Flavorful, exceptional culinary rhythm: Find it at Tabla Winter Park

Tabla Indian Restaurant Winter Park

Sizzling plates are glamorous. Like leggy movie stars emerging from limousines, their long shapely plumes of aroma come forth from the kitchen, that tantalizing hiss a culinary equivalent to the whir and flash of the paparazzi’s cameras — and heads turn, waiting to see what alluring dish is causing the stir.

Hoisted high to the shoulder, you’ll see necks crane, diners hoping to catch a glimpse. Our server carried his tray low to our table at Tabla Winter Park, past a gentleman sitting alone, just adjacent. His head turned toward the sound of the sizzle, the smell of the cumin, the onion, the fat of the meat as it caramelized on the searing-hot platter.

He smiled. “I should be eating with you,” he said in our general direction.

I’d been hoping for a “When Harry Met Sally”-esque, “I’ll have what they’re having.”

He was too young for such a reference, but the platter had done much the same thing Meg Ryan did during that comical, semi-racy scene in Katz’s Delicatessen. It stole the show.

I sometimes feel a little like the Billy Crystal character when I order such things, to be honest. I’d rather just have my corned beef — or in this case, tandoori lamb chops ($32), without fanfare — but there’s no other way to get them save the sexy floor show of the platter parade.

If you’re similarly shy, push through it. Every bite is worth the gawk fest.

Perfectly tender, medium-rare lamb on the bone. Yes, go ahead and pick one up with your hands, everyone’s staring, anyway. Marvel as the flesh breaks apart, as the layers of flavor present themselves in waves. Don’t be rude to your dining companion but do take a moment to pay attention to the experience. Close your eyes if you have to.

And do it with every dish.

Tabla isn’t new new — its sister restaurant near Universal has been around for more than a decade — and the Winter Park outpost brought a new level of Indian cuisine to this part of town when it opened earlier this year.

Not the best year in which to expand, but with food this sensational (and with deals to boot; 20 percent off with $50 minimum takeout and free curbside pickup!) it’s not surprising they’ve weathered the pandemic storm.

Our dine-in experience was outside, sort of. Tabla operates in the space formerly known as Paris Bistro and it’s a beaut. “Outdoor” tables aren’t precisely that, but rather inside a mall of sorts, with fountains and water features. No air conditioning, but safe from the rain.

We began with a chaat platter ($15). Chaat is a catch-all term for the many varieties of Indian street fare served snack-style. It features pani puri, delicately fried poufs you’ll crack open and stuff with savory potato and chickpeas. It gets something of a hipster treatment with a cute mason jar in which the rounds are served. It comes alongside exceptional samosa, dahi bhalla (smothered, fried lentil fritters) and aloo tikka chaat (a lovely version of these delicious potato patties). All makes for a fun, festive share.

“Cannot be made mild” was the warning on some of Tabla’s dishes. For me, that’s a siren song. I negotiated with my dining partner for the goat vindaloo ($19) and she was a trooper, enjoying it even as she dabbed the cloth napkin to her brow.

Tender goat falls from the bone with zero effort, all of it bathed in beautiful bright-red gravy that brings the heat formidably, but also gently. The flavors — garlic, vinegar, cumin, coriander and what seems like a thousand others all remain, a kaleidoscope for the palate, the colors shifting within each bite.

It seems like a love letter, I know, but it was the same for takeout — which was delivered to my car moments after pulling up. In this sack: the green chili naan ($4) I’d skipped last time in my spice negotiations; gobi Manchurian and junglee lal mass ($19), a gorgeous, traditionally spicy dish from North India — we chose lamb as the protein — and dal gosht, more goat, this time simmered with black lentils in an onion-tomato masala.

My friend’s daughter, at 15, has been on the hunt for the city’s best gobi Manchurian ($12; fried cauliflower in a rich, spicy toss) and had proclaimed Tabla’s to be the pinnacle. She may well be right. This version isn’t steeped in its gravy — a nice feature, since so many of the other dishes provide a wealth for naan immersion.

As for the rest? More tender meat, more pervasive seasonings — aromatic, layered, ridiculous. Sauces you can’t resist spooning up even as you’re packing the leftovers. Lentils that melt away on a cloud of tempered spices. On a river of ghee.

Like Meg Ryan (Sally), I found myself awash in mmmmms and ooooohs.

Except I wasn’t faking it.

Tabla: 216 N. Park Ave. in Winter Park; 321-422-0321 or tablawinterpark.com

Want to reach out? Find me on Twitter or Instagram @amydroo or on the OSFoodie Instagram account @orlando.foodie. Email: amthompson@orlandosentinel.com. Join the conversation at the Orlando Sentinel’s Facebook Forum, Let’s Eat, Orlando.

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