Forget the no-fuss, f-you restaurants that seem to dominate the NYC dining landscape these days, those restaurants that demand diners cater to them as opposed to the other way around. These hipster, trendy places won’t take reservations, make you wait hours for a table, and then brusquely seat you on bare bones tables shoulder-to-shoulder with other diners. Tamarind in Tribeca is the exact opposite of that. Once you step into the elegant, opulent dining room adorned in regal gold and amber tones, you are whisked away from the gritty concrete jungle to the luxurious splendor of India. A host courteously greets you and escorts you to your table, regardless of whether your entire party is here or not. It’s all very civilized, and the momentum continues when you are served the fragrant, memorable spices and flavors of the food from silver platters. For those moments when you truly need an indulgent, splendid meal to celebrate a special occasion, Tamarind is the perfect spot.
I highly recommend ordering a pre-dinner cocktail at the posh bar. My cucumber gimlet was deceptively strong, mild and crisp in taste, with a hint of sweetness. In short, a well-mixed drink.
The best way to experience all that Tamarind has to offer is to order family style. On my most recent visit, we collectively ordered samosas (bhojpuri samosa), beetroot patties (kashmiri tikki) and the fried cauliflower, which was the special for that day, as starters. The samosas were delicious, as anything fried to a crunchy crisp with seasoned potato filling should be. The beetroot patties were a bit underwhelming, as I thought I was eating an especially spicy pile of mashed potatoes refashioned as some highly elevated dish. The fried cauliflower tasted exactly like a divine piece of General Tso’s chicken with a vegetarian spin. One thing I appreciated is that vegetarianism is not an afterthought at Tamarind. If giving up meat meant eating exquisitely prepared chickpeas, creamy paneer and hearty samosas instead, I would give it up in a heartbeat.
The eagerly awaited main courses of the lentil soup (dal makhni), the paneer (shahi paneer) and the Japanese eggplant (bhagarey baigan) were brought out in polished silver serving platters. A little dollop of each was served onto our plates, to be sopped up by the delicious nan bread, rosemary and garlic on this occasion, and the pudina parantha, a mint flavored oven baked bread. The entrees were solid, but I thought the sauces in which they were served were even more memorable. I could have been happy with a meal consisting solely of dipping bits of buttery nan bread in the creamy tomato and yogurt sauce of the paneer. The nan made everything better by balancing out the flavors–the strong nuttiness of the eggplant was less overwhelming when accompanied by the bread, and same goes for the thick, hearty lentil soup.
Decadence should be enjoyed in small doses, as the heavily spiced and thick sauces of Tamarind’s cuisine will leave you in a languorous state. If you want to go for the full fin-de-siecle dining experience, you can order some dessert to finish things off. Tamarind offers ethnic specialties like payasam, a vermicelli pudding, and kulfi, a traditional Indian ice cream, as well as Western choices such as chocolate mousse or cake and an assortment of sorbets. Welcome to the gilded age in dining at Tamarind, are you sure you want to return to an age of austerity when you step out the doors?