Veni, vidi, ayurveda

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Pa­tri­cia Sauthoff For The New Mex­i­can

If you think ayurvedic food sounds a bit bland, you’re not wrong. But, this hip­pie-dippy “heal­ing food” isn’t as hip­pie as it might seem. Plus, un­like most flash-inthe-pan food fads, it does ac­tu­ally make you feel good.

Put sim­ply, the point of ayurvedic eat­ing is to bal­ance the body’s en­er­gies through food to en­sure health. Sounds a lit­tle woo-woo, right? If it helps, ayurveda has been around (and con­tin­u­ally de­vel­op­ing) for four or five thou­sand years.

So what does it taste like? To get the most bang for my buck and to make sure some things suited my palate, I went for An­na­purna’s South In­dian Sam­pler plate — an enor­mous dish de­signed to bal­ance all three of my en­er­gies. The masala dosa, a light, thin, crepe-like bread filled with spicy veg­eta­bles, was the best part of the plate. The dosa it­self lacked deep fla­vor but, soaked in the juices of the veg­gies, it be­came more ap­pe­tiz­ing ev­ery time I came back to it. A close sec­ond was the vadai, a fried-rice pan­cake loaded with spicy green onions. Fried food doesn’t scream out “healthy,” and the vadai was a lit­tle greasy, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to fin­ish. It lin­gered a lit­tle heavy in the stom­ach.

The same was true of the samosas that my lunch com­pan­ion based his meal on. The peas, car­rots, and pota­toes were spicy enough, but they were so bogged down with grease that we could only take a few bites. The samb­har soup (which came with the sam­pler plate), a mung bean and veg­etable con­coc­tion, was fla­vor­less.

De­spite my taste buds’ dis­ap­point­ment, post-lunch I felt amaz­ing. The chai may have added a lit­tle edge to my kick, but this was no caf­feine buzz. The food left me feel­ing full but not stuffed, and had it not been snow­ing, I’m pretty sure I could have lapped Santa Fe on my bike in no time flat.

On a re­turn trip, I ig­nored my dis­sat­is­fac­tion dur­ing the pre­vi­ous visit and de­cided to ap­proach the meal in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way. In­stead of looking over the menu and pick­ing items based on pre­con­ceived ideas about what I like to eat, I read each of­fer­ing care­fully, and when my body re­acted pos­i­tively to some­thing I saw (yup, get­ting a lit­tle hip­pie again), I went for it. This time, the puri (fried bread) with a bowl of pota­toveg­etable bhaji (curry) stood out. It was per­fect. The thick, bright red broth of the bhaji soaked into the al­ready fla­vor­ful puri and let loose a rolling cas­cade of spice. Whereas the pre­vi­ous dishes had a slightly more as­trin­gent and spicy af­ter­taste, this one burst wildly at just the right mo­ment. Odd, I thought, for a dish that was meant to pacify my en­ergy, but it did seem to make me sub­mis­sive to its de­li­cious­ness.

My din­ner date chose that old sta­ple of In­dian din­ing, saag pa­neer— creamy spinach with blocks of sturdy cheese. Un­like most saags out there, this one tasted alive with that acidic fla­vor that raw spinach of­ten loses when it’s cooked. It was de­li­cious and en­er­giz­ing, so much so that two sea­soned, glut­tonous eaters could barely put a dent in the bowl.

To com­plete our healthy pig-out we treated our­selves to a ba­nana pakora— fried chick­pea flour wrapped around ba­nana quar­ters— and a cran­berry ladu (sweet dumpling). Sadly, the ba­nana pako­ras are not avail­able any­more, as they aren’t ayurvedic and shouldn’t have been made in the first place. Since we couldn’t eat them all, we left the con­tra­band last piece (“ever!” ac­cord­ing to our server) for the war­rior god­dess Durga, a framed de­pic­tion of whom presided over our ta­ble.

In the past, when I’ve made my own ladu, I’ve used ghee, so how An­na­purna makes th­ese guys ve­gan is be­yond me. But one was not enough. I could eas­ily put down a good dozen of th­ese cran­berry and sesame­seed won­ders.

As my friend put it, “This restau­rant is so non­vi­o­lent they don’t even give you a knife!” True, there’s no need to slice through the fork­able and spoon­able food at An­na­purna, and if you get in touch with your in­ner indigo child and lis­ten to what your body craves, you won’t be dis­ap­pointed with the peace­ful pep the meal has to of­fer.

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