Not too long ago, Kessler reported that Thali, an Indian (Gujarati) vegetarian restaurant, had opened in Decatur’s Patel Plaza. The restaurant’s format is a $14.99 fixed price meal (lunch and dinner) consisting of three courses* and any item replenished along the way.
I came here recently for lunch not knowing anything about the restaurant’s format. I was already busting at the seams from “researching” food stories all morning so I didn’t know what I was getting into.
After sitting down, a serving of crunchy fried rice crisps (papad, papadum) paired with tamarind and coriander chutney was served. The crisps were fresh and a promising start even though they basically seem equivalent to what salsa and chips are in Mexican restaurants.
Then a course arrived consisting mostly of vegetable gram flour fritters. I was feeling pretty heavy at this point and my server mentioned that I can ask for “more of anything I see here.” That was the last thing on my mind, especially since I thought that this platter of (mostly) fried items was the only thali served that day. Pictured front and center, and immediate to its left, are dhokla and handvo. They are a type of savory cake made with gram flour. The dhokla is spongier and less dense/oily as the handvo.
Everything else pictured are an assortment of fritters also made with gram flour and stuffed with vegetables. One is a green chile (mirch bhaji or aka chile pakora), and the darker ones are mostly made with flour with minced vegetables lurking in the steamy interior.
I really enjoyed the flavors and varying textures, but unfortunately it was going down painfully in my expanding belly. My server sensed I was not getting any further along so she removed the platter and announced “the second course,” which was quickly followed by a loud thud my bottom jaw made when it hit the floor.
Fortunately, the second course was a sight to behold not to mention a wonderful array of lighter vegetables surrounding a couple of pieces of flat roti bread and a light, puffy pillow of puri (fried bread).
I took everything (pictured above) down. The roasted cauliflower with peas were wonderfully nutty from a light char, the lentils (dal, to the right of the cauliflower) tender to the teeth, and the potato curry (next to the dal) — saucey with hints of cumin and a little coriander. However, I did not get seconds of anything.
Feeling proud, I barely started wiping the corners of my mouth when my server emerged from the kitchen area with my third course — a selection of rice dishes and kadhi – a warm butter milk/yogurt concoction.
The blurry yellow rice dish up top is khichdi, or rice and mushy dal (lentils) mixed together. Plain Basmati rice is pictured closest and kadhi is to the left of it. Frankly, I tapped out on the previous course but I had no problem finishing the kadhi. It tasted sour from fermentation and was liberally seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon. I interpreted this as a digestive, and I certainly needed it at this point.
Overall, I really enjoyed this experience. If I knew about the restaurant’s multi-course format beforehand, I probably would have come better prepared (hungry). Now I know, so I will next time. And you should too.
Thali, 1709 Church Street (in Patel Plaza), Decatur. 678-705-1290.
*dishes/items at Thali can change
by Gene Lee, Food and More blog