SANTA FE, N.M. — Confirmed meat-and-potato types might not want to bother with this review – unless, of course, they’re willing to be adventurous and open their minds and palates to the possibilities of vegetarian cuisine. They could be in for a surprise.
Personally, I’m partial to healthful food and, from what I’ve tried, the offerings at Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe are yummy and satisfying.
Located in the St. Michael’s Village West Shopping Center, next to the defunct CinemaCafe (the restaurant also has three Albuquerque locations), Annapurna’s doesn’t have the greatest view: Its windows look out on the parking lot.
But there’s plenty inside to draw the eye, with colorful fabrics looping through industrial rafters and walls painted rich shades of green, yellow and melon. Mismatched chairs group around simple tables. The cushioned ledge seating along the wall is uncomfortably high above the table – although it might be perfect for kids.
You’ll find kids there, along with a mix of community members who – this may sound strange, but it’s what I felt – seem to give off a gentle, friendly aura. It’s a comfortable place to hang out.
The menu is the same throughout the day and includes breakfast items. For the benefit of customers who follow Ayurvedic teachings, the menu also tells for which dosha each entry is most appropriate.
A glass case filled with sweets greets you as you enter the cafe. The menu lists all of the ingredients they DON’T include, such as wheat, refined sugar, honey, soy, corn, eggs and more. What could a treat without such ingredients possibly taste like? I tried a large chocolate chip cookie ($4.25) to find out.
It didn’t have the snap and buttery sweetness of such mainstream cookies. And the texture seemed oddly like sawdust, but not as dry. But as I grew accustomed to it, I thought it tasted all right.
When the worker at the counter (that’s where you place your order) handed me the cookie before I seated myself, I asked jokingly if I should follow the philosophy of “life is short; eat dessert first” only to have her tell me that Ayurvedic principles say that eating sweets first is actually better for your digestion. The menu, I later discovered, also mentioned this. Whatever the thinking, I nibbled half of the cookie while waiting for my order of the green-plate special, a stuffed acorn squash ($11.95).
Before too long, the squash arrived, overflowing with an abundance of kitchari (basmati rice, mung dal, veggies and spices). Sliced almonds added some crunch on the top while a type of raisin contributed subtle sweetness and cilantro offered a touch of clean brightness. It was delicious – and the helping was so generous that I had some to take home.
The plate also held a small cup of what I judged to be soup. I enjoyed the thick consistency and cilantro spicing while I puzzled out what type it might be. White bean? Garbanzo? When I asked a staffer, she gently informed me it was gravy. Oops. I should have read the menu description more carefully! But what the heck – it was good.
On another visit, I opted for the quesadilla ($9.95). I was offered a choice of flatbreads, and opted for the chapatti, a thin, barely crisp wrapping for the vegetable filling: spinach, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and green chile. I also was given a choice of cheeses and selected feta, which gave a salty little lift to the dish. The green chile was hot enough to help clear my allergy-stuffed sinuses, while not searing my tongue. A bit of salsa on the side – tomato, onion, cilantro – was cooling, as were slices of perfectly ripe avocado over a bed of lettuce with what tasted like some type of oil and vinegar dressing. Perfect.
While I just took water (served without ice) for my drink, a variety of coffees, teas and flavored drinks are available. There are a number of those I might want to try someday, along with many other intriguing entrees, such as the Lebanese wrap featuring eggplant, samosas, the Mediterranean plate or the south or north Indian samplers.
By the way, Annapurna, a sign in the cafe tells us, is the Sanskrit word for “complete food,” as well as a goddess of abundance. Sounds right to me.