Who ever said Indian food couldn’t be sexy?
With a red glow, angular modern design, and high-flying prices to match the style, Thali—which has taken the place of a series of failed restaurants in the Ninth Square space—has transformed the city’s notion of what an Indian meal can be. Yeah, it’s a chain. But it’s a good one—a much better one than Coromandel, which is Thali’s only real competitor in the greater New Haven area when it comes to modern Indian cuisine. The space is elegant, although some seating areas feel colder than others.
Bizarrely, the menu here doesn’t actually include thali, the set-price Indian meal that would appear to be the restaurant’s namesake. But they do serve a menu with impressive depth and variety; it skips around the Subcontinent (and, yes, around America too, at times) enough to offer a totally varied experience, beginning with what might be the best papadum you’ve ever tasted, light as air but of a richness, too.
Whatever you do, start with dahi batata sev puri (little wheat puffs that are filled with chaat, the classic Bombay street food). We’ve enjoyed such simpler vegetarian dishes here more than the complex, more aggressive attempts at creativity; to wit, konkan crab, a barrage of coconut milk, green chilies, and mustard seed, comes off more like a sugared-up, in-your-face pan-Asian dish than an Indian one.
There’s a heavy hand with ginger here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it shows through the lovely, well-spiced saag paneer, which is made without cream, if slightly undersalted. Our favorite dish on the menu, though, is ghosht banjara (bone-in goat), which has rich and deep flavors, if not much spice. We’re also fans of paneer sanji jalfrezi, a curried vegetable dish with homemade cheese. At times, we’ve liked “My Mother’s Andrha Chicken,” with poppyseed, cloves and cardamom, but it’s also come out dry on occasion. Sunheri bhindi—fried okra dusted with spices—is a better idea as a side dish than as a main.
When you fall back on the basics, they can be disappointing: onion kulcha is just average, chicken tikka masala worse—it’s dry and overcooked, although its sauce is unusually smoky. There’s an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch for $16.95 that is completely worth it—you can order a dosa to order, like you would an omelette station at an American brunch.
In the end, our biggest criticism of Thali is that it’s not quite as good as its cheaper, more informal sister on Broadway, Thali Too. But that’s less a criticism of Thali, and more of a compliment to Thali Too.
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