I've been spending the last fortnight entertaining my mother and aunt, which means trying out some nice new restaurants.
My travels took me to some new ones, and some old favorites. One of the new ones was Vong, the much reviewed restaurant from celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s chain of restaurants. It's hidden away under the lipstick building, and is populated entirely by Bangladeshi waiters, which made life much easier for us.
I seem to be having French-Asian everywhere nowadays; cream sauces dusted with exotic spices and presented brilliantly. The interesting part is how they convert Asian street foods or communal serving to the plated paradigm, where each person gets a plate all his own all beautifully laid and not to be touched. Plated food always puts me in a bit of a tizzy. I have two worries; one is - am I supposed to eat all those things that make it look pretty? Do you put all of them in your mouth together (the perfect bite) or are there combinations that the French are born with and others have to learn. The scond worry is, how do I get seconds of what I like?
Anyway, Vong was firmly in the plated school but starters came with a twist. The sauces were plated, while the spring rolls and lobster somethings were in a large platter in the middle. Wonderful sauces, and probably the main reason my mother gave it the highest rating of all the places visited.
Tamarind was the fancy Indian alternative, also attached to a celebrity chef (albeit a dead one). Given that most executive chefs dont actually cook (I'm sure Mr.Vongerichten didn't plate those sauces himself) a dead chef here and there should not make that much of a difference. The current chef is Sujit Bose, a non-celeb Bengali who lived in Delhi. The food was satisfying, but was not quite as outstanding as hoped. Interestingly enough, the kitchen sent it out plated french style but the servers served it Indian style (serving a bit of every dish to each diner on a seperate plate). This wasn't so bad - it saved us from reaching shamelessly across the table with our forks but destroyed (before we could see it) the fancy presentations.
Tamarind brings out an interesting aspect of Indian food. It's 'authentic' enough (whetever that means) but defnitely the view from the South (which was fairly disappointing given that the menu leans heavily to the North). My mother likes the dry aromatic biriyani; this one was distinctly the kind that comes out of Bangalore or Chennai. Even more strange, the menu insisted that Fish Moilly was a speciality from Chennai (much to the consternation of Keralites everywhere I'm sure). And, it had Lamb Vindaloo which seems to be the curse of every Indian restaurant outside India.
So Tamarind advertises a (dead) south-Indian celebrity chef who lived in America and originally learned French cooking. At the same time it offers a primarily north-Indian menu with bits of Goa thrown in, which makes for a very confused Indian food experience. I can heartily recommend it for play-it-safe corporate dinners where the (very nice) atmosphere and nicely priced wines are important, but as a food destination Tabla is defnitely better.