I’ve been a fan of Floyd Cardoz since the early Tabla days way back in 1998. And like many other foodies, I’m still mourning its closing. Tabla wasn’t just another restaurant. It was a wildly innovative eatery with a new brand of Indian cooking. Back when eaters still thought of Indian as cream-sopped saag paneer and greasy curries, Floyd Cardoz brought a sense of seasonality and sophistication to the cuisine, inspiring us eaters to rethink Indian cooking entirely. I loved his Pumpkin Rasam Soup flecked with coconut, Tandoori-Baked and deliciously stuffed Paneers, Rice-Flaked Halibut, and I could go on…
When Tabla closed, Danny Meyer found a new home for Cardoz (within the Union Square Hospitality Group) at North End Grill in Battery Park. I liked North End Grill a lot, but it was too far out of the way for me to make a habit of. And to be honest, it didn’t seem like quite the right fit for this seasoned chef, like trying to squeeze a piece of the wrong puzzle in.
But that’s all history: Cardoz has recently resurfaced at White Street (on White Street) in Tribeca. At first glance, it may seem like an odd marriage to partner up with Dan Abrams (legal commentator) and David Zinczenko (editor-in-chief of Men’s Health), who were also once partners in The Lion as well as Christine Cole. Except that they all seem to take both food and health very seriously. While I love sinful foods as much as anyone (maybe even more), I don’t love that feeling of regret I often have after (or going to the gym to try to work it all off the next day!). Which is why I was excited to hear that Cardoz has lightened up even more, virtually banning butter from his kitchen at White Street. (Except to smear on their Grand Daisy bread at the beginning of the meal.) I mean, how cool would it be to be able to go out to a relevant, new restaurant and not feel like your splurging?
You won’t feel the slightest bit guilty drinking the “Garland” cocktail. In fact, you may feel like you’re drinking at a spa (albeit one that serves alcohol!), sipping this perfectly balanced blend of Vodka, Cucumber, Lime, Fennel Syrup and Grapefruit Bitters reminiscent of a Gimlet. The drinks are impressive, like the autumnal “King Oliver” with apricot tea gin, antica formula aperol, with an orange peel garnish.
Want to eat light? Try the Heirloom Tomatoes amped up with Serrano Chiles and Indian Coriander, or Shaved Greenmarket Vegetables with Toasted Cumin and Labne (a yogurt-based cream cheese). In fact, there’s plenty of tasty and healthful ways to go, like a Fluke Crudo, flavored with Tamari and Wasabi, Crab Cocktail unexpectedly married to Thai Basil and Champagne Grapes, or Slow-Cooked Wild Bass with baby vegetables in a Sun-Dried Ginger Broth. Suddenly a vegetarian? The menu features an entree of Seared Shitake Mushrooms with Plums and Eggplant in a Tamarind-Dashi Broth, or a Roast Half Cauliflower with Pickled Shallots and Pine Nuts.
More important than the healthful slant, Cardoz has created a tremendously flavorful cuisine all his own; one that marries his Indian heritage with American as well as a slurry of other global flavors thrown in the mix to keep things interesting. There’s an intensely flavored (and deliciously so) Spiced Pumpkin Soup, laced with coriander, cinnamon and cumin, and topped with Ricotta, a ChickPea and Quinoa Cake with Onion Confit and Pickled Savoy Cabbage, reminiscent of an Indian comfort food, called Khaman Dhokla (steamed chickpea cake), and a Sea Bream with Shaved Brussels Sprouts in a Tamarind Glaze. It seems like everyone’s got a good old Roast Chicken for two on their menu these days, but White Street’s is a whole different bird. Cardoz brines it in white wine, black pepper, and lemon & lime juice, then rubs it with a hefty dose of rosemary and black pepper.
I imagine Cardoz could season with his eyes closed and still delight us with something both original and satisfying, two things that don’t happen often enough when it comes to food. After over two decades in the business, Cardoz still manages to challenge guests with creative pairings and plates. Pea Tendrils, Lime, a fistful of peanuts, and a nutty touch of sesame oil make for a crunchy and exotic salad. Cardoz’s Hamachi Tartare is one of my favorite dishes this fall. It’s a vibrant dish, mingled with Hearts of Palm and Radish Greens, and anointed with Homemade Cider. If you don’t mind something with a little more heft to it, I highly recommend the Squid Ink Bucatini, al dente strands tossed with lobster, and moistened with coconut milk. And the Lamb Cannon (loin), cooked to a beautiful medium rare, and smartly paired with eggplant, mint, and local beans.
Chocolate Mousse Cake
Lest I forget to mention how handsome the dining room is. White Street is elegant without being fancy and ridiculously generous in the space department (which rarely happens in New York restaurants), furbished with circular, dark leather banquettes, exposed brick walls trimmed with arched mirrors, and glittery chandeliers to illuminate the moodily lit space.
For dessert, there’s a curious-sounding Bayleaf Custard with walnut butter, a Sticky Toffee Pudding with Creme Fraiche Sorbet, and a Strawberry Pistachio Parfait with Balsamic Coulis. I must confess to a concord grape fetish, so I opted for both concord grape-blessed desserts. The first was an oh-so-mod Concord Grape Cremeux with Honey-Lemon Thyme Sorbet, and an awesomely crunchy, Chocolate Mousse Cake, laced with plenty of Hazelnut Praline and a Concord Grape Sorbet, which was the icing on the cake. The pastry chef is somewhat of an unknown in these parts, Alexander Zecena, who worked at Spago in LA as well as at Chicago’s famed Alinea. But I’d wager we’ll hear a lot more about Zecena in the coming years, so take note. And definitely go out of your way for Cardoz’s inspired cooking at White Street this fall.