You can tell that an Indian restaurant is serious about its food if you order something like junglee lal mass, a Rajasthani dish known for its spiciness, and are informed that it is not available mild.
That’s the case at Tabla, the Indian restaurant with touches of Thai and Chinese cuisine that recently opened a second location in the former Paris Bistro space off Park Avenue. The original Tabla, near Universal Orlando, opened in 2008 and is still in operation. When I reviewed it in August of that year, I noted that I really liked the food and service but the location not so much.
So I was really excited to learn that the owners were bringing their wonderful food to Winter Park and to a space I’ve always found attractive.
However, I opted to avail of Tabla’s curbside pickup for takeout, so a report on ambience will have to wait. But do not wait to try the food if you love Indian cuisine because it’s every bit as good as before if not better. I dare say we may have a new contender for Best Indian the next time that Foodster Category rolls around.
Let’s start with that junglee lal mass (sometimes spelled jungli laal maas), which is available with lamb or goat. I opted for the lamb version, which had hearty hunks of meat stewed in red chili paste and ghee along with myriad other seasonings to create a thick, brown curry. I did not go for the spiciest but it was plenty hot. But the heat was layered, not overwhelming or tongue-numbing. I could still distinguish bits of ginger and cardamom in the mix. (By the way, if you go for the goat, expect bones.)
I also ordered the paneer tikka masala, a vegetarian version of the popular chicken dish with an unknown provenance. It’s either from Punjab in the north or the subcontinent – or was developed in Glasgow. Doesn’t matter, it was delicious. It had the characteristic deep orange color in the gravy, a mix of yogurt and tomato, with a smoothly creamy texture. The cubes of paneer cheese were dense and delightfully chewy. This dish, too, had a good bit of spiciness, but there was more sauce to spoon over the basmati rice. And by the way, an ample amount of rice was provided.
For an appetizer, I ordered the mixed pakora and was pleased that it arrived at my destination with the chickpea flour coatings still crispy. (Vent holes in the top of the foam clamshell helped keep steam from building up.) It had thick-sliced potatoes, cauliflower and strips of peppers and onions with a nice bit of saltiness. They were terrific dipped in the chutneys, including mint, tamarind and mango, that came in a container labeled “sides.”
I also had the onion kulcha, a stuffed naan bread, nicely seared in a tandoor.
Oh, and here was a nice surprise: A complimentary dessert of gulab jamun, little fried balls of dough soaked in sweet syrup, was included in the order.
Tabla has an online ordering form that is useful if you want to see what a dish looks like, but I found it easier to place my order over the phone. The young man who answered was courteous – even when informing me that the junglee would not be available mild. And when I arrived at the curb in a space designated for pickup, my order was brought out by a staff member wearing a mask and gloves.
If Park Avenue has ever had an Indian restaurant it has faded from my memory. I’m happy to see that it has finally arrived and delighted to say that it is some of the best Indian food in town.
Tabla Winter Park is at 216 Park Ave. N. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Dine-in and exterior seating is available under current Phase 1 guidelines. The phone number is 321-422-0321.