Actor, writer and, most famously, Daily Show correspondent, Aasif Mandvi has whipped up a winning indie comedy despite an overload of clichés. Based on Mandvi's Obie-winning play, Today's Special is the sort of small, quirky pleasure that invites hokey puns, being laden with a host of familiar themes, from the cooking-as-personal-passion, ethnic-generational family drama genre, exemplified by the memorable likes of Big Night and Babette's Feast.
Mandvi stars as Samir, an ambitious sous chef at a swank Manhattan restaurant who is passed over for a promotion because his cooking is technically precise but lacks soul. He quits in a huff, then after his dad has a nonfatal heart attack, finds himself stuck running his family's ramshackle Tandoori Palace in Queens. Due to disinterest and outright neglect, the place is on its last legs, the only regular customers are a trio of duffers who sip tea, play cards and talk about cricket all day. Samir's dad (who looks like an Indian Oliver Platt) wanted to be a doctor rather than a restaurateur, and can't understand why his son would want to spend his life toiling in a kitchen anyway. Neither can his parents understand why he hasn't settled down into a nice, pre-arranged marriage to an Indian girl, but Samir is so assimilated and casually dismissive of his native culture that he doesn't know how to make Tikka Masala. Help arrives, funnily enough, from an eccentric cabbie (Bollywood vet Naseeruddin Shah) who happened to be a master chef in Mumbai before coming to the United States. This unlikely mentor plays epicurean Yoda, and helps stoke Samir's smoldering passions, not just for cooking but his family, and for the cute blond co-worker (a charming Jess Weixler) he's been carrying a torch for. All of this is very standard fare, but it's comfort food as satisfying as a yummy samosa. Also, the food looks sensational, which is a mouthwatering plus.
Opens Friday, Nov. 19, at the Landmark Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.