Just about every day, Munish Narula stops into his flagship Girard Avenue location of Tiffin, his Indian empire, to see what his two chefs are up to.
Sylva Senat and Sanjay Shende are going back and forth at Tiffin's stove, engaged in a collegial give and take, refining the menu for Tashan, the upscale restaurant that Narula plans to open next month at 777 S. Broad St.
The affable, cheery Shende is an Indian master chef who has worked all over India and the U.K.
Senat, a French-speaking Haitian native, was chef de cuisine at Buddakan after working in New York for Andrew D'Amico (Sign of the Dove), Marcus Samuelsson (Aquavit), and Jean-George Vongerichten (66 Leonard Street and the Mercer Kitchen).
Shenda comes up with a dish, and Senat refines it. Globalizes it, if you will. They collaborate. Back and forth. Vice versa.
They also let me sit in on a tasting last week. The food is nothing like anything I've had at Tiffin, or anywhere else. They call it "modern Indian." Not fusion, they are quick to add. Beef will be offered on the menu.
Aloo tikki (above) were the familiar potato cakes, flavored with ginger and cumin seed and served with a chutney of yellow pea, and sweet and tangy tamarind, as well as a hot mint and cilantro pesto.
They seared plump diver scallops (above) and crusted them with anise seed, accompanying them with a green tomato chutney and moile sauce, a South Indian sauce with tomato, onion and coconut milk.
The "Hunters Quail," also known as Shikaari Quail, was served with a three-onion chutney and presented in a glass dome. As Senat raised the dome, apple-wood smoke escaped, filling the dining room.
And on and on until they hit me with a double whammy: Gulab Jamun Crème Brulee.
That is, the sweet dough balls of gulab jamun at the bottom, and good ol' creme brulee on top, complete with caramelized crust.