Since starting my blog, I've had encounters with many different dialects of ethnic food; Turkish, Tibetan, and Salvadorian are all cuisines I've acquainted myself with. While I have eaten cuisines from around the globe, I have never made it out to an Indian restaurant.
Although I have dabbled in Indian flavors at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge's Sanaa, I really wanted to go to an more traditional Indian restaurant to get an authentic experience. When Katie, from Adventures by Katie posted in the Gluten Free in Orlando Facebook group about her experience at Tabla, I knew that this would be the perfect place to for aunt and I to enjoy a dinner out on her recent visit.
Tabla specializes in Indian, Chinese, and Thai cuisine, which lends to a menu that is versatile and sure to please every member in your party. Arriving as they were just opening for the night, I was a bit hesitant going in because the restaurant appeared to be under construction, and the parking lot was deserted. Not to be deterred, my aunt and I entered and found an absolutely beautiful dining room. As our waiter came out to greet us, I let him know that I am gluten and dairy-free, and requested to speak to a chef (as recommended by Katie). Instead of a chef, restaurant manager Diego came out to greet me and gave me a thorough look at what menu options I should consider.
From my earlier visit to Sanaa, I was really excited to hear that the pappadum at Tabla was safe for me because I'm a huge fan of these fried lentil wafers. A three-cone serving of pappadum comes complementary to each table, but knowing how much I love them, I ordered a second appetizer portion (an additional 5 wafers) for an additional $3. These pappadum are crispy and crunchy, and have a note of spice.
Accompanying the cones were two traditional Indian sauces, a tamarind sauce and mint chutney. The tamarind, sweet and spicy, did not really "wow" me, but it happened to be my aunt's favorite. The mint chutney on the other hand, was right up my alley, a delicious blend of noticeably fresh mint, cilantro, and other herbs and spices. I generously slathered each chip of pappadum I had with the chutney and would have come home with a whole jar of it if I could.
For my next course, I decided to go with a soup, since all of them are gluten and dairy-free. Here, my love of lemongrass influenced my selection, as I decided to go with the lemon coriander broth. When the soup arrived, it was poured table-side out of a beautiful teapot. The broth is wonderfully aromatic, and simply delicious. The lemongrass and pepper in the broth provide a comforting, soothing taste and the addition of diced fresh peppers and celery adds texture and complementary flavors. Simple as it was, the soup was a nice in between course that bridged the spiciness of the pappadum and my coming entree.
For my entree, I decided to follow Diego's recommendation and go with an Indian curry. Because of the gluten and dairy considerations, he said he would make a custom one for me. When it came to the table, I was amazed by the ample portion of the dish, as well as the abundance of the accompanying basmati rice. At first bite, I was enthralled for the complexity of the spices, which produced a wonderful multi-dimensional flavor profile. Packing heat, but not enough to make my eyes water, I appreciated how it was crafted to be "just hot enough" for a first-time curry eater. The cuts of chicken in the curry, were a perfect size, and seemingly slow-cooked to be tender and juicy. The fragrant long-grain basmati rice that accompanied the dish, was cooked to a fluffy perfection and taken to a new level when it soaked in the flavor of the curry sauce. I loved how I was able to enjoy a good portion at the restaurant, but was able to leave with a decent portion to take home and enjoy later.
Tabla not only exceeded my expectations, but also earned a place as one of my favorite restaurants in Orlando. Thanks to their good service and excellent cuisine, my aunt and I were able to simply sit back and enjoy our evening dining out together, and relish each and every moment it. We left full, with plenty of leftovers, and both agreed that the value for the amount and quality of the food we received is hard to beat. I will definitely be back in the future, and hope to return someday for lunch as their renovation progresses. Due to its close proximity to Universal Orlando, I recommend it as a post-park stop for tourists, but locals too should take note because Tabla bypasses typical tourist restaurant tropes and really delivers a quality meal. While the staff were all friendly and attentive, Diego, the manager, went above and beyond to ensure that my experience was curated to be a good intro to Indian food.