One would be hard pressed to work as a restaurant critic and dislike any national cuisine.
Having broad food likes (and an equally broad capacity for gluttony) is a prerequisite of the job. And yet, I am still surprised at people's responses to any reviews I do of Indian food.
Perhaps you have already noted my unfortunate timing: This column was about an Indian restaurant two weeks ago. What, again?
We all know that if I covered two Italian restaurants in three weeks, or two French bistros, nobody would notice.
But Indian? Still taboo among so many Canadian epicures.
Rather than heaping blame upon the eaters, I am trying to understand why we (collectively) haven't fallen for Indian food. One can hardly say that it's a minority culture; surely all those millions in the subcontinent know a thing or two about food.
As for their representation here, Indian people have experienced a sufficient diaspora for plenty of gastronomic imports to Canada.
And there are curry houses galore in Toronto, in Little India in the east end and elsewhere as well. One would have expected the Indian and Pakistani immigrants to Toronto to have done the same thing as the Chinese -- that is, to open a multiplicity of wonderful restaurants.
But a cultural difference interferes: Chinese people, wherever they live, are great restaurant-goers, with a tradition of eating their great meals in restaurants.
In India, on the other hand, the great cooks are in the great houses. People who love food and can afford to indulge in it tend to employ highly expert cooks, and to understand cooking themselves. They do not eat in restaurants as much, hence the lack of upscale Indian restaurants both in the homeland and here.
Gastronomes will have to forgive the subcontinent, not for its bad food (because its cuisine is superb), but for its failure to export that fabulous food from the kitchens of its highborn citizenry.
That said, there is the matter of Indian fusion food, wherein curry house does California, with French classic technique thrown in to lighten the touch. This is the big news. But not this week, alas.
Tabla is a new Rosedale restaurant that aims to do upscale Indian fusion food (curry meets beurre blanc), but they go only about one-quarter of the way there.
And I'm being nice.
If we didn't have one terrific example of PoMo Indian cuisine in Toronto, it would be easier to be grateful for Tabla.
But Xacutti on College Street does such a fine job of mixing 'n' matching Indian cuisine with New World ingredients and techniques that when Tabla stumbles, one wants to run, not walk, to College Street.
We know Tabla is trying. Dinner starts with an amuse-gueule of three tiny melon balls atop a dried apple slice, with fabulous tangy tamarind sauce.
My mint-flavoured lamb kebabs come with emerald purée of fresh coriander, grape tomatoes in piquant sauce, and sweet baby mache leaves. But the kebabs are doughy patties of very small charm.
Tandoori salmon is decorated with piquant pools of lime yogurt and sweet/sour tamarind cumin jus, but neither of these mitigates the overcooked salmon.
Lamb and yogurt broth is an interesting risk that failed to pay off in flavour oomph. We like the garlic and eggplant terrine, but it, too, lacks flavour. For $38, we want our seafood entrée to knock the cover off the ball. But the lobster and scallop with tandoori king prawn barely makes first base.
We can't identify the pale pink sauce on the shrimp and the lobster, and the tandoori king prawn is merely pleasant, with no pizzazz and slightly overcooked.
Emerald coriander coulis is divine, but insufficient to the rescue task. Spiced halibut is pleasantly flavoured but overcooked. A nest of deep fried sweet potato threads decorates many of the mains: As with all French fried foods, they're fun but hardly a main event.
Rack of lamb with coriander and mint is pleasant, no more. We like its buttery sweet pepper couscous, but that's hardly fusion news. As for quails in a so-called saffron fennel crust, they are deep-fried and encased in thick floury flavour-free batter, with a pleasant orange curry sauce.
Desserts are highly ambitious and marginally successful.
Toronto does need more fusion Indian food. This isn't it.
Where is Greg Couillard when we need him?
Tabla. 1055 Yonge St., Toronto. 416-961-5550. Accessible to people in wheelchairs. Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip, $125.
On Feb. 6 at 7 p.m., Greenpeace is screening a new documentary, Deconstructing Supper, at Innis Town Hall in Toronto. Hosted by Vancouver restaurateur John Bishop, the film outlines the perils of genetically modified food. It will be introduced by chef Michael Stadtlander of Eigensinn Farms. Tickets, $12-$14; call 416-597-8408, ext. 1.