In case there was any doubt that Anthony Bourdain meant what he said when he declared cooks of Latin-American origin New York City's finest:
Scene: Tamarind Tribeca, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010, 10:35 (give or take) p.m. Entree plates cleared. Crumbs run amok. Three diners, bellies stuffed, belts straining, buttons popping, contemplating the inevitable dessert.
Diner one: How is the gulab jamun?
Waiter: It is fantastic, sir.
Diner two: We'll take it.
Diner one: No, wait -- how is it made? Is it good? I mean really (gesturing to the table's Indian heritage/inherent arrogance about all things Indian), tell it to us straight.
Waiter: It is very good, sir. All of our desserts are very good. We have a first-class pastry chef.
Diner one: Where's he from?
Diner three: (Muttering in overstuffed agony) ungh... stop... just... stop...
The drum rolls.
Waiter: He is Hispanic. His desserts are fantastic.
Table bursts into laughter. Gulab jamun is ordered, as is the coconut-mousse bombe. Both are devoured. Both are fantastic: the two gulab jamun simultaneously syrupy, warm and delicately doughy, as if an Indian auntie tended to them for hours, sweating over the stove. Never had 'em? Think Munchkins on acid. With syrup. The coconut-mousse bombe: Silly name aside, it is, in fact, the bomb -- a cloud-like concoction of coconut essence around a sphere of semi-sweet chocolate, plated atop wafer-thin pineapple slices, nuzzled against a grown up version of gulab jamun -- a doughnut-like pillow of a cake, sans the sweet sauce.
There are two takeaways. A) Bourdain was right (sorry aunties). B) Tamarind Tribeca is fantastic. Yes, there is Indian food of similar quality to be had all over New York City. Yes, the $5 biryani you get from a cart on 6th Avenue might fill you up as much as a three-course meal at this downtown emporium of subcontinental cuisine, and for a lot less cash. But you'll struggle to find Indian dishes as innovative and inspired as the ones at Tamarind Tribeca, like seared duck tucked into a deep-fried rice crepe, drizzled with tangerine chutney (Bataki Kosha) and crab meat married with curry staples, assembled into a cake of colossal proportions (Chimbori Jalwa).
This arrogant Indian (though I was actually diner No. 3 in the above scenario) doesn't care who's creating the food, as long as they keep it up. Give it a go. And especially if you've never had them before, especially if you don't think you can stuff another morsel of food down your gullet, get the gulab jamun.
Tamarind Tribeca, 99 Hudson Street at Franklin Street, (212) 775-9000.
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