November 11, 2010 | Short Order
Tabla “Goats” Out with a Bang
Report and photographs by Alissa Merksamer
Four courses of goat including this saffron-pandan spiced biryani for Diwali.
“No more goat…no more goat,” I moaned as I rocked back and forth on my office chair, gripping my belly, sorting my memories of Diwali at Tabla. I begged my head to stop spinning, but my pleas couldn’t compete with those five different wines paired with each course of dinner.
Just one hour before, I was comfortably seated in Tabla’s upstairs room polishing off my third helping of goat tandoori while chatting about urinary health with my three doctor companions. As I sipped my glass of Adelsheim pinot noir, the third wine of the evening, I pondered whether Indians in India could possibly be enjoying as sumptuous a Diwali feast.
The cashew crunch of vegetarian lentil cakes is welcome after so much richness.
In one of his last hurrahs as executive chef at the 12-year-old Danny Meyer restaurant, Floyd Cardoz treated diners to a private five-course meal dedicated to the goat. “From head to tail,” he told me. “That’s the Indian way.” It didn’t seem to faze Chef Cardoz that a traditional Diwali dinner would be vegetarian. “We had the goat,” he stated as if that explained it all.
The meal began with riffs on two types of Indian street food: a heady soup of lentils and bone marrow and a goat offal masala, pregnant with pieces of heart, liver, and brain. House-made crackers speckled with ajwain seeds, which looked like cumin seeds, were meant to dip into the masala’s rich gravy but my table couldn’t stop snacking on them.
After the richness of the first two courses, I was thankful for the vegetarian lentil patties. Slightly crunchy from bits of cashew, the patties were bland on their own but refreshing when doused in the accompanying spicy yogurt sauce. Next came the kebab….and my downfall. Pinkish slices of tandoori-roasted goat flavored with ginger defied cutting but were still remarkably tender. A squeeze of lime proved transformative. Forget the masala and the soup; this was the goat I wanted to eat -- simple, recognizable, succulent. I was so busy forking piece after piece that I almost forgot to taste the naryal machi. I carefully opened one of the banana leaf bundles to find a rectangular cake of ground fish that looked like cat food. It tasted better than it looked but could not compete with the kebab.
I was entirely too full when the goat biryani arrived, but I still managed to sift through the saffron-and pandan-spiced rice to nab every last piece of meat. The accompanying mango chutney teettered between sweet and savory, and I’m still wondering how Chef Cardoz managed to give the mango pieces potato-like texture. Raita is raita, but this was an excellent version, thick and punchy.
Creamy coconut tapioca pudding is topped with cashew and raisin compote.
By the time dessert came, my doctor companions were properly smashed. They gulped down the creamy coconut tapioca pudding topped with cashew and raisin compote but were ambivalent toward the milk chocolate kulfi pops. Similar to but denser than ice cream, the kulfi was light and intriguing with a vague sour cream flavor.
As my new friends paid their check, I said goodbye, grabbed my coat, and forced myself out into the biting wind. I began replaying the night’s dinner in my mind, images of goat swirling in my head….and vestiges of it swirling in my stomach. It was ten blocks before I realized I was going the wrong way.