Tabla, an upscale Indian restaurant in NYC, closed years ago. I never made it there, but I heard enough to know that both the restaurant and its chef were well respected. Floyd Cardoz has run the kitchens of many a successful restaurant, competed on Top Chef Masters, and has been nominated for a James Beard award. By all accounts he knows his stuff, so I was excited to check out his latest venture, Paowalla, during Matt and Jen’s recent visit.
Paowalla serves modern Indian cuisine. The flavors are bold but it’s not your standard curry joint. This is the kind of Indian food that even non-Indian food eaters will enjoy…just don’t tell them it’s and Indian restaurant. The spices are bold but not overwhelming, exotic but not intimidating. I was very happy with every item we ordered.
We started with naan – standard but delicious. It came with 3 sauces (you know me and my dipping sauces!). One was sweet, another spicy, and a third herby. They covered all the basics.
Next we got some small plates. I really pushed for the scrambled eggs with caramelized onions, ginger, and cilantro. I remember Cardoz being a vegetarian on Top Chef Masters and therefore really wanted to try something meat-free. If there’s a vegetarian in the kitchen of a non-vegetarian restaurant, you can be he’s going to do wonders with the dish. I may not have even remembered correctly and Cordoz may not be a veggie, but my instincts were correct. These eggs were creamy and mixed with flavors never before (for me) paired with eggs. I didn’t even know you could do that with eggs.
Other small plates included the sweet potato chaat, beet salad, and Bombay three chili chicken (not pictured). We knew we had to order the chicken because it was the source of the amazing smell that wove up our nostrils when we sat down. It was very good but oh so spicy. The other two small plates were great for cooling the palate.
The first larger dish we ordered was the lamb with lentils. The lamb was cooked perfectly and those lentils? Nothing like the gruel you usually get. You see this dish [above] next to some of the sides we ordered: tandoori cauliflower and cheese-filled naan, which is basically a naan quesadilla and proof that even the pickiest eaters can find something on the menu.
The kitchen brought out some rice and garlic naan croutons on the house. Very good, but considering most items here are not overly spicy, I found them unnecessary. The shaved brussels sprouts, however, were delicious. I thought the cauliflower was going to be the side dish winner, but these sprouts were the crowd favorite. And look at that – even at an Indian restaurant you’ll be eating the two most of-the-moment vegetables. You can’t escape cauliflower and brussels sprouts in the NYC restaurant scene; don’t even bother trying.
The only dish I didn’t get to try was the short ribs (above). Our group is good about sharing, so the fact that it didn’t make it to my end of the table proves it was fabulous.
We also ordered two chicken dishes: chicken tikka and the black spiced poulet rouge (meant for sharing). In both cases, I would have to say this kitchen doesn’t even know the meaning of the term dry. Juicy central.
Finally, we ordered three desserts. One was a soaked cake with wine poached fruit, another was ice cream with caramel-y apples, and a third was basically a doughnut filled with cashew cream and rum syrup. I was happy to see a chocolate-free dessert menu. These felt much more like meal-enders to me.
Moral of the story: Paowalla knows how to work with spice and spice is niiiiice.