Vikram Garg’s TBD Is a Satisfying Tribute to Flavor
The former Halekulani chef’s flexible prix fixe format boasts shareable portions and fun textures in a comfy, chic setting that offers a perfect date night.
It’s true, being tasked to try new restaurants for work makes us at Frolic a very fortunate (and giddy) bunch. But it can make it hard to find the same solace in dining rooms and dishes that I did before eating was part of my job. I try to put my phone down and focus on simply enjoying instead of evaluate a dining experience, but ultimately, it’s hard to turn it off. For my partner and I, date night has remained a sacred time, where we lean into what we love about food and each other. And so, searching for our next favorite date night spot has become our thing.
When I got invited to try the new fall menu at Chef Vikram Garg’s TBD, I had never been there before. Between work events and the usual hunt for what’s new, I had missed its recent shake-up of its dinner menu format from a la carte to prix fixe. Not everyone loves a prix fixe, but it challenges chefs to encapsulate their current propensities. It’s risky in a sense—and sometimes, risks pay off.
A new addition to the dinner and lounge menu is a combo as classic as donning diamonds with blue jeans—caviar and thick cut fries ($99). The creamy, briney osetra caviar atop the crisp and profoundly potato-ey fries is fun and delicious. Is there anything that says fun and sexy more than this combo?
The dinner menu is then split into four categories, appetizer, seafood, meat and dessert with three options each ($99 per person/$59 wine pairing). I like this format because it also satisfies a date night with friends who want to try everything. Pro tip: If you don’t eat seafood, there are two meat choices.
An unassuming presentation of cauliflower velouté offers an early wow factor. The soup is ethereal and deeply flavorful. The combo of slow-cooked egg and puff pastry makes for a hug in a bowl that begs for a dollop of caviar to level it up. The balance of decedent, yet light, carries on to the smoked romaine. The trend of a grilled Caesar is something I used to hate. (Who wants a wilted salad?) But, this dish makes me understand the concept. Charred edges of lettuce are intoxicatingly smokey with relief from the crisp, cool leafs within. Rendered bacon and a toasted parmesan crisp echo the layers of flavor cut through by a punchy truffle vinaigrette. This dish lives on my short, but beloved, list of favorite dinner salads.
The next dish is a lobster tail tucked into a bed of forbidden rice. I usually prefer crab over lobster, but the gentle cooking of the tail preserves its flavor and the forbidden rice grounds the sweet flesh with texture, making it simple and comforting. Garg’s apparent love for rice continues to the shrimp-scallop risotto, made from a longer grain rice than arborio and expertly cooked to be loose and luxurious. The scallop in the risotto is like a sweet gem, making me wish I had one more instead of the shrimp that accompanies it.
Whenever I see pork chop on a menu, I’m reminded how scarred I was during childhood by overcooked versions with no saucy relief. This chop is moist, and joined by a whole poached pear, crunchy and juicy, a perfect partner to the lightly brined meat. I enjoy all three meat options, but the pork chop and the ulu mousseline served alongside the short rib is the most memorable.
By the end of the meal, I’m full, which is one of my main metrics for prix fixe menus. So, I’m relieved to see refreshing flavors on the dessert menu. A berry yuzu cheese parfait surprises by not being served in a glass (yay!). What tastes like the smooth center of a creamy cheesecake supports a light sable, fresh fruit and raspberry sorbet. A whimsical take on a pavlova anchored by tangy liliko‘i also helps to lift the lingering affects of the meat course.
Seated in a deep sofa with oversized cushions looking on to the dining room, I feel like we’ve just dined at a friend’s house. Garg’s style isn’t aimed at reinventing the wheel; rather, it’s tasty, welcoming and elevated with thoughtful details. I’m looking forward to another date night at TBD soon.