Today's Special
Aasif Mandvi stars as a high-end chef who takes over his family's Indian restaurant in "Today's Special." INIMITABLE PICTURES

Sometimes you want a meal that tastes exactly like you expect it's going to taste. "Today's Special" is one of those meals.

There isn't a moment you don't see coming in this genial foodie comedy, which stars and was co-written by "Daily Show" correspondent Aasif Mandvi, based on his play "Sabina's Restaurant." For a dish with so many spices in it, the movie turns out to be satisfying comfort food.

Mandvi plays Samir, a sous chef at a tony Manhattan restaurant who is hoping his celebrity chef boss Steve (Dean Winters) will let him run his new restaurant. But Steve passes him over, saying that Samir's cooking is technically perfect but lacks "magic."

In a huff, Samir quits and makes plans to move to Paris to apprentice under a master chef. But fate intervenes when his father (Harish Patel), who runs a hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant called the Tandoori Palace in Queens. Samir has to step in and run the Palace while his father recovers.

It turns out that, while Samir excels at nouveau cuisine, he doesn't know squat about making a decent masala. Desperate and out of his depth in this kitchen, at one point he resorts to ordering takeout from another Indian restaurant. "Yes, I know this is another Indian restaurant," he says into the phone. "Bring it around the back."

His salvation comes in the form of Akbar (Naseerudin Shah), a cabbie who claims to have been a great chef who once cooked for Indira Gandhi. A charming, elegant old man in a porkpie hat who says things like "Cumin is a saucy wench," Akbar teaches Samir some of his best recipes, but also how to cook with a little "magic."

Like I said, it's all pretty familiar stuff, but done well. Mandvi, one of my favorites on the "Daily Show" for his arch delivery, effectively dials down his comic chops to play a leading man. And Shah is just wonderful as Akbar, the Gusteau to Samir's Remy the rat, teaching him that the lessons learned in life apply in the kitchen, and vice versa.

And then there's the food, luscious shots of mouth-watering fare that will make any audience member not already stuffed to the gills make an immediate post-screening beeline to Taste of India or any of Madison's other fine Indian eateries.

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