The menu at Thali Too is one of New Haven’s best incentives to eat your vegetables. The cheaper and hipper little sister of Orange Street’s Thali, this vegetarian Indian restaurant opened on Broadway this summer much to the benefit of carnivores and herbivores alike.
Unconstrained by the restaurant’s vegetarian guidelines, Thali Too’s chef Prasad Chirnomula presents a creative and expansive variety of South Indian dishes. The menu includes typical fare like the rice and lentil pancake called Uthappam ($6), or the ever-popular spinach and cheese dish of Saag Paneer ($10) — but it also offers more adventurous dishes like Sabji Manchurian ($10), a dish of cabbage, cauliflower and carrot fritters in hot cilantro garlic sauce, or Paneer Shashlik ($8), an appetizer of grilled paneer cheese with hummus.
The lassi and rice bars also add a slightly unusual twist to the menu. These options allow diners to customize their own food by building, in the case of the lassi bar, a fruity, spiced and/or spiked yogurt drink, or else using the rice bar options to mix the vegetable and sauce of their choice on a base of either noodles or rice. If patrons can’t make up their minds about their rice, there’s also a section of interesting basmati rice specials like Neembu Chawal ($5), lemon and lentil rice, or Tamatar Pulao ($5), tomato chutney fried rice.
And as if all this weren’t enough, the Chat menu provides a large selection of street-vendor-style snacks, which happen to also make excellent appetizers. The Onion Bhajia ($5), a dish of red onion and split-pea dusted fritters with a mildly spicy dipping sauce, served particularly well in this department.
The main dishes also please by catering to all ends of the vegetable-loving spectrum. For the completely green-phobic, there’s the unbelievable Malai Kofta ($10), the highlight of which is not potato and paneer cheese balls but the sweet, almost fruity cardamom sauce. And for the garden-guzzlers, there are offerings like Andhra Korma ($10), a dish of vegetables simmered in poppy seeds, cloves and ginger sauce, or Avial ($10), a coconut-packed curry containing yam, eggplant, carrots, and — supposedly — raw banana. This last ingredient, if present, was not readily identifiable — but to be fair, it’s not a food one normally encounters, so perhaps it was somewhere in there disguised as an undercooked yam.
Only the Chapathi ($2), a thin whole-wheat bread, was perfectly good but fairly unexciting — the radish paratha ($3) or the split pea chapathi ($2.50) might be more intriguing choices.
Irritatingly, it took an extra reminder once all the food had been served before the waiters brought the lassis. The waiters here seem generally distracted — during a previous visit, my friends and I had difficulty flagging down a waiter in order to ask for plates, and we picked uncomfortably at the dosa we were sharing for at least five minutes until our request was finally granted. In any case, the lassis were worth the awkwardness of a second request, as both the mango ($4) and cardamom spiced ($5) varieties provided a flavorful and refreshing compliment to the rest of the meal.
Dessert was overkill by that point, but the offerings were difficult to resist. Rasmalai ($4), sweet paneer balls in a rose-flavored sauce, were delicately flavored with a soft, decadent texture. And the Kulfi ($4), a made-in-house dense ice cream available in malai (clotted cream), mango and pistachio flavors, was both rich and soothing. It was the perfect end to an intensely flavorful meal that had stayed surprisingly within the budget.
But bear in mind that Thali Too is not comparable to that old standby of New Haven vegetarians, Mamoun’s Falafel. Although dinner at Thali Too may be a great value, it is still not going to fall under the category of “cheap.” Assuming that a typical dinner at an Indian restaurant consists of half an appetizer, a main course, half an order of bread and a drink, patrons can expect to pay about $20 per meal. This is an excellent price in comparison with other Indian restaurants like Zaroka or Tandoor, but it’s not necessarily something a student budget could make a habit of.
Still, its delightful, healthy menu and its convenient location right next to the Yale Bookstore makes it an awfully tempting spot for a bite after a textbook-buying excursion, a jaunt to Urban Outfitters — or even on the way back from the gym.