This $62 "Halal Cart" Chicken Rice at Tatiana Is Your Next Essential Dish
Plus, an essay on how (wonderful) clubstaurant vibes are creeping into fine dining
White Sauce/Red Sauce Chicken: Variations on a Theme
The hiss of sizzling meat. The squirts of fiery red sauce. The pools of creamy white sauce. And the lines of people waiting for it all. New York wouldn’t be New York without halal cart chicken or lamb over rice. The dish’s spiced perfume is an essential street-side aroma, as much as the sweet fragrance of slice joint pizza.
You won’t pay too much for this staple from any good vendor. But today, I’m going to talk about a more expensive version at Lincoln Center.
I’m going to talk about the $62 version at Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi.
A half bird comes dusted in a mixture of house creole spices, cumin, and oregano. The flesh is tender and the skin is as dark as chestnut. It packs notes of sugar, smoke, and musk. Drizzle a bit of yogurt and fiery hot sauce over the meat and you have something on par with one of New York’s top chicken dishes.
But there’s still the lamb. Instead of vendor-style gyros, kofta, or kebabs, chef Onwuachi opts for a rich braise with turmeric. The sauce boasts a hue as brown as mole poblano. Its flavor is deep, funky, and chocolate-y. And each grain of rice is slicked with ample ovine fat. It could easily compete with any of the city’s best biriyanis or plovs.
I’ve avoided reviewing expensive takes on halal cart fare over the years. I’ve never felt comfortable with how much fashionable restaurants could command for it — up to $450 at the late Ma Peche, or $130 at Zou Zou’s. Those prices feel particularly off when you consider how little vendors can charge, and how much harassment those folks face.
Tatiana approaches the dish with better intentions. It feels at home on a menu that casts a wider net than venues of this caliber usually do — a bill of fare that includes egusi dumplings, short rib suya, and pernil.
That collection of dishes isn’t random. Here at Lincoln Center, an institution that owes its existence to the forcible clearance of Black and Puerto Rican communities of San Juan Hill, Onwuachi does something purposeful. He gives a stage to preparations from Jamaica, West Africa, Puerto Rico, and from all-night bodegas or street vendors.
Riffing on halal at Tatiana feels about as natural as a hot dog at Gray’s Papaya.
Behind the Paywall: The Party Restaurant Injects Fun Into Fine Dining, With Thoughts on Tao, Torrisi, Bonnie’s, and Bad Roman
Tatiana has risen to fame highlighting cuisines that don’t always find a seat at the table in fine-dining settings — from cultures that haven’t always felt welcome at Lincoln Center.
Now let me tell you a few more things about Tatiana.
During recent meals at the Lincoln Center establishment, I enjoyed the following: Tequila Jell-O shots. Habanero hot sauce. Cloud lights that cast a blue, nightclub glow. Crispy okra laced with so many chiles I had to stop talking for two minutes flat. A very cool manager wearing aviator sunglasses at night. Music — Drake, Shenseea, Moneybagg Yo — playing so loudly there’s a warning on the Resy page. And folks in Chanel milling about, sipping haute nutcrackers or frozen strawberry daiquiris and piña coladas.