"It's kinda hard to take pictures in a restaurant. People look at you like you're a tourist. And the people you're with are hungry and want to eat their food, not have it pose for a damn photo-op."
Last night we went, not to Manderley, but to the Bread Bar at Tabla again. And it was no dream, but once again a delicious reality. G and I haven't been there together, just us, for quite a while. Last time for me, as you recall, it was with a gaggle of girlfriends who had ordering issues. The time before that, we went with friends for a celebratory dinner. Previous to that, we went with G's parents, when they were in town a while ago. But it's been quite some time since it was just us.
We had a few things to celebrate. G's had a breakthrough in the start-up business that he and a friend are putting together. And it was an anniversary of sorts, though not a formal one -- but one we like to acknowledge. So we decided to treat ourselves -- and treat ourselves we did. We sat outside on the patio, and looked contentedly out at verdant Madison Park, enjoying the slightly chilly but still blessedly spring-like evening. We ordered all our favorite dishes plus a couple of new things to try. Above is my delightful Kumquat Mojito, and in the background, a plate of huge and delectably fire-roasted Black Pepper Shrimp. G was drinking a fave cocktail known as a Ginger Drop, and we were also eating the insanely good Cheese Kulcha, a hot bread dripping with cheese and red pepper, and fragrant with toasted cumin. It comes wrapped in a white cloth napkin, which picks up drips of melted cheese here and there. G tried discreetly to pick as much cheese off the napkin as he could. He loves it so much he couldn't stand to see it go to waste. You can see a corner of it here at the bottom of the pic, along with the shrimp, some addictive cumin-and-spice-dusted popcorn, and a little dish of extraordinarily flavorful Tomato Kalonji Chutney.
Here to your left we have
one of the evening's specials: Samosas made with Kobe beef. They were incredibly crisp in their thin, fragile wrappers, bearing no relationship to the doughy fried pyramids called samosas in most places. The filling was beautifully spiced, and the side of fresh yogurt made a perfect dip. The only quibble was that they were rather pricey for two such small triangles. I'm not complaining; we just wanted more. It's the greed talking. But I did wonder why they should use such costly beef in a filling where the spices dominate anyway. I'm sure they'd be just as good with organic ground beef from a local producer.
Then came what is always the pièce de resistance at any Bread Bar meal, particularly for G. You see below the Chicken Tikka, sided with a bittersweet fruit chutney and a generous tangle of light, lemony-dressed watercress. It can only be thought of as a miracle of grilled chicken breast perfection. You can tell it's been coated in a thick green marinade that chars to create the crisp, aromatic exterior as the chicken cooks to moist succulence within. We used to call this the best Chicken Tikka in New York. It was then promoted to the best Chicken Tikka in the United States. Shortly thereafter it graduated to the best Chicken Tikka anywhere, ever. Last night it was announced as G's favorite all-time chicken dish. I hope that Chef Floyd Cardoz is coming out with his cookbook soon, since I can't stand up to this kind of competition and will obviously need to try to replicate this dish for the health of my relationship.
It was at this point in the meal that G said "If we were to leave New York, this would be the place I'd miss most." Wow. Not that we're leaving any time soon, but we've been talking about futures in other places, in years to come. We agreed that no matter what, we'd always come back to the Bread Bar on trips to New York, if indeed we ever leave.
Our final dish was the one I've always wanted to order and never managed to have: the Pulled Lamb and Mustard-Mashed Potato Sandwich (in New York foodier-than-thou parlance it's called a "naanini", which is a panino grilled on naan bread). By this point in the evening, both my picture-taking abilities and my capacity for food had waned. So G ate a chunk (there were actually three large triangles on the plate) , despite the fact that it's all anti-climactic for him after the Chicken Tikka. He loved it, though. I took a tiny bite and could tell how extraordinary was the crisp yet tender lamb, the spicy potato and the crunchy naan. I knew how much I would want it in a couple of hours, and had our server wrap it up. Indeed, a moment or two in the toaster over to restore crispness, some of the lemony cumin yogurt dip and the tangle of salad, and my midnight snack was sheer heaven.
Before we left, I got into a chat with our server, who, unsolicited, told us how great it was to work at the Bread Bar. "Danny Meyer knows who everyone is on staff. Even though he'd met me just once, he remembered my name and greeted me by it." I asked her about the staff meal. "It's good, better than at most restaurants. It's not the food we're serving, of course. But we get to eat this food too, when we go out. We get vouchers that are good for any of the Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants. And during Restaurant Week, they bring in a masseuse to give us all massages, because it's so incredibly busy and we get so exhausted."
G looked thoughtful. Vouchers for meals that could include this Chicken Tikka? Massages? "I wonder if they're hiring," he said. After all, we're not leaving New York any time soon.