A full plate
Some time ago, a pop-up restaurant named Thali served vegetarian North Indian cuisine a few nights a week at a small cafe, until the cafe closed for good. In the meantime, Reno Supper Club—formerly Bowl Restaurant—opened at the West Street Market with the purpose of hosting pop-up meals with a variety of chefs. I’m glad to say that Thali has taken up residence as the supper club’s first tenant, and hopefully they’ll be able to stick around for a while.
The word thali means “plate” but has come to mean a platter of small bowls filled with a few dishes that are meant to complement each other. Thali’s take on this is to provide a new meal each weekend; the menu is posted in advance on social media. Organic produce from local farms via the Great Basin Community Food Co-Op is used as much as possible, and each platter is all-you-can-eat with a fixed price ($14.92 per person).
Although the actual restaurant space is fairly small, additional seating is available in the common area of the market. While waiting less than a minute to be seated, my wife and I were transfixed watching a pair of ladies making chapati flat bread by hand in the open kitchen. The dough is a simple mix of whole wheat flour and water, patted into thin rounds and fried on the grill, then brushed with a bit of ghee—clarified butter—before being folded and placed on the platter with the meal.
We started with cups of hot, housemade chai ($2.80). I’ve never been a fan of the overly sweet “pumpkin spice” powdered stuff served at nearly every coffeehouse. This example was the first chai I’ve ever enjoyed—a very nice blend of spice, tea and dairy, with just a touch of sugar.
The little steel bowls on our platters contained a mix of potatoes, carrots, peas and garam masala—a spice blend cousin of curry—a red lentil and split mung bean dal with texture similar to split pea soup, a mix of turnips and onion with masala, and raita, a blend of yogurt, tomato, onion, garam masala and a little salt. Its purpose is to clear the palate between bites of the spicier dishes. A pilaf of basmati rice with onion, pea, cilantro and cumin took center stage on the platter, and condiments of mint and mango chutneys and spicy pickled onion, carrot and jalapeño rounded out the flavor palette.
I’m a longtime fan of Indian food, but this was the first time I felt I was eating true “home cooking” from the subcontinent. The spices were present but not overstated. The dal and turnip dishes were particularly satisfying, and the rice was among the best I’ve had from any Indian kitchen. The flatbread was almost unnecessary, yet delicious. And since it’s AYCE, you can keep your favorite items coming until you can’t enjoy another bite.
I’m typically wary of most Asian desserts, and the bowl of gajar halwa (carrot) and suji halwa (semolina) did give me pause at first. Both the shredded carrot and durum wheat granules were mixed with sugar, ghee and spices, and each suffered a bit on texture to my western palate. However, they actually began to win me over, and the sticky grain mush was pretty good when washed down with that terrific chai.