Thali curries favor, flavor, and savor in New Haven

I awoke Sunday morning at noon yearning for something more than the cuisine of my residential college’s dining hall. It was not that the only available Tabasco flavor was “Smoked,” nor was it that the A-1 sauce had not been replaced all semester. Rather, I desired something beyond fake eggs and French toast renamed and reformulated as bread pudding. I suppose I longed for a brunch of a different caliber, if you will.

I emerged from my room promptly at a quarter past one. I ventured out of the Yale bubble and into the city of dreams. My destination: Thali, located on Orange St. opposite Miso, in the fabled Ninth Square. I prepared to navigate the New Haven streets. Down York, Chapel, State, Crown, I finally arrived at 4 Orange. The scenic nine-minute commute from my dorm included a relaxing stroll through the New Haven Green and featured exquisite views of the New Haven skyline.

As I entered Thali, a wave of excitement came over me. The beautiful light wood furnishings coupled with the trendy multicolored lights made me forget about the out-of-place New Orleans bistro-style tiles. However, there was something in the air more important than the fashionable atmosphere: the scent of delicious Indian food. I immediately sought the counsel of the maitre d’ and was seated shortly thereafter.

Almost as soon as I sat down, I left my table in search of food. Upon catching sight of the buffet, I stood in awe and disbelief. Of all of the Indian buffets I have sampled over the past 20 years of my life, I had never seen such a complete and incredible display of South Asian delights. Not to be confused with Thali Too, Thali offers meat in addition to vegetarian options.

The buffet offered four fried vegetable options, two rice options, four hot vegetable dishes, three cold vegetable dishes, fish, shellfish, lamb, five different varieties of chicken, and four desserts. Although the chefs rotate the dishes every week, you can always expect that at least a few of your favorites will be there. As if that were not enough, they even had a samosa station—similar to an omelet station—with an attendant to prepare the samosa with ingredients of your choosing.

How could all of this be a bit more than 16.95 dollars, depending on how generous you are, after tax and tip? I suspected that either the food must be low-quality or there was a limit on the amount of food a single customer could consume. I went to investigate. I picked up a plate and filled it with two pieces of onion bahjji, several pieces of butter paneer over two scoops of rice, topped off with five pieces of chicken tikka masala. There was only one crucial thing missing: naan.

When I arrived back at my table, I was greatly relieved to notice that a basket of warm naan bread was waiting for me. I began with the onion bahjji. Warm, but not hot; good, but not perfect, yet exceeding expectations for this staple Indian appetizer.

Next, I suited up for the butter paneer over basmati rice. Paneer is a type of cheese commonly featured in South Asian cuisine. This particular dish was prepared in a creamy, lightly spiced, tomato-based sauce similar to that of the chicken tikka masala. After the first bite, my suspicions disappeared. I experienced an explosion of delicious flavor. It was as if I were in heaven, a heaven that perpetually plays songs from Bollywood movies.

I moved on to the chicken tikka masala. Different flavor, same satisfying result. I went back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. I tried the lamb curry; the shrimp entrée with an unmemorable and difficult-to-pronounce title; the fish. Without fail, each plate had a distinct but unbelievably delicious taste.

As I scraped the remnants of my fourth plate with a piece of naan, I decided it was time for dessert. Convinced that my skinny build could not sustain any more food without getting sick, I decided to get only a modest portion of one dessert. The Kheer, or Indian rice pudding, appeared to be just what I was looking for. I savored every delicate and sensitive bite of this perfectly flavored dish.

As I left Thali for my dorm, the nine-minute commute back afforded time for reflection. I reviewed every aspect of my experience and came to a few conclusions. I deduced that Thali provided the best Indian food I had ever consumed outside England. Dishes meriting specific recognition were the butter paneer, lemon rice, garlic naan, chicken tikka masala, and chicken korma. The attentive service, chic atmosphere, and savory mango lassis make Thali a perfect choice for a colorful date.

As I reached my room, I felt content and at peace. I lay down to sleep off my food coma and completed what was truly a religious and entirely enjoyable experience.

Thali is located at 4 Orange St.. Thali’s Sunday Brunch is a buffet served from 12-2:30 p.m., and costs $16.95.

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