Flatiron Lunch: Try Your Luck with Bhojan’s Lunch Thali
Every Friday we go south of the ML boundaries in search of a delicious lunch. Sometimes it’s Murray Hill south or the Flatiron District, sometimes Gramercy and everything in between- but we just like to call it Flatiron Lunch.
When I reviewed Saravanaa a few months ago, it reminded me of a great vegetarian Indian lunch I had across the street at Bhojan. It’s now been almost a year since I visited Bhojan and realized it has never been properly written up on this site. I finally made it there late on a rainy day this week to try to re-live that experience.
Unfortunately, the food wasn’t exactly as good as I remembered, but I did discover a cheaper option than at Saravanaa. Last time I was here I had an amazing version of papdi chaat and a great sweet and spicy cauliflower dish. This time around I was trying to stick to the ML price point and the one thing that kept catching my eye was the Lunch Thali. It was priced at $8. The lunch thalis across the street are $11.50. I could have maybe put together some small plates from the menu (priced around $5 or $6) or ordered one of the vegetarian entrees for about $10. But this seemed like the most likely option to fill me up.
The cuisine here is primarily Gujarati and Punjabi and it’s all kosher and vegetarian. I know how most ML’ers feel about vegetarian food, but I think Indian cuisine is the exception. It’s full of flavor and is never made with any of that “fake meat” stuff.
The thali is served with chapati bread, 3 “entrees”, a salad, daal, basmati rice, raita, and dessert. I definitely did not leave hungry, but the spread was not as impressive or massive as the one at Saravanaa. The waitress was kind enough to tell me what everything was, but her descriptions stopped at “eggplant”, “potato”, “carrot”, etc. Thanks, but I could have probably figured that out on my own. The entrees rotate from day to day and I ended up with a rather mixed bag. Some of the dishes were great, while others verged on the side of cafeteria food.
I started with the yellow daal (lentil) stew which was warming, spicy, and flavorful. It had a nice balance of spicy earthiness and a hint of sweetness from what tasted like coconut milk.
Moving counterclockwise, I dug in to the rich plump eggplant curry which had a kick of smokiness and was the closest thing to meat on the table. I gobbled this right up.
The fried potato and cauliflower was fine, but nothing special and rather bland. Neither the cauliflower nor the potatoes had much flavor and it was bit hard for me to distinguish between the two.
The last two dishes were a bit disappointing. The carrot dish to me was a total fail. The vegetables were fresh I’m sure, but they tasted like they belonged on an airplane alongside a microwavable dinner. These were a little watery and sweet and I was not surprised when I couldn’t find a carrot dish listed anywhere else on their menu. I’m sure this was just thrown together for the cheap lunch thali.
Fortunately, there was redemption with the two desserts. A rice pudding was wonderfully floral and sweet – I could have eaten an entire order of it. And I also really liked the spongy lentil cake that was sitting in a tart chutney of some sort with crunchy sweet mustard seeds. I’m not sure if that was supposed to be dessert or not, but I was happy to end with it. There was also a sad cup of shredded iceberg lettuce and tomatoes that doesn’t help the reputation of the word salad.
The food was filling, priced perfectly, and for the most part, quite tasty. On my previous visit I had one of their full priced thalis and it was varied and full of flavor throughout. This one had some up’s and down’s, but it’s worth giving it a shot, especially at $8. The rice and chapati bread definitely help fill you up and you could end up with some really great dishes if you’re lucky.
Bhojan, 102 Lexington (btw. 27th & 28th St), 212-213-9615