Dining at the Hands of a Master

| September 19, 2012

The culinary muscle flexed by Chef Prasad Chirnomula has educated and perhaps even defined Connecticut’s interest and demand for Indian cuisine. Chirnomula, Owner and Executive Chef of the Thali Restaurant chain and the Future Food Group, has certainly reached icon status. A true innovator and inspiration, Chirnomula’s Thali is setting a new standard for quality. The newest incarnation of the venerable Thali empire, introduces a new concept to their already successful repertoire–tapas. Passionate about sourcing local produce, Chirnomula is putting the shine on the cutting edge by carving new trends and leading the pack in innovation. Now a 20-year Fairfield and New Haven County resident, Chef Chirnomula has a commitment to the creation of imaginative dishes based on traditional Indian standards.

Located on the East Post Road in Westport, the fifth restaurant bearing the Thali nom de plume is generating rave reviews–and as much as I like to be original, mine is going to be no different. The dĂ©cor of Thali is a vibrant and traditionally inspired environment, with an urban sophistication and an audacious spirit. Driven by an obsession with quality, the menu is an adventurous journey that reflects a brilliant career. The beauty of the tapas style of dining is two-fold. It is a way to explore an interesting menu in greater depth, as you can comfortably handle a wider variety of the smaller portions and it also offers a more relaxed, steady stream of food as the kitchen will send out each plate as it is prepared.

With expectations rightfully high, we settled in for what was sure to be a masterful culinary adventure. Under the tutelage of Chef Prasad, we relinquished control and let him guide us down the path to enlightenment. We started our journey with the New Zealand Lamb Chops (hand-rubbed with habanera chilies and grilled). Grilled to a tender perfection, the distinctive flavors presented were a delicious and zesty start that certainly set the bar rather high. Excited to see what would come next we waited with baited breath, but not long before the arrival of the Spiced Pan-Seared Scallops (fennel and fenugreek crusted with chili-cilantro oil). This showpiece started to take us to new heights as the clever use of fragrant and spicy blends effectively began to intimate genius. We next indulged in the Open Naan-Burger, a unique and delicious twist on the classic. A cleverly spiced burger, set atop fresh and fluffy naan bread, with lettuce, tomato and a roasted cipollini onion set alongside fingerling potato fries. Just when we started to let our guard down we were assaulted by the pièce de résistance with the quirky name, Little Buttons of Steamed Lentil and Rice Cakes (tossed in spiced, split pea flour). These, a favorite of Chef Prasad, are unequivocally delicious and extraordinarily addictive! If the thought of these unique and sumptuous dishes isn’t enough to get you breathing heavily, perhaps you should try the Multi-Pepper Crusted Breast of Duck (smoked in the tandoor with cabernet sauce), or how about the Fish of the Day which comes delivered in the form of poached cardamom-flavored croquettes with tomato chutney?

All of these divine creations were perfectly paired with the right liquid accompaniment. With a full-time sommelier and a magical cocktail selection termed the “Mumbai Bar Cocktail List”, you are in good hands. My absolute favorite and Thali original, the Hyderabadi Cocktail (lime vodka, cucumber/honeydew puree with a touch of fresh mint), is not only unique and extraordinarily refreshing, but a stark reminder that this is a top rate restaurant by any standard. With that said, it is very uncommon to come across an Indian restaurant that employs an in-house pastry chef. But, Thali, as we have elucidated is an anomaly. Their desserts are as scrumptious as the main menu. The Lemongrass Key Lime Pie is more like a mousse than a pie and is an absolute brilliant interpretation of the original. If that doesn’t twirl your bonnet, dive into the Caramel Mango Cheesecake or the traditional Dudhi Jamun (fried milk balls in honey syrup).

Chef Prasad continues to challenge the notion of what Indian food can be with tantalizing results. Do yourself a favor, drag your husband, your best friend, your mom, your astrologer, or anyone that is willing to get in the car, to Thali in Westport and bring an appetite!