Spiced PopcornShortly after being seated at Tabla Bread Bar, your server will deliver a bowl bearing a gift for the table. The contents may elicit a string of emotions: first confusion, then maybe insult, and finally sheer delight. The surprise gift is popcorn—that most American of all snack foods, and the last thing you'd expect to see in an upscale Indian restaurant like this. It's spiced, and served in place of bread and butter, to stave off your immediate hunger.

You may be shocked—how can a place offering $12 cocktails made from pureed fresh fruit dish out the same stuff consumed by the bucket at movieplexes nationwide? But this is not your usual bar snack; the popcorn is freshly popped, not too salty, and thoroughly dusted with a tantalizing mix of toasted and ground Indian spices like cumin, coriander, and chile pepper. (How do they get the spices to stick to the popcorn so well?) It's as addictive as a bag of Smartfood, but with none of the neon goo sticking to your fingers. At the bottom of the bowl lies an epiphany: Popcorn doesn't have to be fodder gobbled thoughtlessly; it can be a tasty tidbit that delivers serious flavor and stimulates the appetite.