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Whose Indian Food Really Stands Out?


Suvir Saran
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Soba - You miss the point. Nobody cares that Diwan is a real Indian restaurant and Tabla isn't. You are imposing a level of specificity that is outside of the context of comparison. Let me try it again;

1. Seven people at The Bread Bar at Tabla, six of whom were at the Diwan banquet

2. All six people agreed they enjoyed their meal at Tabla more then Diwan

3. Fat Guy, you and Anil said you can't compare them because one is a real Indian restaurant and one is a pretender

I say that response is a non-sequitor

Nobody compared the two on authenticity. We compared them based on the level of success each achieved regarding what they set out to do and how far they took their concepts. The most prevalent statement being, the tastes were bright at Tabla and muddied at Diwan. I attributed that to overspicing.

None of this has anything to do with authenticity. Just how good a job they did at both places. Now if you do not think Tabla is any good because it isn't authentic, that is okay. But I don't see how those statements reconcile,. Saying it isn't authentic, and saying it isn't any good because it isn't authentic are circular. And the reason you are caught up in that circular argument is is because our original statement did not revolve around authenticity but performance. But nobody wants to discuss the performance because it seems that being authentic gives you a pass on performance. It's kind of like why discuss how well an authentic Indian restaurant performs in relation to Tabla because Tabla is disqualified based on grounds of lack of authenticity before you ever compare them.

Uh, no. The authenticity point is central to my argument. If you happen to choose to ignore that point, why then I can't be held responsible for the consequences. :hmmm::blink:

Sure, we can discuss performance. I thought on my first pass at Diwan a month ago (not at the big to do, because if you remember, I was caught up at work and could not get out of it for even 10 minutes), that the layers of spicing were distinct and remarkable. Distinct because I (and many others, or at least the people who were eating there, four of whom were at the original event) could detect one layer from the next, and remarkable, because so many Indian restaurants that I've been to in NYC manage to get this central technique of Indian cuisine wrong. Again, if you want an example, the lemon rice is proof in the pudding. You can quote me on that.

I haven't been to TBB (or for that matter, Tabla) recently -- I may go back in the future. Their performance from what I can remember was adequate in all respects. I am not saying that Tabla or TBB don't pass on the point above. They do, its just that the layering of flavors there isn't complex enough ... at least to me.

Tabla is really an American restaurant with Indian overtones, so of course the technique behind the cooking is going to be different, and the results will be different. This is important because the presentation is just enough to lend it an Indian twist without fully committing the chef. Of course the flavors are bright -- you're being presented with a palette of bold and contrasting flavors in a way you may have never imagined before, so naturally you're going to describe it as such. (Or, as the Reichl review comes to mind, you might love the concept and hate the execution.) Someone who may not have trained their palate to recognize all that's familiar with what good Indian food is all about may not recognize the distinction and complexity of flavors that I reference above, if that person were to eat at Diwan. Would that person for instance be able to distinguish between an overspiced dish and dish that as the French say, is spiced correctly? That argument can go either way, so its no surprise there if such a person gave negative points to Diwan for having dishes with muddied flavors. (And as for Simon, well, it may have been an off day. :hmmm: )

As for TBB, I had to explain to my server what a plain sweet lassi was. :blink: Go figure.

Soba

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I think if you analyzed the food at The Bread Bar and at Diwan, you would find that it's not all that different. In fact a number of people have made that point already. And as for Diwan, nobody is saying that it's bad. I happen to like it very much. But it does have its flaws. And it just so happens that Tabla does a good job in the same areas where Diwan has flaws.

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I think if you analyzed the food at The Bread Bar and at Diwan, you would find that it's not all that different. In fact a number of people have made that point already. And as for Diwan, nobody is saying that it's bad. I happen to like it very much. But it does have its flaws. And it just so happens that Tabla does a good job in the same areas where Diwan has flaws.

Last sentence. Tabla or the Bread Bar? Different, you see.

Sigh.

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I don't know from authentic in Indian cooking, but a great example of the food at Bread Bar is the oxtail frankie, which is delicious- it takes an Indian street food snack, and replicates it with a decidedly non-traditional stuffing-

it's the best thing at either restaurant- a big reason I enjoyed Bread Bar more than Diwan-

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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?

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From the Babbo website:

...at Babbo we cook as an Italian might in the Mid-Atlantic/Hudson Valley region.

At Babbo you will rarely find your favorite regional classics as you have eaten them in osterie, trattorie and ristoranti throughout Italy. What you will find is delicious simple food that hopefully tastes as good as you remember from your last visit to Italy because we strive in the Italian fashion to shorten the time and distance any ingredient spends from the soil, or the water, or the air, to the plate. We import pasta, Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and Prosciutto San Daniele because they are so distinct and virtually indispensable to the creation of a great Italian meal. We fervently believe in the inherent quality, freshness and greatness of our regions ingredients purchased from local, predominantly organic, farmers and friends, many of them from forgotten or heirloom varietals. We are proud to make most of our salumi, including guanciale, pancetta, lardo, coppa and soppressata. Our cheeses come from all over Italy, with one great exception from the Hudson Valley. Our desserts are like none you have ever eaten in Italy, yet they feel and taste totally Italian. Our wine list is one hundred percent Italian in celebration of the quality and diversity of Italian grape varietals and vinification.

Like most Italian restaurateurs, we love where we live and live to celebrate both our location and our ingredients, from the land, air and sea. Babbo is our interpretation [my emphasis] of the best we have come to know in the Italian culture of family where it is best and most often celebrated, at the dinner table."

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I'd say that gazpacho isn't an Italian dish. Of the five that are referenced above, only two of them are distinctly Italian in flavor. The other three are decidedly Batali-esque. (I think they're poor examples but I get your point, Toby.)

Steve, no one disputes that TBB and Tabla produce delicious food, albeit Indian fusion. I'm saying that people come to TBB and Tabla with a different set of expectations than if they were going to Diwan because the food, the kitchen and the restaurants are geared to a different audience.

Someone tell me I'm not blabbing. :blink:

Soba

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Steve, no one disputes that TBB and Tabla produce delicious food, albeit Indian fusion.  I'm saying that people come to TBB and Tabla with a different set of expectations than if they were going to Diwan because the food, the kitchen and the restaurants are geared to a different audience.

And it's possible to make a meaningful statement that the food at Tabla is better than at Diwan, or vice versus. That's how this started. Plotz said that the food at Tabla is better than Diwan. Shaw said that this simply follows from his stated preference for "French" technique, and therefore was a biased comparison. Then we got off into the standards that people apply when judging food, after which others told us that we were wrong to suggest that Tabla served Indian food, which was never really the subject at hand. And here we are, somewhat back at the beginning.

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Yay for Stone. Stone, you're my hero. :smile:

Let me clarify what I mean by the TBB/Tabla and Diwan being geared to two different audiences:

TBB/Tabla

Owned by Danny Meyer

Chef = Floyd Cardoz

Genre = Indian fusion (Tabla)/Indian fusion and some Indian classics (TBB)

Waitstaff/atmosphere/decor = hip, trendy, decidedly modern (most recent visit to TBB, they had club music piped through the sound system)

Food = Western ingredients, cooked mostly in a Western or French-influenced fashion but with some Indian techniques and ingredients thrown in. Works most of the time, can be stunning in execution, or mediocre at worst. Agree with Toby -- lots of bright, clean flavor....but (important to me), insufficiently complex enough. Spicing not layered or multi-functional enough; seems as if the spices are not inherent or integral components of the dish but rather something that got added on because the flavor seemed like a good idea. (This last point is difficult for me to demonstrate, but I suppose you can think of it this way -- taste the difference between an artisanal garam masala as opposed to regular store-bought curry powder, and then get back to me.)

-------

Diwan

Owned by ?

Chef = Hemant Mathur

Genre = Authentic Indian, elevated to a higher level than most Indian restaurants in NYC (that I've been to, in my experience. Other ppl's experiences may differ.)

Waitstaff/atmosphere/decor = what you would expect at a typical Indian restaurant, except that the surroundings are in midtown Manhattan, so things are on the upscale side.

Food = Restaurant specializes mostly in tandoori cuisine, although there are dishes which some would expect in an Indian restaurant that appear on the menu. Several items exceed that which others might experience at other, lesser stars. Layering of spicing and complexity of flavors present throughout. Hotness or piquancy demonstrated without overwhelming taste buds. (Qualification: I've only been there once, so I can't attest as to whether there's a level of consistency, but my first experience was quite positive. Judge all of my statements with this grain of salt.) (Qualification #2: Diwan's test as far as I am concerned, will be how they prepare their biryanis. The chicken biryani at TBB sits on a high benchmark for me -- so we'll have to see whether Diwan exceeds that spot.)

Ok, I really need to go make dinner now.

Have fun without me. :blink:

Soba

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Actually, I go out to eat hoping to eat delicious food.  I think that's the point of this whole thread.

Now there's a sentiment that appeals to me :smile: We all enjoy the analysis, but the first and last thing that really matters about any restaurant is what Toby just said.

I'm not entirely sure, though, that this is the point of this thread. In fact, it definitely didn't start out with that point. Just read the title again, and it's clear that the discussion was first of all about Indian food, nothing else. The introduction of Tabla (in either of its forms) was a shift away from the original intention. Nothing wrong with that, but I think some people are fighting against that shift :laugh:

Probably there are six different questions now being addressed at the same time.

  • Is Tabla a better restaurant than Diwan ?
  • Is Tabla a better Indian restaurant than Diwan ?
  • Is Tabla an Indian restaurant at all ?

... and then the same three again substituting TBB for Tabla :rolleyes:

I don't find any of those questions objectionable, or impossible to discuss, although I will maintain consistency by stating that the use of the word "better" will prohibit any conclusions being reached :raz:

But in terms of any comparison, I'll fall back on The Toby Test. And by that test, it's pretty clear that some people find Tabla more enjoyable than Diwan, and some people find the opposite. I think that's what we call "personal preference" and I'm in favor of that :wub:

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But in terms of any comparison, I'll fall back on The Toby Test. And by that test, it's pretty clear that some people find Tabla more enjoyable than Diwan, and some people find the opposite. I think that's what we call "personal preference" and I'm in favor of that  :wub:

It'll also be affected by the inconsistency I've noticed at both places.

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Yes but the issue of having a more enjoyable meal at TBB then Diwan, supercedes those other questions which are really the subject of labeling. The fact of the matter is, to the average diner, TBB and Diwan are not distinguishable. And I would submit that these seven diners were far more experienced then the average diner and would still say for the purposes of the comparison they made, they are still undistinguishable. So far, the responses have been that they are incomparable, in light of the fact that six people specifically made a comparison and seem to have established a reasonable basis for doing so.

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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.

Edited by Toby (log)
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Your points in order:

Yes but the issue of having a more enjoyable meal at TBB then Diwan

1a. Isn't this issue open to subjective preference? All of the seven people can argue until they're blue in the face that TBB lived up to its premise this time and might in fact continue to do so at future points down the road, that TBB is probably a better deal [for them] than Diwan. [For them] this is probably a truism, but you or anyone else, I suspect, would be rather hard pressed to establish this as incontrovertible fact as far as the general masses are concerned.

supercedes those other questions which are really the subject of labeling.

1b. So, I guess there's no difference in terms of an audience's expectations that might patronize say Otto over DiFara's [gee, they're both pizzerias], or Babbo as opposed to Lupa [gee, they're both Italian], or Nobu as opposed to Sugiyama as opposed to Honmura An as opposed to Omen [gee, they're Japanese], or Dok Suni as opposed to Hangawi [gee, they're Korean]. It doesn't matter at all that Diwan's going for people who are interested in authentic Indian cuisine, or that Tabla wants to lure in the hip, yuppie, young crowd who might be more into the concept than a crowd of Indian food newbies. Is that what you're saying, cuz I'm a little confused here.

The fact of the matter is, to the average diner, TBB and Diwan are not  distinguishable.

2. Uh, since when is a chopped salad Indian? Please clarify why a pizza is considered "Indian". Ditto for saag paneer, where the paneer is really Coach Farm GOAT CHEESE and not from milk treated with lemon juice. Cheese fondue? :blink: Molten chocolate cake and doughnut holes are Indian? Really? Oh golly gee whiskers! Heavens to Betsy! :blink:

If this is Indian, I must be in Oz

Not distinguishable? Suffer those who beg to differ, for they may yet come up with a persuasive argument :wink: I have faith that the average diner can tell the difference between sourdough naan and the typical naan served at any Indian restaurant including that of Diwan, not to mention the myriad of differences between the two establishments.

And I would submit that these seven diners were far more experienced then the average diner and would still say for the purposes of the comparison they made, they are still undistinguishable. So far, the responses have been that they are incomparable, in light of the fact that six people specifically made a comparison and seem to have established a reasonable basis for doing so.

3. Didn't you just say earlier that TBB wins over Diwan? Wasn't the point made that TBB has food that contains brighter flavors than what was served at Diwan? Am I to ignore Toby's post about the presentation of varied dishes representing regions across India re TBB's food, which for the most part isn't the case as at Diwan? So please explain to me how the statement that TBB is clearly "undistinguishable" from Diwan is applicable, when you and some of the people you've referenced above have just said quite the opposite, in no uncertain terms. Sooooo confused... :blink:

Soba

Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)
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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.

I have a different take. Some of the dishes at Diwan are unusual--the beggar's purse for example. At the eGullet dinner it was remarkable that we didn't have the usual main dishes, e.g., kormas, curries with lots of sauce. In contrast, many of the dishes I tasted at TBB were familiar to me though I agree some were tweaked. Also, Goan dishes are available in most Indian places in UK high streets and I've had them (and seen them on plenty of menus) in NY too. I see both Diwan and TBB as offering traditional as well as unusual dishes.

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