A Newcomer to the Dining Scene…
Thali Too, Vegetarian Cuisine of India
65 Broadway; http://www.thalitoo.com
Thali Too is one of New Haven's newest restaurants. Open since this summer, it is located only a block from the Law School. A sister restaurant of Thali (to be found in the Ninth Square area of New Haven, as well as New Canaan and Ridgefield) this vegetarian spot has quickly become a favorite lunch stop for the Law School community. Its tasty food offerings have caught the attention even of those who are not vegetarians.
Since Thali Too opened its doors this summer I have been drawn to dining outdoors in its large, comfortable patio just behind the Yale bookstore and have often stopped here for a quick lunch bowl off the "rice bar" menu. Start with a bowl of noodles or rice, add your choice of toppings such as shiitake mushrooms, cauliflower and spinach, or pineapple, paneer, almonds and raisins and finish off with a sauce like chili garlic or hot black bean. For $7 these offer a filling, affordable and quick Pan-Asian meal. After sampling a few of the options, the rice bowl topped with cauliflower and spinach cooked in a chili garlic sauce quickly became my favorite for a light yet flavorful lunch. I have not found all of the rice bar options to be as flavorful or interesting, so apart from being a great location for lunch near the Law School, I was not sure that Thali Too would draw me back once the chill of late fall set in and the patio lost is charm.
That was until Friday night when I tried the regular menu -- which I must admit I had merely glanced at during my summer lunchtime visits, opting for what I assumed would be the lighter options from the rice bar. It deserved more consideration!
Thankfully, this weekend I was hosting a guest who is a vegetarian, and after some deliberation, Thali Too came to mind. I don't immediately think of Broadway as a place to head for a dinner out, so I was surprised to find the place was packed! After passing by an intriguing assortment of spices in the entryway we found ourselves in the modern interior of the restaurant. The long tables in the main room, where diners sat elbow to elbow with their neighbors, reminded me of some of my favorite spots in New York. We were seated at a surprisingly comfortable long high booth opposite the door.
In addition to some of the vegetarian entrees and basmati rice options I am accustomed to seeing on menus at Indian restaurants, Thali Too also offers a "tiffin menu" with all day snacks or light meals and a "chat and other" assortment, described as Bombay and Delhi vendor style snacks. I love trying new foods, especially casual street style snacks, so picking one option off of the menu proved to be difficult! Why hadn't I taken a closer look at this menu before? Nothing on the menu is over $10 and many of the tiffin and chat options are only $5. This would be a great place to come with a group ready to try an assortment of the snacks and light meals.
Our group of three ordered family style. We began with the Veggie Uthapam, a rice and lentil pancake cooked with peas and cilantro and served with an assortment of chutneys. The texture of the pancake made it perfect for dipping and each sauce offered a wonderfully contrasting taste. There was a chili dipping sauce that added a kick to each of the other flavors. All in all it made a perfect treat for sharing before our meal and with the three of us tasting each new set of sauce combinations, the pancake was gone within minutes.
For our meal we shared the Baigan Bhurtha, a dish of charcoal smoked, smashed eggplant and the Avial, a curry of yam, carrots, eggplant and raw banana. Both dishes were delicious. The Baigan Bhurtha, which is one of my usual favorites, had a nice smoky flavor. The Avial was new to me. The sauce was delicate and flavorful, not overly sweet as I might have thought. The vegetables were a perfect complement to the texture of the eggplant dish. Finally, we added a side of Raita, which brought a lightness to the whole meal.
I suppose it goes without saying that none of us - even the two carnivores - thought twice about the absence of meat options on the menu! I'm looking forward to returning to sample a variety of new flavor combinations. I'll have to come up with another excuse soon!