The Magic, almost

It’s sad, but most of my all-time favorite Indian restaurants have shut down in the past few years. One of them was Thali, a closet-sized joint located at 28 Greenwich Avenue. Yes, there is a new Indian restaurant there called Lassi, and it’s good, but Thali was really something special. The name referred to something I’ve seen in other special Indian restaurants, where you sit down, don’t order, and they just bring you a vegetarian platter of whatever they’re serving that day. It was always a surprise what you’d get, and it was never less than wonderful. One day at Thali, I noticed they actually had some appetizer menu offerings. I ordered the Bombay Crepe, and it was so spectacular that I nick-named it “The Magic.” If you knew me at the time, you probably heard me at least once ramble on about it. Before I could go back to try it a second time, Thali had closed down.

The closest thing to the “The Magic” I’ve found elsewhere is something really quite simple at an all-night cab driver spot called Punjabi Grocery & Deli in the East Village, just steps off Houston near the end of East First Street. Everything they sell is on display in a large refrigerated case, and it’s all strictly vegetarian. On my first trip there, I was lucky enough to ask for the “chickpeas and samosas.” It was $1.50 at the time, and though the price has gone up by a buck since then, it’s still one of the best values in town.

The photo doesn’t do it justice. First, they put a samosa in a bowl and smash it up. Mmmmm. Then they pour some of the chickpea dish from the display case on top. That alone would be fine, but it’s not magic yet. Make sure (and this might require insistence) that you get it with ALL of the toppings. They might resist, but just say you want “everything on it.” They spoon on some yogurt, then some chopped onions, then some hot sauce, and then some tamarind-type sauce. That’s what makes it magic — a combination of sweet, savory, spicy, and tangy, all in one. The textures are great too. Much to my pleasure, they’ve added a double-size order to the menu. Don’t come here for ambiance. Don’t expect to sit down either. In fact, just take your food to go and stand outside. If you don’t love it, then there might be something wrong with you.

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