my eye -- and of course the beef -- not the lotus root. I just bought a lotus root a month or so ago for use in an Indian recipe. And of course we could keep extending the reasoning process to include just about anything. Yes there are Indian dishes that use beef. Yes it would be logical for an Indian chef to use bok choy were that the locally available baby green in a new place. For all I know, they have bok choy in India too. But if you take any sophisticated, great cuisine -- Indian, Chinese, French, Italian -- you're going to find that they can all be intellectualized to the point where any dish is part of the cuisine. Braising is a technique in all these cuisines. Beef can be an ingredient. The spice traders universalized the relevant spices long before the United States even existed. So to some extent the question of authenticity is a meaningless one. At the same time, I do think the dishes described from the Tabla Bread Bar -- especially when viewed in the context of what I know, based on numerous visits, to be the cooking style there -- can fairly be labeled as atypical of classic Indian cuisine. That somebody might be preparing similar dishes in India, or that an obscure regional recipe bears some resemblance to what Floyd is doing, would really in my opinion be beside the point. I'm happy to be corrected, though: if these are popular dishes with wide audiences in India, and if Tabla is preparing them in a similar style, I'd accept that information and say I was wrong.

    What exactly are you saying, anyway?

    Bringing the Bread Bar at Tabla into this thread was simply to say that, at a recent dinner, the food served was tastier, better balanced, and more consistent than dinner at Diwan.

    When I went to Diwan several months ago on a Sunday night, I had called ahead and was assured that the chef would be there. However, he wasn't, and I later found out, he's not there on Sunday nights. "Suvir's chutney" was a bland tomato sauce with little pieces of tasteless tomatoes in it. There were no shrimp in the crab appetizer. As I said, the lamb stew we had was bland, boring and gloppy. We have talked about the necessity for a chef to have a trained staff that can replicate his food even when he's not there at length on egullet. And the meal cost more than the food at Tabla Bread Bar, which was, for me at least, innovative, light and tasty, as well as being recognizably Indian.

  7. the braised beef brisket which comes in a little iron tureen, handle and all, and which is braised in a light broth that is mildly spiced, what's not to like about that dish? It could have been served in a Mexican restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, a French restaurant, etc. all with the spicing routine tweaked for local custom.

    G.: This description, from Plotnicki, hardly sounds like food that is "conventionally Indian." Ditto the "little casserole of lotus root and what might have been baby bok choi." I have no objection to those dishes; they may be great; but I don't see them as conventional.

    It occurred to me that maybe these dishes, on the Tabla Bread Bar menu, were actually more rooted within the sphere of traditional Indian cuisine than we had thought.

    I had never realized that lotus root was native to India as well as China, but in fact, it is, being the rhizome of the lotus flower. In Kashmir, lotus root is called nedr, and is cooked with fish, with tender spring greens (cut into 1/4-inch rounds to be cooked with spinach, into 1/4-inch thick diagonals to be cooked with the red-leafed wastahaak), and with lamb. Lotus root is also made into 'meatballs,' cooked with yoghurt, made into fritters or chips. Lotus root is also popular with the Sindhis in Gujarat, and with the Mangalorians in Coorg.

    As for the braised beef brisket, it seems to use the classic korma (braising) and/or dum-pokt (pot roasting) technique. Travel and settlement by Indians throughout Asia and by people from China, Asia Minor, and Southeast Asia in India has influenced Indian food and the cooking of its neighbors throughout its history. There is nothing that aberrant about using Indian techniques on ingredients not commonly associated with Indian cuisine; in fact, most of the foods of South and Southeast Asia are fusion foods to some extent. We've had this discussion before, on other threads. An interesting book with a stupid name, Terrific Pacific Cookbook, by Anya Von Bremzen and John Welchman, contains some recipes from Appam, an Indian restaurant I used to eat at in San Francisco, which cooks more modern versions of Indian dishes, such as salmon biriyani, potato salad made with tiny new potatoes, mustard seeds, turmeric, cayenne, scallions and cilantro, and a lovely rabbit stew, gently flavored with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, turmeric, paprika, nutmeg, cumin, tomatoes, and yogurt. I remember eating a very succulent tandoori baby back ribs there; the ribs were fatty enough to stay juicy.

    Other books which give some idea of the cross-cultural input into Indian cuisine are Copeland Marks' Indian & Chinese Cooking from the Himalayan Rim and his Varied Kitchens of India (Cuisines of the Anglo-Indians of Calcutta, Bengalis, Jews of Calcutta, Kashmiris, Parsis, and Tibetans of Darjeeling). There are many people of Indian descent living in the West Indies; their cooking, over generations, has been influenced by the local ingredients and techniques of their new countries, but is still recognizably Indian.

    If the ingredients/techniques used at Tabla Bread Bar are within the vocabulary of Indian cuisine, then maybe it is our ignorance that causes us to be surprised or dismissive of what really is very tasty food.

  8. Toby: I hear the emperor's new clothes argument all the time about every restaurant that has a reputation for being good. I especially hear it from people who haven't ever tasted a Peter Luger steak, or been to Sushi Yasuda, or enjoyed any of the other quintessential food experiences. And I get a lot of apologies later on, of the "I was blind but now I can see" variety. Not always, but often.

    No, Steven, I simply meant that it's possible to recognize a quintessential food experience without extensive technical knowledge of the ingredient/cuisine/technique involved. (Are you being intentionally obtuse today?)

  9. Toby, do you reject the notion, then, of "acquired taste"?

    I'm not sure what "acquired taste" means when speaking about food; I lean more to food memory in how I evaluate food. Also, I think palates change, and the amount of salt you get used to using changes your palate as well.

    "Brightness" is a quality in food that's very important to me, but difficult to describe. It has something to do with how the taste of the food moves about once it's in your mouth. I guess the opposite taste sensation would be "stodgy." I like stews and braised food, and think being able to bring a bright/light taste to foods that have been longer cooked is an important qualification. I thought the egullet meal at Diwan lacked balance in that there were no stews/braised/curry dishes. When I revisited Diwan, I ordered a braised lamb dish; it was totally undistinguished, a dull brown glop. Since the chef wasn't there that night, I'm not able to judge how the dish would have tasted made correctly.

  10. ... to "decode the mysteries" of Indian cuisine, as you have tried to do with wine. At least some of us are open-minded enough to get out there and try to learn, read, and taste. So, sure, given that you're someone who revels in the familiar, you're going to like what you appreciate. But saying that something is better just because it's what you happen to comprehend is a willfully uninformed gesture. I'm far more inclined to listen to Toby if she says Tabla is better than Diwan, because she approaches things with an open mind. Her argument, whatever it is, might make sense. Yours is, so far, unimpressive.

    While it's nice to know as much as one can about everything under the sun, I don't think it's necessary to 'decode the mysteries' of any cuisine to enjoy eating it and make comparisons about it. If I eat something that's delicious, I might like to know how it's made so I can cook it at home; knowing how it's made -- what the spicing components, cooking techniques are -- is secondary to whether or not something tastes delicious to me. As for comparisons, while the food at Tabla Bread Bar may not be as authentically Indian in spicing, ingredients, as the food at Diwan, I found it more varied and brighter in taste. That's my argument.

  11. The tandoori lamb tenderloin at Tabla Bread Bar was very delicious, tender (but not mushy) pink meat. A little casserole of lotus root and what might have been baby bok choi (?) was refreshing, and the rice pilaf was tasty and well-cooked. (I was told that the Bread Bar is closer to more traditional Indian food than the dining room upstairs.) I found the food less starchy than the food at Diwan. Also, a second dinner at Diwan on a Sunday night when the chef wasn't in was disastrous.

  12. That's part of what I find hilarious about anyone saying this is "bad for business." This type of discussion is positively great for "business." Here we are like 100 posts and 1500 views into this thing and the thread is still powering along. That's great response in any system of accounting -- not even Bourdain draws like that. Even a proclaimed non-Webzine reader is here on this thread, reading the article and participating, and saying it's bad for business! I'm laughing all the way to the pretend bank, where I plan to make a hefty deposit of irony.

    Steven, I think you're missing a point -- for a number of members, this thread (and the article it refers to) might be considered negative business.

  13. i  feel very strongly about the need for a writer to know his audience.  i felt insulted by the tone of that piece, as did others, it would seem.  when we say that, we mean it. 

    klc, i don't expect the "seriousness" of the nation here.  that wasn't my point.  i said that i expected arguments that focus on issues, not arguments tha resort to ad hominem attacks.  there's a difference.  you can be edgy and biting, humorous, provocative, all while staying focused on issues.  reading your piece, and then the comments of other site administrators which followed--i felt like i'd walked into the eight grade boys' locker room after PE.  nothing you have ever written here before--that i've read--and i have read many of your posts with interest and true gratitude for your knowledge and insight--has made me feel that way.

    What Stella said.

  14. Seriously, though, I'm using the Union Square Greenmarket as a metaphor. Most New York restaurants don't actually shop there even if they use the produce; they just get deliveries from the same purveyors that show up at the various greenmarkets on a rotating schedule of days. So for example if Daniel Boulud is going to include tomatoes from Tim Stark and Eckerton Hill Farm in Pennsylvania -- which during their short season really are just about the best tomatoes being grown on the planet -- I doubt he sends someone down to Union Square to pick them up. Tim no doubt makes a delivery, and it wouldn't surprise me if Boulud gets the cream of the crop; not that Tim has any bad product, but in the case of some purveyors the restaurant delivery is a lot better than what shows up at the market, which is in turn a lot better than what's left at the market after 9:00am, while what's there after 12:00pm is unrecognizable as the same product. No, the Greenmarket doesn't have the best of everything, and there's plenty of dreck there, but at the same time it does have the best of some things at some times. The best restaurants know what's good when and they grab it.

    Steven, why don't you come down to the market this summer and check it out for yourself. The market is a lot of fun; I like the mornings because it's not as hot and crowded.

  15. I can't remember whose recipe we use. I want to say Patrcia Wells from The Food Lover's Guide toi France. Can that be right? Anyway, we must have a dozen recipes in the house including Joanna Weir. None of them are particularly fancy. Chickpea flour and water.

    The toppings for little socca pancakes are endless. French cheese with tomatoes and basil are terrific. It's the consistancy of the socca that's tricky. When you get it in France, it is cooked in a wood burning oven and the bottonm of the socca is slightly charred and the edges are burnt. Hard to approximate that at home in the oven. Maybe if I use a pizza stone. But that's no good because the batter will run off the sides.

    Joanna Weir's recipe uses quite a bit of olive oil. I cook them in shallow, oiled cake pans in hot oven and try to put in only a thin layer of batter. The amount of oil she calls for gives them a nice layered texture.

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