Is Tashan Too Good for Philadelphia?

So the critics have spoken, and it seems our verdict on Tashan might as well have been scored by a chorus director: Munish Narula’s high-end restaurant is the most exciting thing to happen to Indian food in Philadelphia since … well, trying to finish that sentence is where we stumble into thorns.

Since Tiffin?  I love Tiffin, but Tashan is so much more daring—not to mention delicious.  So that’s not quite right.

Since Benjamin Franklin brought the first tandoor oven to America?  That never happened, so strike two.

And I’m still avoiding the crux of the thing, which is: since Bindi tried to unshackle Indian food from its cheap-takeout prison in 2008.

Because as we all know, Bindi closed.  Not for lack of experienced restaurateurs, not for lack of critical accolades, and not for lack of a prime location—indeed that was far more prime (if less stylishly decked out) than Tashan’s.  No, but because, as co-owner Valerie Safran told Foobooz, “After a while you get tired of hearing people say, ‘We don’t eat Indian food.’”

So the question about Tashan, then, doubles as a referendum on whether Philadelphia really deserves a reputation as a top-tier restaurant town: Are we finally ready (and ready to pay) for sophisticated Indian cooking?

This is not a rhetorical question.  I want comments.  I don’t think it gets much cooler,  cosmopolitan or, in its own way, local than an Indian restaurant concocting a chicken vindaloo sausage in a pork casing (the Christians in Goa digging righteously on swine) and tapping Sonny D’Angelo to churn them out.  And you could travel a long time in India without encountering tandoori lamb chops plated with a Pollock drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar, but Sylva Senat’s rendition worked well enough that it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that flourish flowing from Tashan back toward Bombay or New Delhi.

Yet when I sent a friend to Narula’s new place, the daughter of a brilliant Indian home cook, she both raved—calling the baingan bharta the best she’d ever had—and gave the restaurant a life expectancy six months.

I hope she’s wrong.  But if she’s right, what will we have to say for ourselves?

Read Trey Popp’s review of Tashan [Philadelphia magazine]