Travelers Thali House: Colorful Food Kids Will Eat

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Sara Billups
Get this: people in Seattle are having kids. All the time. True, the child-to-parent ratio is lower in Seattle than many other big cities, but in the past decade we've been trending toward a mini baby boom. 2010 population estimates tallied almost 94,000 youth under 18 and 32,000 children under five living within city limits. That's a lot of mouths to feed.

Welcome to Small Fries, a new Voracious column ready to leap over limp chicken strip and boxed mac and cheese joints and profile diverse, fresh menus that work for families and diners sans kids. Read on each Thursday to find eateries and watering holes that promote the greater good by expanding notoriously plain kid palettes and serving interesting, thoughtful food. First up: Travelers Thali House in Beacon Hill.

Children famously want to eat the same thing over and over. String cheese. Pirate's Booty. Toaster waffles. They become trancelike obsessed with one food at a time, and the preoccupation can last weeks or months. No parent wants to be a short order cook at dinner, braising pork belly with one hand and cutting the crusts off grilled cheese with the other. When all else fails, going out to eat can provide enough of a change of scenery to get kids to try food that's not the color white.

A right remedy for bland, repetitious kid diets is the all-vegetarian Travelers Thali House. Opening last summer in a converted house on Beacon Ave., the space has been through a series of recent tenants, including the short-lived Tasha's Bistro Cafe and Gabriel Claycamp's troubled Culinary Communion/Swinery/Lunch Counter.

With luck, Travelers can break the curse. The dining area is big enough to keep kids on one side of the room and childless diners on the other, so there's little fear of dinner becoming a kid fest. The interior is homey and understated, and service is laid back. Somehow, the ease of eating in the dining room that used to be a living room works to pacify minors enough to pay attention to the food.

The $20 deluxe South Indian thali comes with a rotating menu of a dozen components, including vegetables, chutney, fruit, and rice. Because kids aren't going to go wild over the textures and tastes of everything on the menu, it makes sense to share a deluxe thali and an order of samosas to round out the meal.

On a recent trip, the deluxe thali included a raita of overcooked, under-seasoned okra and squash stirred into yogurt. A preserved lemon pickle the color of Ecto-Cooler was so fragrant it became nose-pluggingly pungent. Those two dishes were exceptions. Fresh, colorful components, including crunchy cabbage coconut salad and tamarind-infused lentils, filled the rest of the platter. Even kids in a dry toast phase can gnaw on buttered naan and suck down mango lassi served in a metal milkshake cup.

Add a round of the ironically named 'barfi' for dessert. Travelers offers the condensed milk squares in cashew, coconut, and pistachio flavors. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious, nobody will be laughing after taking a bite.

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