NYC Burger Battle Pt 2: Five Guys vs Burger Joint

As mentioned before, I am a part-time burger aficionado and a full-time ranker-of-things (to coin a term). That’s why I like to pit “famous” burgers against each other in a Battle Royale (with Cheese). This time it’s the one-of-a-kind Burger Joint versus the 900-of-a-kind Five Guys.

Burger Joint

If any one burger has the most reliable claim on the ‘best burger in New York’ title, it is the legendary Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien Hotel on 56th Street. Start a conversation with any local about where to get a great burger, and this place is sure to come up.

Part of the appeal of this place is the location: an unassuming corridor branching off the lobby of a luxury hotel, a curtain brushed aside, and suddenly you’re in a somewhat dingy (almost tacky) wood-panelled room, festooned with pen-scrawled graffiti and movie posters which don’t seem to follow any consistent theme.

Minimalism is on the menu too: only hamburgers and cheeseburgers are on offer, along with fries and a small selection of drinks. As the menu declares: “if you can’t see it, we don’t have it!”

Which gives you all the more time to focus on where, if anywhere, you’re going to be able to sit. Space is definitely at a premium, though fortunately a booth opened up for me and my eating companion when our food was ready.

The first positive is that you get to specify how you want your burger cooked (as in, well done, medium, rare etc.). I asked for medium rare and my order came up in about five minutes:

As you can see, at $6.89, you’re not buying size. You are, however, buying quality. The patty was cooked to perfection, exhibiting a delightful pink when bitten through:

It’s one of those burgers that manages to be messy without being a collapsing nuisance. The flavours are strong and work well with a lunchtime beer (Sam Adams is on tap for a fiver). Also, you’re unlikely to need a top-up snack at 4pm.

The fries are forgettable and the ambience is a little too cool for school, but there’s no denying that this burger justifies the hype. You may have to line up outside the door if you visit during lunch hours, but this is a New York burger experience not to be missed.

Verdict: Go there.

Five Guys

Five Guys is your standard 21st century franchise phenomenon (see Chipotle and Pinkberry) that went from five restaurants in Virginia in 2001 to over 900 locations in 40 states by 2011.

A recent article in the LA Times described Five Guys as being part of a “growth of mid-level eateries that are more expensive than fast food but cheaper than fancy restaurants”. This image was no doubt aided by Zagat awarding the company “best fast food burger” in 2010.

Indeed, the President himself famously stopped by for a cheeseburger shortly after taking office.

The chain retains a ‘down-home’ feel, though, by offering free peanuts and stacking immense sacks of Idaho potatoes behind the counter, which according to a profile in BusinessWeek is “a holdover from early locations that didn’t have storage space in the kitchen”. The story also claimed the company shuns national advertising campaigns in favour of word-of-mouth publicity.

Despite the lack of advertising, one thing Five Guys is not is modest. The decor of their restaurants basically consists of posters mentioning all the awards their burgers have won:

Five Guys is a worthy opponent for Burger Joint, as the emphasis is on simplicity and customisation. Customers choose their base burger (either the two-patty ‘regular burger’ or single-patty ‘little burger’) and then are given an option of eleven free toppings: mayo, mustard, ketchup, relish, onion (grilled or raw), lettuce, pickle, tomato, green pepper, jalapeño, and grilled mushrooms. Bacon and cheese are available for an extra charge.

I opted for a very simple ‘little burger’, with only the traditional lettuce and tomato as accompaniment. I like to taste the beef.

And taste it I did. A Five Guys burger does what all burgers should: drip. My major issues with most burger chains is that their sandwiches can be comfortably held in one hand, with minimal spillage. It seems unnatural.

As the emphasis at Five Guys is on fresh ingredients, the company doesn’t freeze its beef, and you can tell. Even the ‘little burger’ yields that wonderfully metallic, almost acrid, bite on the pallet that good meat gives. The fries, too, are pretty good, having been hand-carved from those mighty Idaho potatoes sitting around the restaurant.

Next time I’ll be sure to branch out and try a few of those free condiments.

Verdict: Far superior to its fast food competitors, including Shake Shack.

And the winner is… Burger Joint. But Five Guys is definitely the pick of the chain restaurants.

Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Sunday service: review

Most tourists in New York looking for a good gospel service will make their way to Harlem on the Sabbath, but those based downtown like me are probably better off checking out the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church just over the bridge. I went along one Sunday to check it all out.

From the get-go you know this isn’t traditional church (but then, you wouldn’t be there if it was, would you?). The theatre is huge, comparable to any Broadway venue, and hanging over the stage is a screen advertising the lunch specials in the Church’s cafe and urging attendees to check out the official Twitter page. Yep, we’re not in the World Revival Church of Kansas City anymore.

Upon arrival, I was seated in the third row, far closer than I wanted to be. With each service running at about two hours, I had originally intended to watch for about half an hour, catch a few tunes, and then make a quiet exit through a side door.

But there is a single seat available near the front, and I am being ushered towards it before I can think about the consequences. When I sit down, I realise there will be no quiet exits from this position and I prepare to hunker down for the long haul. I’m also a little disappointed (but not surprised) to find that photography is not permitted during the service.

The choir begins to file in about 15 minutes before we start, and it is almost a stock image of ‘diversity’: Asian, white, black, brown, young, old, some fashionably-dressed and some dressed for church. But, when they sing, the Choir becomes uniform in their zeal.

Things kick off with a few tunes led by one singer with a microphone, backed up by the Choir, the band, and the crowd (lyrics are posted on the overhead screen). For non-believers, it can be uncomfortable to be surrounded by such unembarrassed passion, as everyone around you sways, sings, claps, raises their arms to the roof and utters loud affirmations, while those actually holding the microphones really let rip with praise for the Almighty (“OOOOHHHHH HALLELUJAH!”). You can feel like a bit of an imposter amongst it all, particularly if you’re just three rows from the front, the epicentre of the proudly faithful, as it were.

I’m initially unsure of whether to clap/sing/sway along in tribute to a God I don’t believe in, but after a while I feel comfortable tapping my foot in time with the music and silently observing proceedings.

But it’s hard to be an impassive observer through the entire service. Attendees are frequently asked to hold hands, to hug one another. First-time visitors are urged to stand up during one point in the sermon, though there enough in the crowd that I don’t feel self-conscious raising myself above the throng. At the sermon’s conclusion, everyone is asked to say to five people around them “I’m gonna be okay, you’re gonna be okay”, and no sooner have I risen from my seats that I am clasped into the embrace of my neighbour with this vow earnestly spoken into my ear.

Even during portions of the show when the audience is seated, some parishioners stand up and raise their hands towards the stage. One such woman in front of me did this repeatedly, but obviously this is not an environment where “down in front” is an appropriate response.

After the opening few songs, the audience is asked to sit and the choir begins their performance. And that’s when things get good.

Like all choirs, they are better live. No recording ever manages to do justice to the smack-you-in-the-face power of hundreds of people singing in front of you, and YouTube clips don’t come close, though this is gives you an idea:

The highlight is a rendition of What a Mighty God We Serve that I could have happily listened to well past its ten-minute running time. The soloist who begins the piece has a suitably astonishing vocal range, and when the choir joins in the piece reaches new heights. Whenever you think they have reached their crescendo, they find another level.

It is truly awe-inspiring, being struck with the force of it. When in full song, the choir can almost inspire that feeling that Christians talk about, staring into the face of God dumbstruck with an indescribably uplifting feeling. It is, in the truest sense of the word, glorious.

The choir only sings on its own for about half an hour and then quietly shuffles out again. The one-hour sermon which follows is surprisingly engaging, all things considered. Pastor Jim Cymbala apparently doesn’t tend towards the “fire and brimstone” approach, but is more of a grandfatherly counsellor.

There are inconsistencies, of course. Early on in his address, Cymbala decries sermons which mostly involve people giving their opinions rather than focusing on the Bible. Later, however, politics rear their head when he talks about how the “anti-Christian New York City government” doesn’t allow Church events in public spaces, but readily agrees to staging rap shows “which demean women” as “strengthening cultural roots”.

The victim mentality gets a solid airing too. Cymbala talks about how “it’s hard to be a Christian, everyone is against you, you can be anything but a Christian.” However, he uses this to move the discussion into losing one’s faith, which is one of the main focal points of the sermon. Cymbala urges those who are doubting their faith to make their way towards the stage and encourages them not to give up on God. I am surprised that roughly a hundred people do indeed rise from their seats to stand at the front of the stage, with Cymbala pointing to each of them in turn telling them “you’re going to be okay”.

In many ways it helps turn it all into an experience which traverses the full gamut of religious belief: from the joy of faith to the despair of doubt. It’s not enough to bring me into the fold, that would require another few hours listening to the Choir, but it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours on a Sunday. Perhaps after a particularly sinful Saturday.

Information about the Choir and session times can be found on the Church website.

Occupy Zuccotti Park pictures

It is mostly for convenience that the protest at Zuccotti Park is still referred to as the headquarters of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Now it has become a veritable tent embassy for a series of mostly unrelated left-wing causes, though perhaps with the common belief that somehow capitalism is to blame.

I thought I’d share some of my favourite pictures from a quick little jaunt I took around the park yesterday. Hopefully, you’ll see what I’m on about.

“We don’t have this in my country”: White Castle

It’s hard to think of a restaurant chain that’s been given a bigger free kick than White Castle got in 2004.

Harold and Kumar go to White Castle was basically 88 minutes of glorifying the titular burger chain and the THC-induced cravings that compel its customers to go there. But as White Castle has yet to make a successful leap overseas, or even outside the eastern half of the United States, it remains to be seen whether it justifies the hype bestowed upon it.

What is it?

A somewhat low-end fast food chain that specializes in ‘sliders’:

Why is it a big deal?

Watching Harold and Kumar you might think it’s the second coming (sample dialogue: “just thinking about those tender little White Castle burgers with those little, itty-bitty grilled onions that just explode in your mouth like flavor crystals every time you bite into one”), but it’s actually pretty gross.

It is, however, historic. According to the New York Times, “Few people seem to realize that White Castle was America’s original fast-food chain: its first outlet opened in 1921, 27 years ahead of McDonald’s. Indeed, White Castle was the key player in turning the hamburger into America’s national meal.”

What does it mean to Americans?

Cheaper than cheap fast food. At $7.12 with tax for a basic slider meal, it’s pretty easy on the wallet, but you’d have to be really craving it to actually enjoy the experience (read: high).

The company seems somewhat aware of its reputation too. Since 1994, the franchise’s slogan has been ‘What You Crave’. Feel free to purchase yourself the “steam-grilled-on-a-bed-of-onions scented candle”, which also bears this slogan, to induce or quell such cravings.

The fact that White Castle restaurants seems to be found almost exclusively in the rougher parts of town reinforces its reputation as being at the lower end of the fast food spectrum. David Gerard Hogan, author of a book about the company called Selling ‘Em by the Sack, acknowledges that the company has made a living by “marketing to the urban working class”.

“Their restaurants were located in areas that eventually became the urban underclass, which leads to a lowbrow profile,” he said.

As such, it attracts a colourful clientele. My visit to a Brooklyn location saw me thoroughly entertained, as the only other customer rankled with the staff for no apparent reason, shouting: “That’s right, n****r, total waste of time. You fat motherf****r!

Where might I have seen it?

Duh, Harold and Kumar. Where have you been, dude?

So what should I get?

Nothing. Walk out of the restaurant and go get yourself a burrito or something.

The meat on the sliders appears and tastes excessively processed and the bun ends up soggy and almost slimy. The fries are okay, but it’s near-impossible to screw up fries.

When can I get it back home?

The company has failed to successfully expand its reach overseas, with locations in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan no longer in existence.

The Times attributed the company’s relatively meagre growth to the founder’s “steadfast refusal to franchise or take on debt”. The company itself claims being family-run helps it “maintain the trailblazing attitude which made us the first fast-food hamburger chain.” Which is altogether quite meaningless.

But relax, you’re not missing out.

A guide to New York City airports

New York airports handled a total of over 104 million passengers last year, which is why it’s a good thing these were spread over three separate airports: JFK, Newark and La Guardia.

New York City can be trying even without the added stresses of travel, so here I present a quick guide to each of these airports, their strengths and weaknesses, so you can plan your travel acordingly. You can thank me by buying me a beer in the airport lounge later.

La Guardia Airport

La Guardia ranked as the worst airport in the US for customer satisfaction and equal last for on-time arrivals in a 2009 survey. This has certainly been my experience.

I have used La Guardia a number of times and have never once left or arrived on time, with inclement weather, technical malfunctions and general apathy all playing their part in making the experience of using the airport pretty grim.

La Guardia feels very much like an airport that long surpassed its maximum capacity. Because it’s the smallest, it also means it’s a crappy place to spend a long delay: the food court is limited and (of course) overpriced and you can forget about finding a few empty seats on which to stretch out and cool your heels.

It is, however, the easiest and cheapest airport to get to from Manhattan, and offers the greatest array of regional flights (flights longer than 1500 miles are prohibited). I can imagine that when it’s working as it should it’s a very convenient little hop over from Manhattan and into the air.

While there is no subway stop at La Guardia, the M60 bus runs straight from upper Manhattan to the terminal, and there are other buses to the airport running from Queens. Make sure you have your MTA card.

Carmel Limousines also offers town cars from Manhattan to La Guardia from $33 (without gratuity), making it one of the best options for early morning or late travel. You’re looking at a similar price for a taxi.

Newark Liberty International Airport

My personal favourite of the three, it feels like a happy medium between JFK and La Guardia’s sizes: big enough to have spacious, well-stocked terminals, but not too busy.

Newark is a hub for Continental/United, meaning that there are plenty of domestic and international connections, and a number of European carriers operate out of the airport.

Oh, and you can 30 minutes of free WiFi in the terminal.

The AirTrain provides direct service to Manhattan’s Penn Station, but the $12.50 price-tag (plus whatever you’ll have to pay from Penn Station) usually means that it is cheaper (if not quicker) to get a shuttle bus directly to your destination. I once took a Go Airlink NYC bus to Manhattan for $17. It took about 45 minutes to leave the airport, but the price was right.

JFK International Airport

The busiest of the three and probably the least easily-accessible with public transport. As you can see from the instructions on the MTA website, it’s a trip in itself just getting there. The city mandates a flat rate $45 fare between JFK and Manhattan, excluding tips and tolls.

At over 90 airlines and eight terminals, JFK can be a bit of a logistical nightmare. But being the busiest international gateway in the country, it’s what you’re most likely to use if you’re flying to/from another country.

As a result, the security also feels like the strictest of the three. However, it is the biggest airport in New York City (with the greatest diversity of foreigners filing through its gates), so it’s understandable that security is taken seriously at JFK.

Happy travels.

On Location: Seinfeld

Despite the glut of movies and TV shows set in and/or filmed in New York, it is always Seinfeld that I am mostly frequently reminded of as I walk the streets of this city.

The entire show was, of course, actually filmed on sets in Los Angeles, but it managed to capture something about New York (most probably the quirky temperament of its citizens) that makes it stand out in depictions of the city. Also, New York wasn’t just an incidental setting, but rather crucial to the plot and essence of the show.

As such, the Upper West Side that Kramer and co. called home makes a decent little tour for spotting sites that inspired the series’ creators, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.

The most obvious site is the coffee shop used as the exterior for Monk’s, the series diner. Most tourists will get a quick snapshot of Tom’s Restaurant at Broadway at west 112th, and three years ago I was no exception:

The interior, however, is just a generic coffee shop that bears no relation to the series, and is little more than a regular haunt for Columbia students (including, back in the day, Barack Obama).

The other pilgrimage many Seinfeld fans will make is to one of the ‘Original Soup-Man’ restaurants dotted around the city. Few real fans would refer to the chain’s figurehead as the ‘soup-man’, with “the Soup Nazi” having far greater currency, though apparently using the term was forbidden by company founder Ali Yeganeh, mostly because it was his draconian rules for ordering that inspired the moniker and the episode which made him a part of television history.

The original location at 259-A West Street was closed and then reopened a few years back under the new banner, and there are now 500 franchises across the country.

Having sampled the fare at the downtown location, I can report that the soup is nice, but not really likely to induce your knees to buckle.

Sadly, the Royale Pastry Shop, the bakery said to have been the inspiration for Schnitzer’s (think marble rye, chocolate babka and black & white cookies), is no longer found at 237 West 72nd St, and has ironically been replaced by a Jenny Craig.

However, probably the least known Seinfeld ‘location’ is the diner which the interior for Monk’s was reportedly based on: Broadway Restaurant at 2664 Broadway, between 101st and 102nd.

The restaurant is a charming little remnant of old-school dining, an unassuming eatery which seems to have no awareness of its part in the iconic series.

Finally, while it’s anyone’s guess as to how closely it resembles the home of his television counterpart (probably not at all; $2.35m two bedroom apartment with a fireplace?), the apartment Jerry Seinfeld was living in when the series began airing is at 230 Central Park West in a building called The Bolivar. He sold the “bachelor pad” in 2006.

The Book of Mormon: review

South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have put their love of musicals and obsession with Mormonism together, teaming up with Avenue Q‘s Robert Lopez to produce one of the most daring musical comedies to hit Broadway.

Jon Stewart notably whipped himself into a lather about it and the New York Times called it “the best musical of this century”, but is The Book of Mormon really that good? I went along to find out.

Hype

This show has been garnering more plaudits than any show in recent memory. In addition to the almost universal critical acclaim, the show scooped the Tonys this year, picking up 9 wins from 14 nominations, including ‘Best Musical’ and ‘Best Original Score’.

Music

The music is good, but don’t expect to hear any renditions on American Idol. As you might expect, the songs work better as musical skits than powerful Broadway show-stoppers.

Opening number ‘Hello’ sets up the show perfectly and is one of the best pieces in the show, along with ‘Two by Two’, ‘All-American Prophet’, ‘Turn It Off’, and closing number ‘Tomorrow is a Latter Day’. It’s no coincidence that these are also the biggest ensemble numbers.

Of the solo numbers, ‘I Believe’ works the best.

My companion also felt the ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ sequence went on too long, though I actually enjoyed the transition into rock opera for a few minutes.

Cast

There are no weak links in the cast, though the real star of the show is the writing.

Josh Gad is undoubtedly the best of the leads, but as quirky nerd Arnold Cunningham he’s also given the most with which to work. It’s one of those performances where you struggle to think who else could have played the part if Gad wasn’t available.

Andrew Rannells, as an idealistic Elder Price determined to make his mark, plays straight man for the most part and handles the role capably but without distinction. Nikki M James won the show’s only acting Tony award with ‘Best Featured Actress in a Musical’, no doubt for her ability to introduce an emotional core to a show where people are singing about their scrotums.

Is it funny?

In a word, yes. The Stone/Parker team haven’t had to soften their approach too much for Broadway, hence the aforementioned scrotum jokes. They also manage to find gags with AIDS, civil war and child rape, so it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste.

My main criticism would be that there are times when you don’t know when they’re attempting to parody sentimentalism and when they’re really trying to be sentimental.

This isn’t the first time I think the Parker/Stone team have had this problem. Their short-lived series That’s My Bush was intended as a parody of multi-camera sitcoms, but ended up relying on many of the comic devices it was trying to lampoon for humour.

As such, it’s hard to tell whether they want us to be carried along when the material gets emotional or rolling our eyes, as with hokey songs about friendship like ‘I Am Here For You’.

The Book of Mormon is something that does try to have a heart. While it does sneer at Mormonism somewhat, it does not sneer at faith. Mormons are depicted as being a little self-deluded, but not sinister or in any way malevolent. This chimes with the Stone/Parker depcition of Mormons in Orgazmo and South Park, where members of the church are usually shown as well-meaning simpletons.

Worth it?

Definitely. The Book of Mormon lives up to its reputation as one of the funniest musicals ever made. This is a landmark show that will surely tour throughout the world over the next few years.

Tickets and further details at the Book of Mormon website.

You’re not special anymore

They’ll sit in their co-ops on Park and Fifth and East Seventy-second St and Sutton Place, and they’ll shiver with the violence of it and enjoy the show. Cattle! Birdbrains! Rosebuds! Goyim! You don’t even know, do you? Do you really think this is your city any longer? Open your eyes! The greatest city of the twentieth century! Do you think money will keep it yours?

Come down from your swell co-ops, you general partners and merger lawyers! It’s the Third World down there! Puerto Ricans, West Indians, Haitians, Dominicans, Cubans, Colombians, Hondurans, Koreans, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Ecuadorians, Panamanians, Filipinos, Albanians, Senegalese and Afro-Americans! Go visit the frontiers, you gutless wonders!

The Bonfire of the Vanities

I come from a great multi-cultural city, Sydney. It’s great. I love feeling like I’m in an international city, connected with and comprised of people from all over the world. One of the only things I disliked about living in Colombia for five months was that, like much of Latin America, it was a veritable nation-state.

The upside to this was that I was considered somewhat exotic. My accent, my blue eyes, my pale skin and freckles. People loved having a foreigner (and not just another American) in their midst, and often made a special effort to talk to me, ask me about my homeland, what I thought of Colombia etc.

But come to New York and you’re not special anymore. It is an exceptionally international city, a wonderful melange of all things African, Asian, European, American and more. It seems like every language other than English is spoken sometimes, in parks and cafes catering to every cultural taste.

The upshot of this is that there’s nothing particularly interesting about a foreigner in New York. You think where you come from is exotic? We’ve got a whole neighbourhood full of people like you. ‘Little Something’.

A foreigner can still be considered exotic in other cities of the US, but not in New York. I hear Australian accents on the streets and don’t prick up my ears like I would if I was back in South America. It’s an unremarkable coincidence.

Saying “I’m not from here” doesn’t mean much. New York doesn’t just attract foreigners looking to make their mark, but Americans too. When someone stops me on the street to ask for directions, they don’t seem deterred by my accent, because half the city has one.

You’re not from here? Pfft. Who is?

Non touristy things to do in New York pt. 1

I covered cliche touristy things to do in New York last week, so I thought it only fair that I try to present a few alternatives.

Walking along the Hudson at sunset

Not many tourists make it around from Battery Park to the Hudson River, and they’re missing out.

It probably has a lot to do with how this is predominantly reclaimed land, but the area is far more modern and well-planned than the rest of Manhattan. There are also a number of attractive parks and quiet spaces.

As the sun sets on this side of the island, you can get some beautiful views of Jersey City later in the day.

Battery Park City has an interesting lunch scene if you’d prefer to visit earlier in the day. And you can finish at…

Irish Hunger Memorial

At the corner of Vesey and North End Avenue, this really sticks out among the modern architecture of Battery Park City.

The Memorial opened in 2002 and commemorates the Great Irish Famine of the mid-19th cenury. The centerpiece is an authentic cottage from County Mayo, shipped to the US and fully rebuilt.  Don’t be surprised to have the entire Memorial to yourself.

Museum of the Moving Image

It’s a bit off the tourist trail (out in Queens), but isn’t that the point?

As the name suggests, this is a museum devoted to all things involving moving imagery: film, television, even conceptual art. Some of the exhibits get a little trippy:

But those interested in the history of visual broadcasting will enjoy the display of equipment through the ages and film buffs will probably latch onto the section featuring famous props (The Mask from The Mask!), so there’s a decent hour of exploring in the offing here.

Sculptures of Park Avenue

Public art is pretty big in New York (both literally and figuratively) and you can find most of the best stuff in the Financial District and along Park Avenue. The median strip dividing the latter has some good stuff, but the most photogenic can be found outside otherwise bland office buildings.

City Hall

A lot of tourists skirt the area as it is near the pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, but the handsome City Hall and US Court House buildings often get ignored.

Also, any fan of the movie Crocodile Dundee should check out the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall subway exit at Chambers and Center. It’s where the famous “that’s not a knife” scene was filmed.

Tadka Indian: review

Where is it?

229 East 53rd St, between 2nd and 3rd Ave.

Service

Once ordered, the food only took about six to seven minutes to come out.

The lone waitress didn’t come around much after that, but personally that’s how I prefer things. If you’re looking for someone to top up your water every two minutes, you might be disappointed.

Food

I ordered the Lamb Saag lunch special (meaning it comes with rice, naan and daal) and an Aloo Roll (spicy potato roll) as an appetizer.

The lamb was a little gristly, but otherwise delicious. The naan was very fresh, and clearly hadn’t been sitting on a hotplate waiting for someone to order it. The potato roll was somewhat dry and is best consumed immediately. I’m not really a fan of daal, I always find it a bit bland, but it made a decent filling for the naan.

Ambience

The restaurant, if you can call it that, is remarkably small. A review on the wall said it can seat no more than 12 people, which is probably why most of its trade seemed to be take-out.

The upshot of this is that there’s not a lot of space if you’re looking for a discreet conversation. If you are intent on dining in, though, try to get the one table near the window.

Quirks

The front door is very heavy. Give it a good push/yank.

Value for money

At $9.95, the lunch special is very good value. The portion sizes are solid, expect to be more than satisfied.

Trivia

Tadka is one of well-regarded chef Shiva Natarajan’s stable of Indian restaurants throughout the city, which also includes Bhojan, Bombay Club and Chola.