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From the outside, there's not much to distinguish Namaste from the antique shops, sports-memorabilia stores and physical therapists' offices that share this Lakewood strip mall. And inside, it's just a room: tables, chairs, double-thick tablecloths, a grinning Buddha by the door, and waiters who seem surprisingly overdressed for the suburbs. It's not until you open the menu that you notice something different about Namaste -- namely, that there must be an army of cooks working in the back, with coolers and pantries stretching on forever. This is a big menu, deep and wide and international, offering anything a fan of generalized Indian cuisine or even Tibetan food could possibly want -- and then six or eight or a dozen things, like shrimp saag or fried spinach and potato pakora, that they'd probably never even thought of eating before seeing this triple-fold menu. Like a Chinese restaurant, Namaste offers just about anything cookable in just about any preparation in the canon, so chicken can come from the tandoor -- or battered in chickpea flour, baked, fried, topped with spinach, in a cream sauce, or as a masala, a korma or a biryani. There are four or five different kinds of lassi, a dozen methods of cooking cauliflower. And almost all of them are very good. The cooks in Namaste's kitchen have a particular talent with butter and cream, shown in a subtly rounded take on Indian cuisine where most of the points and harsh edges have been softened by sauces so smooth and heavy they could almost be French. The saag paneer is so rich it tastes of caramel. The onion pakora should be the new international standard for great onion rings. The pale orange kormas come together in clouds of gentle spice spiked with slivered almonds and raisins. The servers bringing this bounty are shockingly fast, charmingly young and mumbly in formal black and white. And then there's the lunch buffet, one of the freshest and best stocked in town, which stretches the entire length of the large, square dining room's back wall. Sitting in this strip mall, Namaste may look like nothing special -- but fans of Indian cuisine will quickly realize just how good it is.


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