A couple of weeks ago, I embarked on a glorious culinary journey to India. It was a short trip; I didn’t pack. Fortunately, I didn’t have to travel 7,790 miles for my excursion either but, rather, drove the fourteen miles from Stamford, CT to Westport, CT to Thali Westport. If only all such food adventures could be attained so close.
Thali has a sultriness that winds its way through the room and flows freely right along with the Indian fabrics draped throughout. Low level music plays in the background—where music should be relegated so as not to compete with conversations of the diners—exotic lighting, the Hindu elephant-headed deity Ganesha and Indian prints bursting with color complete the sparkling ambiance.
Thali is more than just looks and vibes. There are also the vibrant aromas wafting about that dare your mouth not to water. But water, it will. Especially when you take a peek at the menu. This isn’t your average Indian menu. Thali’s owner and Chef Prasad Chirnomula (who will be one of the celebrity chefs participating in the Varli Food Festival in NYC on April 7) has brought the regional cuisine of India to the kitchen and, along with it, some surprising flavors, textures and tastes. Thali offers small plate appetizers—à la tapas—and, with thirty to choose from, you’ll find it difficult to make that all-important decision on which ones to indulge in.
The meal began with complimentary Tandoor-baked Nan with mint-and mustard-infused extra virgin olive oil. Talk about addictions. I believe I would have been perfectly content to dine on that all evening and wash it all down with the thirst-quenching Delhi Martini that found its way to the table.
On this evening, our eyes proved to be bigger than our stomachs. Can you blame us? When you have menu items like the Jumbo Lump Crab Samosa ($12)—savory, puffy little four-point stars fried golden brown and filled with sweet crab meat—or pan seared, spice scented Lamb Croquettes ($8)—six luscious spheres that, even to this non-lamb eater, had a flavor that was out of this world.
Our dilemma was a happy one. Yes, we over-ordered, and with each successive plate placed on the table, we realized that lunch for the next day would, indeed, be Indian cuisine. However, as we made our way through the seven individual small plates—which, by the way, were generously portioned and the very reason why we ate to excess—we delighted in the wide range of flavors that tickled our palates.
The Tibetan Style Steamed Chicken Dumplings ($7), while not the prettiest little tidbits in the world, more than made up for their lack of aesthetic splendor with a toothsome flavor that was undeniable. The yielding texture of the soft, white, almost gelatinous morsels gave way to luscious ground chicken on the inside, and the smoked tomato chutney was a mélange of smoky sweetness.
Far and away, my favorite dish of the evening was the Multi Pepper-Crusted Breast of Duck ($14). I cannot say enough good things about this duck. I utter this with the absence of compunction: It was one of the most tender bites of poultry to reach the waiting confines of my mouth . . . ever. Smoked in a tandoor and served with a ravishingly decadent cabernet dipping sauce, the juices runneth over as each cut of the knife—and honestly, it was supple enough to fall apart at the mere suggestion of a fork—made its way into the meat.
While my favorite dish left me with savory memories, my dining companion’s favorite was the Pepper & Ginger Skirt Steak ($12) draped on mini Nan bread. This was yet another dish that had the potential to convert this non-red meat eater to a carnivorous madwoman. Thali has a thing about tender meats; perhaps it is because they do it so damned well, and the skirt steak was no exception.
Our meal was rounded out with selections of Spiced Pan-Seared Scallops ($10) on the half shell with fennel and fenugreek-crusted chili cilantro oil (although the flavors were enticing, my scallops were a bit on the gritty side which rendered them near the top of my the least favorite of the dishes) and Salt and Pepper Crisp Calamari ($8) resting atop a light tempered tomato sauce.
As if this were not enough food, we even had the audacity to order two sides—Cumin and Coriander Potatoes ($8), which were soft enough to allow a fork to easily glide into them yet firm enough to provide a nice texture, and Garlic Spinach ($9), which, although far creamier than I am usually fond of, was filled with the goodness of garlic which elevated the side to new heights.
Dessert was offered to us and, had we not been on a gluttonous rampage, we probably would have indulged. Alas, there was no room left in our stomachs for another bite. We were pleasantly satiated and looking forward to the next day when the remains of the evening would once again fill our bellies.
A return visit to Thali Westport is a given, and more than likely I’ll visit Thali’s other locations in New Canaan, Ridgefield and New Haven (where there is Thali and Thali Too, offering the vegetarian cuisine of India). With food this tantalizing, how can you not love it?
All prices above reflect dinner prices.
376 Post Road East
Westport, CT 06880