Philadelphia is now home to one of the best Indian restaurants in the country. So why aren’t you eating there?
Once upon a time in Philly, there was a small and slightly troubled high-end Indian restaurant called Bindi, owned and operated by Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, the Lords of 13th Street. It wasn’t a perfect restaurant. It was a BYO operating in a highly competitive environment. It was cash-only.
But the thing that really killed it was that it was a high-end Indian restaurant in a town that just doesn’t get high-end ethnic cuisines. “After a while, you get tired of hearing people say, ‘We don’t eat Indian food,’” Safran said in an interview shortly after it was announced that Bindi would close in September of 2011. She blamed Philadelphians for being unwilling to take a chance on something different. At the time, I didn’t completely buy her argument. Now, I’m not so sure.
That same month saw the opening of Tashan—a second, even higher-end Indian restaurant from Munish Narula, owner of the rather low-end chain of Tiffin restaurants. While the circumstances of Tashan are different, the city is the same. And guess what? Tashan is now struggling, too.
Let me run down Tashan’s numbers for you. It’s a big space: 110 seats on the inside, 34 more in the lounge. It has an impressive wine list and a full bar. It accepts credit cards. Recently, it has gotten a nearly obsessive amount of love from critics. And on an average Tuesday, according to Narula, Tashan is “struggling to get to one turn.” Which is just insane.
Narula chalks this up to a variety of factors. He says the word didn’t get out; that “a lot of people thought Tashan was going to be a fancier Tiffin.” He says the Bella Vista location poses a problem to people—they think it’s “out there”—and because of this, Tashan has become a “destination restaurant.”
But I don’t have to be so polite. I blame this entirely on you.
Right now, Tashan is one of the best Indian restaurants in the country—up there with places like Rasika in Washington, D.C.—but you’re not going. Why? Because you have it in your mind that Indian food ought to be confined to buffets and menus that top out at $10? Because you have to go a couple blocks out of your way to find it? That’s ridiculous.
The only reasonable answer I can think of is unfamiliarity. A city will never embrace the high end of a cuisine before it has become comfortable with the low. People have to have a basic lexicon, which only comes from years of being steeped in puri, masala and saag (or tacos, or sole meunière). Right now, Philly has maybe five years of decent, available low-end Indian food behind it. And maybe that’s just not enough. But I’m asking you to take a risk. To take my word that this is the best (and maybe last) chance you’re going to have to taste Indian food done so well right in your own backyard. Because if Tashan fails, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.
And I don’t know if anyone will be crazy enough to try a third time.
Tashan [Official Site]