Saturday, May 19, 2007

My Big Lunch Date

Yesterday was the first time in a loooong time I ate lunch at a place that didn't have a kids' menu. I had been wanting to try t'afia for a while. The owner/chef was nominated for a James Beard award, and she runs the Midtown Farmer's Market. The big deal at t'afia is Friday's prix fixe lunch, which is why I was there.

So for the first course I had sweet and sour shrimp soup. Which was ... so help me, there is no other way of saying this ... interesting. It seems like it was Indian-inspired, with curry and coconut milk, but there was also a muddy taste that reminded me of gumbo roux. It was somehow neither bad nor good, just entirely unlike anything I've ever had before. John had the arugula salad in vinaigrette with white chocolate shavings. He won the first round: that salad was delicious. The white chocolate shavings weren't too sweet, so they came across as a creamy type of cheese.

For the second course I had a fried soft-shell crab with french fries and a bit of purple coleslaw. The sauce for the crab was some sort of creamy mustard with ... curry? I couldn't quite tell. It was good, if a little tame. The frying was well done. The potatoes were thin, just like I like them, but a bit limp. [Do I sound like the pickiest wanker of a restaurant reviewer? I'm afraid I might.] The sauce for the fries was ketchup. Heinz, I believe. John's second course was swordfish paillard with sun-dried tomatoes. It was delicious. Again, John won that round. His fish came with some sort of squash gratin, which I did not try but he seemed to enjoy.

Finally, we both had the chocolate bread pudding. I'm not a huge bread pudding person -- I like it, but it stops there. Still, our other choices were lemon-thyme sorbet (which I wish I could say I tried, but I chickened out at the last minute, hesitant about the thyme), and peach crumble. All I can offer in my defense is that I don't like peaches. I don't pretend that it's a reasonable opinion, but there it is. Anyhow, the bread pudding was pretty good. I thought that they were a bit stingy with the sauce (as they were in the second course), but I'm kind of piggy about sauce.

I'm really glad I went to lunch there. For the first time I had the feeling about food that one has about unconventional art, or clothing, or music: the thoughts provoked by the art are enjoyable in themselves. One needn't always reach for those things which are more immediately pleasurable. I appreciate, for example, the combination of Indian and Gulf Coast elements in the soup -- our areas have similar climates, so it's natural to look at fusing the two cuisines. I'm not sure that the end result was at perfect pitch, but in a way that's beside the point.

Anyway, before I get too hifalutin, I should point out a couple of things: first of all, I have no background in cuisine of any sort, really. It is certainly an uninformed opinion that I offer. The second thing I need to disclose is that I had fast food nachos for dinner.

Addendum: t'afia had a lovely vanilla-infused iced tea, but they did not have lemonade. Quel dommage.


  1. The squash gratin was indeed very good. How can you go wrong with squash, potatoes, and cheese? The swordfish was had some sort of sun-dried tomato/walnut concoction on top of it. I am a late convert to the gospel of sun-dried tomatoes, but I now acknowledge them to be among the most perfect ingredients in the universe. I've read bad things about what can be in swordfish, but to be honest, I really didn't care yesterday: the fish was excellent. About the shaved white chocolate on the arugula salad: it had some sort of herb in it (thyme, maybe), so the impression was savory rather than sweet. I thought that it was an interesting concept, although I can't say honestly that some sort of cheese wouldn't have been better. Mamacita is right about the tea. It was excellent, and I think that I'm going to have to find some vanilla tea to use for myself. It also came in a double glass with lemon wedges speared on a toothpick. Mamacita thought that it was Scotch when she saw it on the table and asked whether I was having a bad day.

  2. The squash gratin was indeed very good. What's not to like about squash, potatoes, and cheese. I really did enjoy the swordfish, too. I've read bad things about the icky stuff than can be in swordfish, but frankly, I don't care. At least, I didn't yesterday. It was very good, and the sun-dried tomato/walnut concoction on top was excellent. Mamacita is right about the iced tea; I'm going to have to find some vanilla tea and make some myself. I would never have guessed that it would be as successful as it was. Oh, and it comes in a double glass with little lemon wedges on jumbo toothpick. Mamacita mistook it for a Scotch when she joined me and asked if I was having a bad day.