Taj, on the down low

New Yorkers are accustomed to restaurant seating that leaves as much space between them and the next table as two chickens have at an industrial poultry farm. But what if you need to talk to someone confidentially? You are a secret agent, for example; or a stock tipper; or Irene Dorzback, assistant dean and head of the law school’s office of career services (OCS). For Dorzback, the answer is Indian Taj on Bleecker Street (between Sullivan and MacDougal). That’s because there are a number of booths at the restaurant that are fully enclosed on three sides, meaning anything you say can be just between you, your tablemate, and the chicken tikka masala.

Irene, swing dancing?

Not that going out for lunch is common for Dorzback, who I am sure puts in more work hours a year than even the highest-billing corporate law firm associate. More typically, she told me, as we strolled toward Taj one afternoon, at around 2:30 in the afternoon she’ll shout out to her OCS colleagues, “Does anyone have any chocolate?” Dorzback has been at NYU Law for 28 years, and, like a mom who never really stops being a parent even after her kids leave home, Dorzback is there for NYU Law hatchlings long after they’ve flown the nest. In December, for example, she began assisting a graduate who had stepped off the career track to raise a child, and now, more than 20 years after getting her law degree, wants to return to the workforce. Somehow Dorzback also finds time for actual parenthood, as the single mother of two adopted girls. And she’s an avid swing dancer.

Like many Indian restaurants, Taj offers a fixed-price lunchtime buffet. And, as is true with OCS, you can go back for more as often as you’d like. There was a time in my life when I ate in such volume that this arrangement might have been a bad economic proposition for Taj. But now that I’m off the Michael Phelps diet, I suspect Taj comes out well ahead on its $9.99 tab. It’s worth it, though: Taj offers a variety and quality of dishes that is significantly better than standard Indian buffet fare. The goat curry was one of my favorites, but I also dined there on a second occasion with a vegetarian, and she had plenty of good stuff to choose from — there were at least a dozen selections in gleaming silver-domed chafing dishes.

What did Dorzback tell me after we wedged ourselves into one of the booths? (Private, yes; roomy, no.) Of course I can’t divulge any specifics, but one of the topics was what Dorzback calls “career limiting behavior.” This is when a student does something so offensive or otherwise stupid that it may limit his ability to get a job, or, as has happened in some instances, jeopardizes a job offer already in hand. A statistically tiny number of students engage in such antics, but dealing with them takes up an outsize proportion of Dorzback’s time. In one instance, she got on a plane and flew halfway across the country to tell some law firm partners that a particular student’s complicity in an act of group idiocy was so low, and level of contrition so high, that they should not rescind his offer. This bit of personal diplomacy ended happily.

So did my meal at Taj. From what I’ve seen, most Americans approach desserts at an Indian restaurant with a mixture of puzzlement and trepidation. I find many of them pretty good, even though they can be extremely sweet. Rice pudding, that staple of Indian dessert menus, is rarely bad, and at Taj it is exceptionally good. Wash it down with some masala chai. Then get back to work!