Now that vaccines are making it possible to return to indoor dining, I have a list of restaurants I’ve been aching to visit in person. Tabla’s Winter Park location has been at the top of that list.
Tabla, in its original location, was one of the very first restaurants I reviewed on this website – actually even before this website, in its earlier iteration, back in 2008. I was an immediate fan of the food, but the atmosphere – a rather soulless room off the lobby of an even soullesser hotel near Universal Orlando – left something to be desired. Improvements were made over the years, but when it was announced that Tabla’s owners would open a second location in the former Paris Bistro space in the Shops on Park arcade, I thought, “Finally, they’ve found the perfect home.”
And they have. Though smaller than the Orlando location, the Winter Park restaurant offers a dining experience that is simultaneously intimate and distanced, using the interior dining room with its full-wall window looking out to an atrium with covered dining under a never deciduous tree. And if that isn’t enough, there are also tables on the sidewalk fronting Park Avenue.
On a recent visit, my guests and I chose a table in the atrium and ordered ourselves a feast of delicious appetizers, entrees and breads. After nibbling on some papery papadum drizzled with mint chutney, we ordered a platter of chaats, including pani poori, samosa, dahi bhalla and aloo tikki.
We enjoyed poking holes in the puffy pani puri and filling them with the spiced potato mixture.
The bhalla papdi chaat had spiced chickpeas and potatoes with tortilla-like flour strips in a yogurt sauce.
We also shared some coconut shrimp with panko jackets, crisply fried, and served with a sweet and spicy sauce.
One of my guests chose the chicken boti kabab from the list of tandoori selections. I generally ignore the tandoor foods on Indian menus because I’ve too often been disappointed with dry, flavorless meats. But this was just the opposite. The breast meat was moist and tender, and the paste that coated the chunks was well spiced and flavorful.
Another guest’s choice of lamb palak gosht turned out to be my favorite among the entrees. The spinach-based sauce, flavored with garlic, tomatoes and onions, was perfect with the tender hunks of meat and was extra delicious when spooned over the accompanying rice.
For my entree I chose the vindaloo shrimp, served in a spicy gravy with potatoes and vinegar. I appreciated that a note on the menu told diners that this dish cannot be prepared mild – vindaloos are not mild. Mine was spiced between medium and hot and it suited me just fine.
The onion kulcha we ordered for the table was soft and filled with onions and spices and provided another fine platform for conveying the gravies and sauces.
Service was knowledgeable and attentive. My guests and I appreciated that our server timed the entrees to follow once we’d finished out appetizers so that we weren’t overwhelmed my an overflowing table.
By the way, Tabla still offers Chinese and Thai selections, but I’ve always preferred chef Sajan Prem’s Indian dishes. And I’m thrilled they’re now showcased in a proper venue. (Check out Prem demonstrating his chicken curry recipe in an edition of Scott's Kitchen.)