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Friday, April 19, 2013

A visit to Chai Pani

Remember Watershed in Decatur? After Chef Scott Peacock left the restaurant, it underwent a bizarre change with the hiring of Joe Truex, a brilliant chef who found himself stuck with a menu that was half his own and half leftovers from Peacock's tenure. It closed and was reborn on Peachtree Street, where Truex owns the entire menu.

If Peacock's ghost haunted the Decatur location, he's now been exorcised completely with the opening of Chai Pani, basically an instant hit with its inventive menu of Indian street food. It's part of a growing scene that is moving contemporary Indian fare off Scott Boulevard and Lawrenceville Highway to more mainstream locations. If Cardamom Hill represents expensive, contemporary fine dining, Chai Pani brings inventive but inexpensive fare to the scene. (You can check out CL's First Look at Chai Pani here.)

We visited the restaurant last Sunday and it was packed. If the presence of a large number of Indian diners means anything, it's getting a nod of approval.

Wayne and I tried a few dishes from the engaging, relatively brief menu:

Bombay chili cheese fries (top photo) are the kind of thing that sticks in the memory and gets turned into an obsession. The restaurant piles lamb hash over "masala fries" and garnishes it with paneer (cheese), onions, and cilantro. Tomato chutney is on the side. The dish is spicy, but not so much that a shot of the table's hot sauce isn't in order.

Matchstick okra fries are amazing. Shredded and fried okra are tossed with lime, salt and secret seasonings. The dish beats the usual Southern version of fried okra by a mile.

A samosa, stufffed with cumin-seasoned potatoes, was less pleasant, being a bit doughier than I like.

The real disappointment was a thali (right photo) with chunks of chicken cooked in a red curry. That was good, but sides were less pleasing, especially a daal (yellow-lentil soup) with a really unpleasant flavor. Breads - naan and papadam - were yawners. A sprouted lentil stew was the best of the sides. (Chai Pani changes the thalis daily. One is always vegetarian and the other includes meat.)

I ordered a thirst-quenching sweet raspberry-lime rickey (left photo). It joins the chili-cheese fries as an obsession.

There's much more to sample here, including slider-like "sloppy jais" with lamb hash, or the parsi chicken. Even if you don't find the food special, the experience is great.

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