Indian Dream

Photographs by Maya Ojalvo and Cheyney Barrieau
Above: Made-to-order assorted naan breads from the tandoor clay oven.

Bold blue hues and tree of life symbols adorn chef Prasad Chirnomula’s eponymous new restaurant in New Canaan. Chirnomula, a James Beard honoree and Fairfield County fixture since 1999, is best known for his former Thali, Oaxaca Kitchen and INDIA outposts. After a successful run in towns from Westport to West Hartford, he closed down five restaurants by the end of 2017 when the coperation became too large and “more seats were available than the demand.” For Chirnomula, it was time to “slow down, refocus and do something smaller.”

Chef Prasad Chirnomula.

The Redding-based chef chose New Canaan for this impressive re-launch after fielding numerous calls from locals who missed his flagship location. Chirnomula, who considers his clients family, assures fans that their old favorites are back at Chef Prasad. The only changes are an updated atmosphere that is “lighter, comfortable and more relaxed” as well as the chef’s increased presence.

“Now I won’t be split between multiple restaurants,” says Chirnomula. “Chef Prasad is my kitchen and living room.”

Chef Prasad is located in the same iconic Main Street building as his former INDIA restaurant, which had to be rebranded when the corporation dissolved. Patrons are invited to sink into cushioned bench seats and bistro chairs for a leisurely experience. There’s an ample wraparound bar and lounge as well as a patio for outdoor dining.

Chef Prasad boasts a selection of classic fare and inventive twists like “Itaco” appetizers served on a corn tortilla. Vegan and gluten-free dishes are coded on the menu, and for those wanting an extra kick, the hotness factor ranges from “H” to “HHH.” The staff is friendly, welcoming and attentive.

Tandoori Lamb Chops marinated in garam masala, ground nutmeg and mace

Tempted by the concept, my husband and I started with spicy shrimp and spicy cauliflower tacos to share. The shrimp was seasoned with red chili, cloves and cinnamon and paired with a lovely fruit, paneer and boondi salsa. He appreciated how the taco “compartmentalized the flavors,” while I simply enjoyed the novelty. We also sampled cauliflower Manchurian, and I preferred its fried florets in a sweet spicy chili to the healthier cumin-flavored taco.

The chaat, typically eaten as a snack food in India, was outstanding. Served cold, a blend of tamarind, raisins and date chutney perfectly sweetened the roasted eggplant to balance the spice of our other appetizers.

From Delhi to Kolkata to London, the menu lists the place each entrée originated. Chirnomula pays tribute to his mother—who instilled in him his love of cooking—by referencing “My Mom’s” recipe for Fish Curry and Chicken Andhra. In addition to Fish Curry, we felt compelled to try the ever-popular Chicken Tikka Masala and Lamb Vindaloo.

Succombing to sentimentality, we tasted the Fish Curry first, a market price item with seasonal fish. It featured halibut and had the consistency of a stew. The fish was simmered in a delectable tamarind and shishito pepper sauce that would make any mother proud.

Vegetable Jalfraize with cumin, coriander seeds, red chili, garlic and simmered with tomatoes

Less creamy with more elevated flavors than the conventional version (and in a color that won’t stain your plate), the Chicken Tikka Masala will please both purists and tourists. In the vindaloo, the lamb was tender and flavorful with the right notes of cinnamon and cloves. Each entrée was served in its own small copper hammered pot, adding to the charm. The pots did double duty as dipping stations for our naan.

We chose half portions of Dal Makhni and Saag Paneer for sides. We savored the “thrice cooked” black lentils in a creamy tomato and garlic ginger sauce, and the Saag Paneer is not to be missed. It was cleverly puréed into a light, creamy spinach mixture with chunks of paneer cheese. Both are available in vegetarian entrées and also come in full portions.

Appropriately billed “chef to table,” Chirnomula frequently left the kitchen to greet repeat customers and meet new ones. Noting the amount of food on our table, he graciously commented how “every meal is a banquet.”

Appetizers range from $4.50 to $12, while entrées go from $14 to $29. In addition to dinner six nights a week, Chef Prasad features a Friday lunch buffet. Check out the Saturday and Sunday brunch buffet if you crave mimosas with your samosas.

Samosas with spicy potatoes and green peas.

1. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays but you can book a cooking lesson
with chef Prasad.
2. Interior designer Amanda Loehnis created the space with inspiration from Northern Indian architecture. The azure décor is reminiscent of Jodhpur, the “blue city,” named for a swath of homes in the signature shade. Wood floors are artfully painted black and white in a checkerboard pattern to provide a nice contrast.

62 Main Street, New Canaan

Sun, Mon 4 p.m. — 9 p.m.
Tues by appointment only
Wed, Thurs 4 p.m. — 9 p.m.
Fri, Sat 12 p.m.—2:30 p.m, 4 p.m.—10 p.m.

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