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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Thrifty Foodie visits Govinda’s Natural Food Buffet

    Stressful times often lead to desperate dining measures and that can mean reaching for that bag of burgers and fries from the nearest drive-through window. For those who seek savory solace without wanting to worry about their future waistline, there’s Govinda’s Natural Foods Buffet.

    This dining hideaway, located at First Avenue and Blacklidge Drive, offers a tranquil setting for anyone seeking a gastronomic bargain.

    The eatery, which is part of the Chaitanya Cultural Center, sets itself apart from the rest of the neighborhood with its Indian based architecture and serenity areas. There’s a patio surrounded by palm trees where the tables are arranged symmetrically, which bring a sense of harmony. The bubbling water from the stone fountain and the chirping sparrows hiding in the shrubbery are pleasant enough to make a diner ignore the intermittent roar of cars racing by on First Avenue.

    Past the front door is a small boutique perfumed by incense where multihued saris, CDs of meditative music, books on meditation and self-realization, hand stitched cloth mandalas and figurines of Ganesh and Krishna line the shelves and walls and fill the display cases.

    The boutique leads to the buffet table, which is divided into the salad bar and the entrée, soup and dessert items. With the student discount, the all-you-can-eat lunch and dinner buffets are easy on the wallet ($6.95 and $8.95, respectively). Despite serving only vegetarian and vegan food, Govinda’s offers enough tasty flavors and varied textures to raise doubt in even the most ardent carnivore.

    The menu changes throughout the week – Sunday brunch, India Night on Tuesdays, and Vegan Nights on Thursdays being the exceptions – so regulars and newcomers can expect something different on each visit.

    One featured entrée was sloppy joes with tiny dark rye rolls that served as the buns. Made from mung beans, bell peppers, tomatoes and traces of anise and coriander, the miniature joes brought up memories of school cafeterias and lunch ladies with their characteristic sweetness and texture. The ground mung beans served as the meat stand-in without calling attention to themselves. Unlike most sloppy joes, these did not have the greasy feel of rendered meat fat that can make them unappetizing after eating a few.

    Normally when a restaurant serves steamed vegetables they tend to be treated as an afterthought. They are often cooked until they turn to mush and lose their vibrant colors and, sadly, their flavors, which can be buried under gobs of butter or a ladleful of béchamel or Mornay sauce. Govinda’s thankfully showcases their steamed vegetables unadorned, which allowed their essential flavors to come through clearly and cleanly with nary a grain of salt and pepper or streak of sauce in sight. Eating Govinda’s steamed vegetables was like running into a long-lost love who had just returned from her travels. Unlike the wayward traveler, however, the vegetables were here to stay.

    At the other end of how vegetables can be treated are the Govinda’s curries and dals. One night featured an eggplant curry and a yellow lentil dal. The eggplant was soft with its skin providing a slightly chewy texture. Stewed tomatoes added a red coat to the eggplant while sugar snap peas dotted the curry with green globes. These ingredients added a pleasant sweetness to the dish without being cloying, and the presence of anise offered understated support. The dal was cooked until it had a texture that contrasted the creaminess – like peanut butter but without the stickiness – and the tenderness of the lentils.

    When it comes to sweets, Govinda’s doesn’t hold back. There is an iced herbal tea sweetened with apple juice that did not overwhelm the flavor of the hibiscus and lavender flowers – well worth the cost of an extra dollar. One delightful dessert on display was the halavah, a dessert popular in the Balkans, Middle East, and Central and South Asia.

    Govinda’s version had the warm, soft texture of cooked polenta – grits to those from the South – with the background flavor of tahini. Other ingredients included pineapple, coconut milk and vanilla, all of which melded together without one element dominating over another. The halavah had all the makings of a comfort dessert: soothing warmth, pleasing consistency (like cake soaked in a syrup) and a mild, addictive sweetness. It was hard to resist going for a fourth or fifth serving of this wonderful dessert. That it was vegetarian proved all the more amazing.

    For a lovely post-meal period of digestion, a diner can take a brief walk to the Certified Wildlife Habitat, an aviary that is home to two male peacocks, a white dove and numerous house sparrows. A few steps over, giant Japanese koi (up to 18 inches in length) meander in a pond laced with lush tropical trees and bamboo. The small waterfall transforms the pond into an oasis getaway in the middle of an urban jungle.

    When seeking solace in food, forego the burger and fries and consider a trip to the buffet table at Govinda’s. Your wallet and stomach will thank you.

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