So after a bad experience at JUdson Grill during one RW, and then a bad experience at Capsouto Freres, I was beginning to sour on the concept. But last Thursday I was glad to find that some places are doing it justice, honoring the idea that if they show what they can do when it's (a little) less expensive, diners will be excited about returning.
The place is Tabla: Danny Meyer rocks.
Maybe the most wonderful thing was that the excellent waitress (Maria) didn't flinch, roll her eyes, or disappear when it became clear that we were ordering from "that" side of the menu. We felt like legitimate customers! She continued to provide the sort of knowledgeable, attentive, balanced (between being overly reserved and overly friendly) service that I've seen at USC, 11 Mad, Gramercy Tavern. She knew enough about the wine list to answer some basic questions, but also enough about what she didn't know to get back to me later regarding other questions.
The food was wonderful, of course. Fresh hot nan with a mildly spicy green apple spread. An amuse-boule of a gently curried cold tomato soup. My pepper-crusted quail appetizer, my wife's cold nage (had to ask -- it's a broth) with seafood. My crisped-rice scallops and my wife's cold sliced duck. Etc. etc.
I got the strong impression that they really care about Restaurant Week, don't just participate because they think they must be present on the list in the Times. We mentioned to the waitress that we thought the portions were plenty for us, and she said the chef would be happy to hear it because he had been worrying that they looked small leaving the kitchen. Which is also to say that they probably are a little smaller to make up for the price difference, but we appreciated the quality and didn't miss the quantity.
And of course we're already talking about a return visit. Maybe to the Bread Bar.