I liked Tabla v1.0 just fine, but when the restaurant closed for what they said were renovations partly due to the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project, I didn't exactly rail against fate. Tabla was housed in a dated Days-cum-Clarion Inn, and the hackneyed decor was befitting an aging maharajah intimidated by the austere trappings of postmodernism. Six months later, the facelift of both hotel and restaurant is complete, and I can't say I'm particularly fond of either. In both cases, the austere trappings of postmodernism look generic and sterile. But at Indian restaurants, visuals rarely make an impact on me – it's the scents and flavors to which my attention is paid.
Tabla's kitchen got a new addition in the form of executive chef Ian Piamonte, whose credentials (Le Cordon Bleu, Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert) precede him. Former chef Sajan Prem, whose dishes impressed us in past visits, moved into the role of "catering chef," though every time we've visited Tabla v2.0, he's been in the kitchen churning out dishes for dine-in customers as well.
No matter; the formidable tandem makes up the core of the restaurant's rebrand, which now includes Chinese and Thai dishes, but don't let the pan-Asian-ness scare you. Piamonte and Prem aren't ones to cock it up in the kitchen, but they sure fowl it up with the mixed kebab platter ($20), an appetizer featuring, in addition to lamb seekh kebab, three different preparations of chicken – tikka (yogurt and spices), hara (green chilies, mint, cilantro) and malai methi (cream, fenugreek). These were some of the most plush and pliant kebabs I've ever eaten, and their stellar execution was a sign of things to come. Pakoras ($7), be they fritters of cauliflower, potato, spinach or onion, were technically sound in both texture and taste, as was the sweet, spicy, and subtly crisp gobi Manchurian ($9), an Indo-Chinese specialty highly touted, and rightly so.
Soups, like the rasam ($5), a South Indian staple, and Thai-influenced lemon-coriander ($5), can be prepared properly infernal on request, as can pretty much all of Tabla's dishes. If there was a disappointment, it would have to be the vinegary pad thai ($16), made sweet by the addition of tamarind. The flavors just seemed a bit off.
There's no slagging the chicken korma, though. The curry, heady with the aroma of toasted cumin and coriander, was an absolute delight, though the naan ($3.50) we used to convey the sauce into our yaps lacked any trace of ghee and bordered on parched – at least on this occasion. On other visits, the naan's been perfect, as have fried bhatura ($3.50) and potato-stuffed aloo paratha ($4).
The gulab jamun brûlée ($5), as described by my dining partner, "wasn't, like, awful," but it was so eggy it smelled like an omelet. The "semi-log" ($4), a chocolate dessert special bearing slight similarity to a Swiss roll, was a serviceable capper – but I can't help lamenting the absence of the toffee pudding cake with passion-fruit-glazed betel leaf from the old Tabla menu. Bring it back, I say, and while you're at it, bring back an old server or two. The one we had on our last visit was an utter novice with a nervous and overbearing energy that would've set us off had it not been for a perfect cup of chai to temper our annoyance.
Yes, the rhythm gets disrupted every now and then, but for the most part, the new Tabla hasn't missed a beat.