At first I was at a complete loss as to how to write this post. You see, our only digital camera is G's video camera. So I lugged that giant with me in my purse, if you can imagine, out to dinner with four girlfriends last night. And each time I aimed it at the plush and lovely restaurant setting, the delectable food, the fun drinks, the adorable wait-staff, the delightful friends -- it didn't work. It stayed dark. Way too dark. I called G for a quick consult, and realized that it was basically just too dark in the restaurant to get a real picture. G said there was probably a setting that we never use that would alleviate the problem, but at that point I was beyond experimentation and into my first passionfruit cosmo (which carries the embarrassing title of Lots of Passion. Such a name causes a moment of unseemly coyness when ordering from the aforementioned attractive wait-staff). In any case, I comforted myself with the fact that many a restaurant review is posted without photos -- and this is actually more of a restaurant anecdote than a review.
So I have no pictures for you tonight. But I do have a tale. The Bread Bar is one of my favorite restaurants in New York -- and it's probably G's absolute one hundred percent favorite. We don't go there often; we reserve it for the occasional special evening, and so end up having a meal there perhaps twice a year. But we love the Indian street-food menu. Chef Floyd Cardoz seasonally rotates and reinvents both the Bread Bar's menu and the more formal yet extraordinarily creative Indian fusion cuisine upstairs at Tabla. That too has been and still is wonderful, but truthfully we're hooked on the Bread Bar's fruity cocktails, hot cumin-spiced popcorn at the bar, and the ritual of sharing a mix of "small plates", "large plates" and luscious hot Indian-style breads -- nibbling the evening away with spicy food and spicier conversation.
Last night's adventure was not without bumps in the road. When I called Adrienne to make sure knew where the restaurant was, she reminded me that we'd been there for a drink late one night a few weeks ago. "Yeah, it's the one next to that Potter's Field," she said. "That field with all the rats." What she's referring to is Madison Park, a nice little green space beautifully refurbished by the city several years ago. It certainly spent a long time in a state of disrepair, but for several years grassy borders have been maintained and trimmed, paths have been paved, flowers have been planted, benches have been replaced, and many people who are still among the living spend their lunch hours there in good weather. It's not quite the Jardin du Luxembourg, but it's really a fine little park for the neighborhood. On our brief sojourn to the Bread Bar several weeks ago, Adrienne made us walk around the perimeter of the park, on the other side of the street. I wasn't quite sure whether we were avoiding the souls of the undead or the rats that she insisted were rampant in the area. I have to say that as a descriptor, the whole Potters' Field thing is vastly unfair. Both Tabla and Eleven Madison Park, another of Danny Meyer's beautiful restaurants, are in the old Metropolitan Life building. The glorious art-deco architecture of the building exterior has been preserved, and the interiors have been re-created as magnificent, soaring spaces where your senses dine on more than just food and drink. In fact, they'd both be worth going to even just to look; even if you weren't going to eat and imbibe. However, refraining from those activities would be rather a shame, and is not recommended.
Susan and Lourdes were given confusing directions, but arrived in good time. Some of the ambrosial house cocktails were ordered and served: the Tablatini, a lemon-grass/pineapple infusion; Lots of Passion; the Kumquat Mojito, and the House Sidecar, made with pear cognac and other sumptuous ingredients. Each one was extraordinary. After toasts to birthday girl Marcela had been made, I explained the Bread Bar sharing ethos. Everyone appeared enthusiastic -- at first. Then they perused the menu. "Well, I want this salad just for me." "No-one else wants this dish? I really want to try it." And suddenly it seemed as if we would all be ordering separately. This simply isn't done at the Bread Bar. I wrung my hands and gnashed my teeth, but quietly -- not to attract attention or anything. Suddenly, like a savior on the horizon, our waiter appeared. As if the previous ten minutes had never even occurred, he explained that all dishes are meant to be shared, and that they're brought out in no particular order, but as each one is ready. I looked at him and shrugged. "I tried, Lord knows I've tried," I said. And so began our many laughs of the evening. Everyone ordered what appealed to them, but we all ended up eating from all the dishes, just as it should be.
The first dish to arrive was a lightly spiced roasted beet salad, which was delicious, but perhaps not unlike a beet salad you might make for yourself. Close on its heels, however, was the dark horse of the evening, a salmon ceviche that provided an arresting combination of flavors and textures. It had zing, zip, tang, crunch and bite, all in and around silky slices of salmon. I can't even begin to analyze what was in it other than some shreds of delicious crunchy root vegetable and peanuts, which proved an unexpected but perfect partnership. Next up was a bowl of Sindi Sai Bhaji, a comforting, gently seasoned puree of vegetables and chickpeas. Breads appeared, addictive cultural cross-overs: a cheese-oozing kulcha, and a puffy sourdough naan. Then plates of tried-and-true favorites came out -- huge, smoky tandoori shrimp with black pepper and coriander; saag paneer pizza, a crunchy whole-wheat crust covered with a spinach/chickpea mix and topped with goat cheese, and finally the Bread Bar's signature chicken tikka, spiced marinated grilled chicken breast, which is served with a fresh green tangle of watercress and a luscious chutney -- definitely my pick for the best chicken tikka in NYC. At this point we were well into delving for the dirt on current relationships, and dishing past amours. We were also well into our second round of large drinks. We shook our heads at the ghosts of our occasionally unpretty pasts, drank up, and kept nibbling. Later we shared a delectable plate of tiny cookies, more to have something to put a candle in and sing a Happy Birthday for Marcela since none of us wanted much dessert by this point. But the little sweets were irresistable: teensy macaroons and brown sugar bars not much bigger than dice, chewy chocolate buttons and chocolate chip bites, and a surprising cardamom oatmeal cookie.
Finally, sated with both comestibles and conversation, we ventured into the night. It was cold outside, especially for March (we've been getting more snow in this month than during all the rest of the winter). As I climbed into a cab with Adrienne, I noticed that she didn't say a word about Potters' Field or make any other unsavory references that might cast aspersions on where we'd just spent the evening. Instead, she waxed appreciative of the marvelous food and drink, and we relived some of our best laughs as we sped uptown. Such is the power of Girls' Night Out in the right place.
Tabla/The Bread Bar
11 Madison Avenue (at 25th St.)
New York, NY 10010