Tashan lands spot on James Beard Awards list
From Philadelphia Metro
With its glimmering, Bollywood-kissed dining room and elegant East-meets-West Indian dishes, Tashan is a standout among the Philly restaurant scene’s freshman class. But it's also earning national buzz, landing a spot on the James Beard Awards’ Best New Restaurant semifinalist list.
“I think we’ve created a very innovative restaurant in terms of the menu, and the space itself is very modern. It’s an experience you can not get in any other Indian restaurant in the country,” says owner Munish Narula, a Wharton MBA grad who is also behind the popular, more casual Tiffin restaurants. “Our dishes are Indian, but there’s a very Western influence in the dishes and the presentation.”
Also on the new restaurant semifinalist list is Center City BYO The Farm and Fisherman. Other local nods in the national categories include Standard Tap and The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. for Outstanding Bar Program; Jessie Prawlucki of Fond and Belle Cakery for Outstanding Pastry Chef; Outstanding Restaurant and Outstanding Service nominee Vetri; the Fountain Restaurant for Outstanding Servie; Outstanding Restaurateur Stephen Starr; Tria for Outstanding Wine Program; and Joe Cicala of Le Virtù and Lee Styer of Fond for Rising Star Chef of the Year.
Finalists will be announced March 19, and the annual James Beard awards dinner — which also honors food writing and TV shows — takes place May 4.
As for Narula and Tashan chefs Sylva Senat and Sanjay Shende, making the preliminary rounds is a welcome reminder of the cuisine’s increasingly high profile. “Despite the popularity, we still hear that Indian food is all curry or all spicy,” says Narula. “Spicy is good, spicy doesn’t necessarily mean hot — there’s a big difference between chili hot and food being spicy and flavorful. We wanted to introduce that to people who wouldn’t usually try Indian food."
Alan Richman's Five Best Dishes of the Year
From GQ Magazine
Naga Beef Sümi
Sylva Senat uplifts and embellishes everything we love. Wagyu beef on skewers. Peppery soy dipping sauce. Cucumber-peanut relish. Onion rings. Irresistible.
Tashan: One Of Five Most Notable Debuts of 2011
City Paper's Drew Lazor includes Tashan in the Top Five Restaurant Debuts of 2011
"No new-in-2011 restaurant is working with more ambition than Tashan, where chefs Sylva Senat and Sanjay Shende are cooking Indian cuisine on a level no one in Philadelphia's attempted to play on till now."
Tashan on List of Philadelphia's 10 Hottest New Restaurants of 2011
From Zagat's Philadelphia's 10 Hottest New Restaurants of 2011
Munish Narula, who built his Tiffin empire around budget-friendly BYOs, makes a dramatic statement with this splashy, plush arrival on the southern end of the Avenue of the Arts; in the open kitchen, an Indian master chef (Sanjay Shende) and a Haitian-born Buddakan veteran (Sylva Senat) combine for sophisticated modern Indian small plates, and the bar is stocked with inventive cocktails and an international wine list.
Philadelphia Inquirer Gives Tashan 3 Bells
The man known for Indian done right at Tiffin has brought the cuisine to a new level.
By Craig LaBan, Inquirer Restaurant Critic
In a flash, the polished silver bell was lifted from the plate at Tashan and a veil of smoke drifted up like a ghost to envelop our table.
When the clovey scent of apple and hickory mist faded, a gorgeous quail lay before us, regally plumped with basmati rice tanged with tamarind and peanuts, then crowned with the caramelized sweetness of onion chutney. The meat, marinated in gingery brown garlic paste, was sublimely tender - one of the finest quails, in fact, I've ever tasted.
So, what kind of magic has brought this Shikaari delight - the hunting fare of Rajasthan's desert kings - to a table on South Broad Street? And what a table it is, set into a chic new modern space clad in wine walls and dark-leather banquettes that ring the open kitchen like a tandoori theater, its beehive clay ovens shimmering with 900-degree heat and stainless steel tiles.
That magic is the grand vision of Munish Narula, 41, the man who has grown Tiffin from a humble little kitchen in Northern Liberties to a multi-restaurant empire with 230 seats, a crack delivery team, and a well-deserved reputation as the local standard for traditional Indian fare done right.
In its own right, the five-year-old Tiffin has gone a long way toward raising expectations beyond the artless bargain buffets of University City's Curry Row. But Tashan is in a class of its own, fulfilling the name's Hindi meaning - "style, swagger, or attitude" - in every way. From the showpiece dining room to the high-tech iPad wine list to the thrillingly inventive kitchen, this is Tiffin's big Buddakan moment.
Given that one of Narula's culinary talents, executive chef Sylva Senat, 33, worked at Buddakan in both New York and Philadelphia (following long stints at Jean-Georges and Aquavit), the comparison isn't a stretch. The sharing plates here are gorgeous with contemporary style, whether it's the silver foil that gilds the velvety-soft lamb galouti kebabs with minted yogurt chutney, the silky spinach palak tikki patties stuffed with pistachios and glazed in saffron-morel cream, or the succulent grilled two-pound lobster dusted with masala spice over cardamom butter and curried corn.
The Haitian-born and Brooklyn-raised Senat is clearly one of Philly's promising new kitchen stars. But it is his collaboration with Narula's old schoolmate and Indian master chef, Sanjay Shende, 45, that gives this kitchen the essential authentic roots to be more than mere superficial fusion. The Delhi-born Shende brings a font of wisdom on his native culinary treasures, and this expansive menu (perhaps too big) puts elements of India's regional diversity on stunningly fresh display.
Beautiful lamb chops, tenderized by a papaya marinade and a touch of pure mustard oil, blush with Kashmiri paprika. Hollow gol-gappa durum puffs, filled with spicy potato-chickpea salad, get a tableside squirt of minted cilantro water, then burst in the mouth like juicy pastry balloons of herb and crunch. Classic chicken biryani is elegantly served tableside, the pastry lid lifted to release a pouf of curried ambrosia, then spoonfuls of amazingly fragrant rice and tender meat. Surprisingly, this is one of the few dishes here to feature rice or curry. There's not a samosa to be found. (Unless you come for brunch.)
"Munish challenged me to show the world what Indian food can be," said Shende, who was recruited from Ireland, where he still owns a restaurant in Limerick. "People in England are getting too cocky. They think they set the global tone."
Their creations are bound to stir strong opinions. The traditionalists will chafe at the kitchen's creative liberties (pork and beef on the menu? Vindaloo chicken stuffed into "Mangalorean" sausages? Yum!) The Americans, meanwhile, who have been trained to view Indian food as a cheap meal only, will wonder at the prices, with sharing plates in the mid-teens, and a few larger dishes pushing $30.
But just as Susanna Foo did with Chinese cuisine, Narula's project has the potential to be a game-changer and show how exciting the Indian sensibility can be when the best ingredients and sophisticated chefs are at play. Clove and garlic-marinated venison is scented with smoke over the charcoal sigri grill and served with a boozy chutney made from rum and plums. Tender slices of pork tenderloin come tingling with a 21-spice Xacutti marinade sparked with dried peppers, coriander, and cardamom. Moist curried king crab is blended with chile paste, ginger and cilantro and topped with crackery rice puffs. Seared duck breast marinated in house yogurt with mace and green chiles is roasted tikka-style in place of the usual chicken alongside silky spinach saag paneer.
In a year when most new restaurants were pointing their pitchforks back toward local farms, Philly needed this exotic blast of Bollywood glitz. And I don't simply mean metaphorically - the Bollywood stars have come, leaving testimonials behind ("My home away from home," raved Indian film legend Anupam Kher while in town filming with Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper).
They've come because Narula has delivered with the passion of a proud immigrant entrepreneur who has everything on the line with a $2.6 million investment: "That's a lot of butter chicken," he concedes.
There are still details to perfect. The vast 136-seat space created by New York-based designer Winka Dubbledam manages to be sultry and intimate, with a private wine room separated by pivoting leather doors, oversize chairs in the lounge, and deep alcove banquettes lending the feel of semi-privacy. But the unisex bathrooms offer a rare glimpse of tacky, with beaded wallpaper and unfortunate black fixtures.
The iPad wine lists were a revelation, fun to navigate with expandable details on each wine and an impressive collection of intriguing wines to peruse, most with fair markups. There is a big need here, though, especially in Philly, for more craft beers.
Though the pacing sometimes lagged (especially toward the end of our dinners), the service was well-trained with smart guidance on choosing the scope of our meal.
It is the menu's overly grand ambitions, though, that could still use a little pruning. The bread selection is one of the few items here that remains completely mundane (and never was a Tiffin strong point). A couple of promising dishes - both the scallops and black bass - suffered from sauces that were overwhelmingly frothy and thick.
There are so many successes here, though, these nits are only a matter of fine-tuning. Vegetarians can find plenty to love. The house-made paneer comes marinated in yellow dal and grilled as a shashlik with black salt and chile powder; or sliced with fresh mozzarella over tomato makhani sauce and a "pizza" flatbread flecked with fenugreek. Potato patties "aloo tikki" are stuffed with cuminy yellow lentils then topped with minty chutney and crispy gram flour fritters. The baingan bharta is a mince of amazingly fluffy, smoky eggplant - lighter than any I've had.
Seafood lovers will find huge shrimp roasted to tandoor perfection, or tender octopus, char-grilled over "tribal pepper" sauce sparked with cumin and mustard seeds. Carnivores, meanwhile, should be well-sated with minced kobe kebabs inflected with garam masala, amazingly tender chicken Patanga roulades stuffed with oniony nuts and raisins, or a huge Kashmiri lamb shank for sharing, braised with cumin cashew sauce and the sweetness of medjool dates that tempers - for just a moment - a steady swelling spice.
For dessert, meanwhile, there are clever takes on Indian ice cream (pistachio, mango, and rose), gulab jamun (tucked inside creme brûlée), and even molten chocolate cake - a dish I never thought I'd want again. Sided with chai kulfi and a bracingly tart-sweet shot of white chocolate-yogurt lassi - a touch of Tashan's New Indian magic goes a long way.
Philadelphia Magazine Review
Tashan in March 2012 Edition of ELLE DECOR
Architect Winka Dubbeldam has mixed sleek finishes with ornate details to complement the contemporary Indian menu at Philadelphia's Tashan. The restaurant's hand-carved wood tables and seven-foot statue of Ganesh are from India.
777 S. Broad St., 267-687-2170; mytashan.com
Tashan, Modern Indian Joint on Broad Street, Is Pretty Damn Incredible
Tashan, Modern Indian Joint on Broad Street, Is Pretty Damn Incredible
Philadelphia Weekly review by Brian Freedman
It shouldn’t have been as unexpected a sight as it was, but the entirety of the composition was almost jarring. A couple, both in what had to be their late 60s, sat at their table one recent evening at Tashan, sipping vividly colored cocktails and cooing over a tableful of food. Modern Indian music pulsed in the background, like some kind of subcontinental Thievery Corporation. The gleaming open kitchen, all silvery and bright, stood sentinel over a dark, appealing dining area.
At first glance, Tashan looks like the kind of place that would win over a younger crowd with its entire M.O.—the music, the crepuscular sexiness of the space, the iPad beverage lists. So what was going on with that couple up front?
The answer: They were on to something. Tashan picks up the torch from the departed Bindi and runs with the (shouldn’t-be-revolutionary-at-this-point) idea that Indian food in Philly can be more modern and creative than it’s given a chance to be.
Executive Chef Sylva Senat is just the man to do it. His resume is impeccable (Buddakan, Aquavit, Tiffin, and more), and the urban and urbane nature of his path is brilliantly brought to bear on the menu here on S. Broad Street. Tashan’s owner also has impressive bona fides: Munish Tarula, of Tiffin fame, is a local food revolutionary in his own right.
So much is so good here. Tandoori shrimp, a usually humble preparation of reliably overcooked shrimp and fairly monochromatic seasoning, was shown real respect. Popping-tender and kissed with smoke, these savory pink commas were the beneficiaries of a hung-yogurt crust and made maple-y by the addition of herbal fenugreek. The flavors were both familiar and bracingly exotic. The tandoors were also used brilliantly for pink-centered lamb chops mysterious with Kashmiri paprika and protected by a papaya glaze complicated with mustard oil and honey.
Goat cheese taftaan sang too, the unctuous, paste-textured chèvre given snap on its base of onion-seed bread and full-throttle excitement by its crown of crystallized-ginger-flecked raisin-pineapple murabba. Think of this as an Indian, goat version of Brie with marmalade, but a thousand times better and more interesting, and without the necessity of going to your mother-in-law’s house to have it.
When working with otherwise familiar dishes, Senat brings his keen sense of creativity to the task and typically shows them in a new, unexpected light. Chicken vindaloo, that hoary warhorse of Indian dining in Philadelphia, has been deconstructed and reassembled here in an altogether intriguing way. Organic chicken sausage sings its own aria of fenugreek, cardamom, ginger, onion and more, its throne of Bombay-style bhel chaat snapping and crackling with each bite, the house-made chili paste a searing riff on Sriracha but infinitely more complex. Even a humble sweet potato impressed, all smoky from the clay oven and cumin, all tangy and high-toned from the mint-cilantro-tamarind anointment.
There were occasional misses, like the pleasant but underwhelming gol-gappa, the gently tingling potatoes tucked inside the durum shell less than riveting even with a splash of mint-cilantro water. Palak tikki, a spinach patty scented with screw pine and filled with a pistachio-paneer center, should have been more balanced, the saffron-morell cream sauce nearly obliterating the other flavors.
But those were rare missteps from a kitchen that is on its way to becoming one of the most intriguing in the city. Its work is framed nicely with a cocktail program by Beverage Director and Sommelier David Costanzo; many of the drinks incorporate the spices and flavors of India and harness them to mightily successful ends. The dhoom in particular is among the most deceptively simple and food-friendly cocktails I’ve had recently: Macallan 12 and peach brulee was a seamless no-brainer. And the wine list is intelligently composed, especially given the challenges of the menu.
Turns out that older couple knew exactly what they were doing. Food this creative and well-executed should never be age-specific. I’m looking forward to watching Tashan grow and evolve. It’s already an exciting, challenging and damn-well-needed addition to the local dining scene.
Read more on PhiladelphiaWeekly.com
Tashan Philadelphia City Paper Review
From the Philadelphia City Paper
Parsing the many charms of the chic, shimmering Tashan.
Though the term "swagger" has been around since Shakespearean times — it appears in A Midsummer Night's Dream — it's only in the past decade the noun has ingrained itself into pop-culture consciousness. Credit Jay-Z, who got his swagger back on The Blueprint in 2001, and T.I., who dropped the M.I.A.-sampling "Swagga Like Us" (with Hova) in '08. Anti-swag groups — they exist — are calling for a moratorium on the word, claiming it's jumped the shark into the domain of SportsCenter analysis and antiperspirant brands.
I wonder if the haters know about Tashan, the culinary anchor of the spiffy LEED-certified 777 South Broad building whose name translates to "swagger" in Hindi. This joint exudes it from every hard and glittering surface, every plush and come-hither nook.
To the Philadelphia eye, raised on restaurants packed into narrow rectangles, Tashan is unexpected, almost startling. When I walked in, past the stunning carving of the Hindu god Ganesh, a breathy little "Oh!" escaped my lips, like a girl surprised by an unexpectedly handsome blind date.
Tashan stretches its legs across 5,000 square feet. Marshmallow lounge chairs and ornate coffee tables flank a bar with glowing blue shelves like sticks of Winterfresh. Beyond, padded leather panels, carved wood screens and a dramatic floor-to-ceiling wine rack divides public dining rooms from private. Bracket-shaped booths tuck into recessed alcoves. Thrones face off at the heads of a communal table crowned with a slab of walnut. Chandeliers and pendants drip from the multilevel ceilings like luminous stalactites.
Tashan's design piece-de-resistance, though, has nothing to do with lighting or seating. It's the open kitchen, a square, stainless steel-wrapped island in the dining room's sea of obsidian. Chefs would salivate over the toys: tandoor ovens encrusted like disco balls with metallic tile; a three-tiered charcoal sigri grill, the first of its kind in the U.S.; a flattop tawa griddle; a $42,000 Rational oven; a Swiss PacoJet that turns frozen purées into smooth individual spheres of bracing black salt-royal cumin-and-lime sorbet, a complimentary intermezzo during my meal here.
Owner Munish Narula has come a long way. Three-point-one miles to be exact, from Seventh and Girard, where the Wharton MBA opened a little tandoor-to-door operation called Tiffin back in 2006. I remember how gaga I was over Tiffin in the beginning. Five years later, I feel the same way about Tashan, on the cusp of a torrid affair with its thoughtful, thrilling modern Indian cooking.
I'm not the only one, apparently. Tashan was packed the night I dined, and the backlog of diners meant $15 cocktails at the bar, where I waited for nearly half an hour past my reservation. "This is the busiest night so far, and the kitchen is a little backed up," my server apologized once we were seated. "Please bear with us."
I appreciated the heads up, and he wasn't kidding. After half an hour at the table, the only food that showed up was a trio of chutneys meant to complement the tardy plates: sweet and sour mango, refreshing coconut-cilantro-mint and ground yellow lentil "gunpowder" laced with peanut and tamarind. I was so hungry. I wish I could tell you I didn't start snacking on the condiments.
I was about to move onto the lemon in my glass of sparkling water (complimentary) when the first dish came. A runner lifted the silver dome off the dish, releasing a fragrant, smoke gun-engineered mist that revealed the succulent "shikaari" quail once it cleared. The name means hunter in India, referring to live-fire grilling of the bird. I don't think any Indian gamesmen take the time to marinade their catch in clove, ginger, garlic and yogurt, though, let alone stuff it with tamarind and peanut rice or serve it with sweet confit of melted onions.
Before teaming up with Narula, chef Sylva Senat, a veteran of Jean-Georges, Aquavit and both Buddakans, had never cooked Indian cuisine professionally. The Haitian chef drew on his background to understand the cuisine. "We use a lot of similar spices," Senat says. "[The] combinations already made sense to me."
His comfort working with bold seasoning is evident in dishes like venison, grilled with fenugreek, cumin and smoked cloves before being kissed by rum-and-plum chutney. He distills Xacutti, a Goan curry typically made with chicken or lamb, to its essential spices — no fewer than 21 of them — and applies the blend to pork tenderloin in both wet and dry marinades. Even the desserts showed a mastery of Indian flavors, from mysterious, fickle rose in a trio of kulfi ice creams, to cardamom and cinnamon woven through a lush bread pudding. The spectacular peshwari naan, part of the "chef's basket" of baked-to-order flatbreads, could have qualified as a dessert, too, with a paste of ground cashews, pistachios, raisins and coconut spread inside its warm, smoky folds. It tasted like India's version of French toast.
Senat's clever updates of familiar Indian dishes like chicken vindaloo are especially winning. At Tashan, the fiery curry gets turned into a plump, garlicky sausage (crafted by D'Angelo's, off Senat's recipe) grilled on the sigri and served over crunchy, airy puffed rice salad. A take on panipuri brought hollowed durum puffs cradling spiced potato, minted chickpeas and a shot of refreshing cilantro-mint water injected tableside by a runner armed with a squeeze bottle.
Though the hits clearly outnumber the misses, there were a few. That pork was slightly overcooked, and the paneer-filled ground lamb kebabs were bland, not to mention topped with varakh, an edible silver leaf traditionally used to decorate Indian confections. I get the reference, but the alloy added nothing but pretense. And there's no ignoring Tashan's lofty price point, best represented in the $35 lobster from the menu's section of "Grand Finale" dishes for two. Gilded in black cardamom butter that sounded fantastic and tasted like nothing, the split two-pound tail was the weakest dish of the night, rising from a bog of cloddish corn curry that tasted like French onion soup.
The lobster joins biryani, bone-in lamb shank, butter chicken and few others in the otherwise small-plate menu's section of dishes for sharing. But that didn't stop my server from asking, "One lobster or two?" I almost laughed at him. This crew sure can upsell, but fortunately, that doesn't take away from all the other things they do well. Tashan's menu is not an easy one to learn, but this enthusiastic (but not gushy), professional (but not robotic) staff has done so admirably, mostly during PowerPoint presentations in Tiffin's upstairs dining room. Narula's business sense is evident, too, in smart touches both high-tech (wine lists on iPads) or lo-fi (coasters that let the army of water-bearers know which tables are drinking still versus sparkling H2O).
Senat observes from the kitchen, where he towers over the rest of his crew, dreads swaying as he plates and expos some of the most exciting food to debut this year. "From the kitchen," he says, "I can see every table and every table can see me."
Looks like we'll be seeing a lot more of each other.
Tashan exemplifies upscale Indian, but is Philly ready for it?
MUNISH Narula already knows what a lot of you think about Indian restaurants. All those unfortunate stereotypes you hold on to. He knows you usually think of Indian food for cheap, super-spicy takeout, or perhaps a hangover meal at one of those longtime spots on University City's Curry Row.
Narula even empathizes with you, a little bit. "Indian food in Philadelphia has never been presented in a good manner," he said. "The yellow walls, the crammed-in tables, the dirty bathrooms and the $9.99 buffet."
Of course, Narula has earned the right to be critical, since he redefined Indian food here when he launched his Tiffin delivery-and-takeout empire in 2006, now in six locations. Since Tiffin, more than a dozen Indian restaurants have opened in the region, several of them by former Tiffin employees, including archrival Ekta.
Still, even after the so-called vindaloo boom that he spawned, Narula - the New Delhi, India, native with the Wharton MBA - believed many diners still didn't get it, that the stereotypes persisted.
"We were meeting too many people who said, 'I don't like Indian food. It's too spicy,' " Narula said. "We wanted to take Indian food to a new level, make it more approachable. We throw the word 'sexy' around as a joke. But we do want to make it sexy."
Enter Tashan, Narula's ambitious, high-end, delightful - and yes, sexy - new modern Indian spot. By now, most of the city's food writers have weighed in with fawning declarations of love to Tashan. But their orgasmic reviews have also struck a hand-wringing note of worry: Can an upscale Indian restaurant like Tashan survive in Philadelphia?
There's been a great deal of chatter on the local food blogs about whether Philadelphians are "ready" for a restaurant like Tashan. As evidence that we are not, foodies point to Bindi, the Indian BYO owned by Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, which was shuttered several months ago.
"Is Tashan Too Good for Philadelphia?" asked Trey Popp on the blog Foobooz. He even suggested that Tashan's success or failure will serve as a "referendum" on whether Philadelphia "really deserves its reputation as a top-tier restaurant town." After an Indian friend predicted Tashan would last only six months, Popp wrote, "I hope she's wrong. But if she's right, what will we have to say for ourselves?"
Ahem. Yes, feel free to file this hyperbolic sort of soul-searching under First World Problems.
This is not to say that Tashan isn't wonderful. It is, and it's easily one of the most exciting openings in the past several years. Tashan will expose diners to sophisticated, unique flavors. It's already better, and more of a paradigm-shifter, than Bindi ever was.
But as several of my Indian friends have asked, is Tashan authentically "Indian"? Well, what is "Indian," anyway? India is an enormous subcontinent with more than a billion people and more than 2,000 ethnic groups. "There are so many different cuisines," said Narula.
For the most part, what you found for years on Indian menus were North Indian dishes, such as the creamier curries and tandoori. Slowly, you are seeing more diversity, featuring spicier South Indian cooking.
Tashan plays fast and loose with India's traditional cuisines, offering a fusion of Indian ingredients and French techniques. The chef is Haitian-born Sylva Senat, who worked at Jean-Georges and Aquavit in New York, before moving on to Buddakan in New York and then here. "We started to ask, 'Why do we need an Indian chef?' " Narula said. "We needed someone who would look at the food from a totally different perspective."
Senat, however, consults with Narula's longtime friend Sanjay Shende, who has more than two decades of experience in Indian kitchens in New Delhi and London and is listed on the menu as "Indian Master Chef."
The result of this collaboration is inventive and delicious. The palak tikka, a spinach patty with a paneer-pistachio center, is grilled on the traditional flat tawa but finished with a very French saffron-and-morel-mushroom cream sauce. Vermont quail is wood-smoked in the northern desert Rajasthani style and served memorably in a waft of aromatic smoke. The gol-gappa are tasty, crispy little puffs filled with spiced potato and topped with mint-cilantro water. More traditional, Tashan's rendition of the chicken biryani was one of the best I've ever tasted.
I especially appreciated Tashan's wine list of interesting, full-bodied, aromatic whites and light- to medium-bodied reds that work well with notoriously difficult-to-pair Indian. About the only thing that fell flat at Tashan was the very rushed pacing of the small-plates meal, which cost more than $200 for two with wine, tip and no dessert.
One stereotype that Narula has pushed against is that Indian always means spicy - the spices here are more about complexity than heat.
But I love very spicy Indian food. So after my meal at Tashan, I was very excited to seek out less costly - and more spicy - everyday Indian options at some old favorites and new finds.
It had been a while, for instance, since I ate at Tiffin's bitter rival in Fishtown, Ekta, for which I've always had a slight preference. After eating the super-spicy, sweat-bead-inducing kadai paneer and its mellower, creamy, soul-satisfying chicken korma, Ekta still gets the nod.
I also went further afield. At Mallu Café in Bustleton, I ate several authentic dishes from Kerala, in southern India. The highlights were the avial, a spicy vegetable medley in coconut sauce, and the chicken Varatharacha curry, with a thick, deep-reddish brown gravy and red chilies, providing a richer spice than most curries you'll find.
In Cherry Hill's Woodcrest Shopping Center, I discovered a gem in Khyber Indian Fusion. The delicious shrimp and fish curry here is in the tangy, light Goan-style, and I can't rave enough about the lollipop chicken's mingling of fresh coriander, garlic and sweet-sour spices.
My other favorite in South Jersey is IndeBlue, the only Indian restaurant in the region recommended to me by Narula that he didn't own. Unsurprisingly, IndeBlue chef Rakesh Ramola originally worked at Tiffin.
IndeBlue's menu is similar to many other Indian restaurants, but Ramola's skill and his use of fresh ingredients brings it a level above the usual takeout fare. The elegantly spiced lamb dakshini is memorable, as is his baingan bharta, or smoked eggplant in tomato/onion sauce.
Narula said he admired Ramola for having similar ambitions about Indian cooking. "We need more people like him to elevate the food," Narula said, "to show that Indian food can be nice and it can be contemporary."
Tashan Restaurant featured on FYI Philly [Video]
FYI Philly talks to Tashan creator, Munish Narula, and his two star chefs.
City Paper Restaurant Critic Names Tashan in 10 Favorite Dishes of 2011
Restaurant critic, Adam Erace, names Tashan's Shikaari Quail as his #2 favorite dish of 2011.
No. 2 Shikaari Quail, Tashan
"The name means hunter in India, referring to live-fire grilling of the bird. I don't think any Indian gamesmen take the time to marinade their catch in clove, ginger, garlic and yogurt, though, let alone stuff it with tamarind and peanut rice or serve it with sweet confit of melted onions." [Nov. 24]
Some might cry gimmick at the billows of aromatic smoke released when the runner lifts the silver dome off Tashan's quail, and were this game bird not so beautifully cooked and boldly spiced, I might agree. But it's both those things, and utterly representative of confident, exciting cooking happening at 777 South Broad.
Mike Brenner plays the chaturangui at Tashan
Mike Brenner plays the chaturangui as frontman for the Kolkata Slide Guitar Project
LOOKING FOR another worthy role model, Philly musicians? Mike Brenner has reinvented himself . . . yet again.
A rootsy, experimental instrumentalist/singer/composer, Brenner first grabbed our attention with the Americana acoustic folk and alt-country of the Low Road and John Train. More recently, Brenner opened eyes and ears with his dobro blues/hip-hop fusion as Slo-Mo featuring rapper Mic Wrecka, from whence sprang the hit "My Buzz Comes Back."
Now he's crossed overinto yet another dimension, the entrancing world of dreamy Indian ragas, playing a 22-string Indian lap guitar called the chaturangui as frontman for the Kolkata Slide Guitar Project.
Also featuring tabla player Jason Rinker and cellist Alfred James, they're newly debuting on Wednesdays from 8-10 p.m. at the gourmet Indian restaurant Tashan on South Broad Street, serving a groovy take on trance that fuses perfectly with the exotic fare. At last week's premiere, the first set featured more traditional, head-spinning ragas, while the second grilled up spicy versions of tunes by the Verve, Chris Isaak, Traffic - and Slo-Mo.
Brenner has been woodshedding two years for this magic moment. Recently, after raising funds on Kickstarter, he spent three weeks in Kolkata (that's Calcutta to us) studying and recording with his instrument's designer and master musician Debashish Bhattacharya, "the greatest lap slide player on the planet," and with Bhattcharya's tabla-playing brother and vocalizing daughter.
"There has to be some sort of product at the back end with Kickstarter, so I booked studio time at this funky little place just outside Calcutta, where the power would go off but they had great microphones and ProTools. Now I'm gonna finish the album here with my local crew of musicians and, for some tracks, an electronic dance mixer/producer," Brenner said. "If we can get the right grooves, it should be really cool." For sure.
Brenner suggests it takes "a lifetime" to master the interpretive ways of Hindustani classical music and his instrument, which has separate groupings of strings for melody lines, drone and rhythmic accompaniment.
But you'd never guess from hearing that his new trio is walking in virgin territory. "Before Tashan, my only other gigs on the chaturangui have been playing for a few yoga classes and at a very weird group acupuncture session, maintaining the calm for a bunch of people lying on beds with pins poking out of them."
Brenner didn't lose a one!
- Jonathan Takif