Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café
North Valley outpost keeps the karma flowing
When asking for help in deciding between dishes, I’m sometimes skeptical if my server recommends the more expensive option. But the other day at Annapurna’s new North Valley satellite, I received some advice I just couldn’t question.
When I asked if I should get the sweet potato or cauliflower pakora (spicy vegetable fritters), owner Yashoda Naidoo smiled. “Neither,” she said.
“You already have enough to eat,” she said. “We don’t want you to leave here feeling heavy and full.”
The restaurant, located in a brand-new commercial development, has the no-nonsense, industrial look of ecological construction inside and out. There are brightly colored earthtone walls and plants hanging from engineered timber.
Looking around the dining room, I saw tattoos and piercings, cowboy hats, a leopard-skin (imitation) outfit, a Hawaiian shirt, a yellow Lance Armstrong bracelet, some white hairs and a variety of skin tones. Stevie Wonder played softly on the sound system, and the thoughtful murmurs of the other customers echoed off the concrete floor.
Despite our downsized order, we had plenty of food, including the strongly spiced kitchari. The stew-like mixture of basmati rice, yellow split mung beans, vegetables and greens is billed as “The Ultimate Ayurvedic Dish ... healing, and very easy to digest.” It was Shorty’s favorite.
While the menu caters to Western palates with sandwiches, wraps, lasagna and pizza—as well as some deep-fried options like those pakoras Naidoo talked me out of—Ayurvedic cooking is the core of this all-vegetarian menu. Ayurveda, which literally means “science of life,” is more than just a style of cuisine. It is a philosophy of health and healing that includes yoga, massage, herbal medicine and other types of natural interventions. While preaching is kept to a minimum (unless you ask for some), the education and well-being of Annapurna’s customers is a high priority. And for those who want to jump in with both feet, there are cooking classes every Saturday.
I dove deeply into the veggie of the day, kombucha squash with green beans, coconut and large pieces of cinnamon stick. While Shorty dismissed it as “sweet as pie filling,” that didn’t stop her from filling her mouth with it. In fact, I can’t remember the last time Shorty ate so much at a restaurant—kind of ironic given Naidoo wanted us to leave un-stuffed.
But a belly full of vegetables gives a much different feeling than a belly full of meat. It moves through you more quickly and doesn’t weigh you down.
Dabbling outside of the Ayurvedic portion of the menu, we ordered a plate of masala fries. Masala is a pungent mixture of Indian spices, but I couldn’t taste them. And the fries were disappointingly un-crispy. It just goes to show: It pays to order according to a restaurant’s strengths, especially when they’re made with so much heart.
The mattar paneer (spiced tomatoes and peas with homemade cheese) and saag paneer (spinach with homemade cheese) were excellent. Both brought me back to time spent in South India—I could imagine skinny guys in lungis (Indian man-skirts) eating it with their hands. The idli sambar—a spicy yellow mung bean soup with a steamed rice-and-lentil cake floating on top—was tangy and spicy, and very pleasing as well.
A lightly spiced mango lassi (blended mango and yogurt drink) was phenomenal, as was a cup of soy chai. But the chai with milk seemed to lag, noticeably, behind the pack—it tasted like powdered milk, but don’t quote me on that.
Despite the strong emphasis on health, you won’t be sent home from Annapurna without dessert. (In fact, you’ll eat it before the meal if you’re dining Ayurvedic-style.) The date-and-chocolate balls we had were phenomenal. Called ladus, they were chewy and rich, and as sweet as you can get without becoming cloying.
If you’ve been skeptical that vegetarian food can fully hit the spot, try Annapurna. If you’re Ayurvedic-curious, you definitely owe yourself a visit. And even if you could care less about feeding your chakras, I’d recommend you to stick with Annapurna’s Ayurvedic menu options anyway, because that’s where the love seems the strongest.