An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Jul 23, 2014
11:23 AMThe Connecticut Table
Spicy Deliciousness at Oaxaca Kitchen in New Haven
Mara Lavitt/New Haven Register
Chef and co-owner Prasad Chirnolmula in the back dining room at Oaxaca Kitchen.
New Haven has been home to Prasad Chirnomula’s two stand-out Indian restaurants, the elegant Thali and the more casual, as well as vegetarian, Thali Too. When Chirnomula was encouraged to open yet another eatery, he surprised everyone by switching continents and culinary interests. He and co-owner Tom Brandt went Mexican and called it Oaxaca Kitchen.
Chirnomula was born into a family of physicians in Hyderabad, India. “While my parents were looking for a medical school [for me], I was looking for a cooking school.” He graduated from Maharashtra State Institute of Hotel Management and Catering Technology in 1985, and was hired immediately by the Ritz hotel in India. As the food and beverage manager, he supervised about 200 workers. A year later he had the chance to come to the U.S. Staying with doctor cousins in Wilton, he quickly found work at an Indian restaurant on Long Island. Starting as a busboy, he immediately started to work his way up, assisting the owners in opening a new restaurant in New York City. The next year he returned to Connecticut, working as a consultant to several restaurants in Fairfield County. In 1993, with the help of a partnership of over a dozen people, he opened his first restaurant in Westport, called Bombay Bar & Grill.
(Above, shrimp ceviche: red onion, cilantro-infused shrimp, citrus, mixed peppers and cilantro.)
“My mission and vision at that time was to change what people think about Indian restaurants,” Chirnomula says, “from decor, services, quality, getting more regional food of India, getting more food that they weren’t exposed to. I got a lot more interesting food on the plate and got glorious [media] reviews. I put Indian food on the map.”He opened seven restaurants in three years, from Westchester to Massachusetts. Then in 2000 he opened the first of his elegant Thali restaurants, this one in New Canaan. The second Thali opened in Ridgefield in 2004, and in 2006 came New Haven’s Thali. Thali Too opened two years later.
When a third New Haven location was beckoning, Chirnomula decided to break out of the Indian mould. “The technique of cooking Mexican food is very close to Indian. The ingredients are pretty similar, it’s very tribal, it’s not too mechanical, it’s not too ‘bottles and cans,’ the techniques are very primitive. Similar ingredients: India is known for its rice and lentils, Mexico is known for rice and beans. India is known for its breads, Mexico is known for its tortillas. India is known for its sauces, which they call curries. Mexico is known for their sauces, mostly called molés. And the common ingredients are onions, garlic, tomato, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and lots of types of chiles.”
(Above, Costilla de res: braised short ribs, chile-glazed carrot ribbons, sweet potato mash.)