Govinda's buffet caters to vegetarian spiritualists

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Govinda's Buffet, the restaurant in the Krishna center at 1400 Cherry Street, has reopened after a year-long hiatus, with a buffet that features "karma-free spiritual vegetarian food" cooked by a Brahmanical chef and blessed by Krishna.

What that translates to: all-you-can-eat vegetarian fare that might expand your horizons, mind -- and even waistline.

Govinda's is currently open only on Friday and Saturday nights. The menu changes daily; you can check out the offerings in advance on the Krishna Denver website. There are three plating options: the $7.95 green plate, which includes the all-you-can-eat, eighteen-item salad bar (try the housemade green goddess dressing), plus soup and bread; the $9.95 blue plate, which repeats the green offerings and adds rice, dahl, subji, steamed vegetable, pakoras with chutney and one serving of dessert; and the $12.95 gold plate, which includes everything you get on the blue plate as well as Govinda's nightly entree.

This past Saturday, the gold-plate dishes included split-pea soup, whole wheat bread, steamed butternut squash, stir-fried eggplant with paneer as the subji, a bonus subji of gouranga potatoes, basmati rice, cauliflower pakora, tomato chutney, pizza for the entree and sweet rice in a cup for dessert. The low point of the meal was definitely the pizza; the crust was crisp on the bottom, but a little too doughy toward the top. The sauce was uninspired and the toppings fresh but not fabulous -- in short, this entree wasn't worth the gold-plate splurge. (And you get so much food, you really don't need an entree, anyway.)

The split-pea soup came nowhere close to the classic Moosewood version -- which is vegan, fat-free and requires just one pot to make. If it doesn't violate any teachings, Govinda's might went to spice up its recipe with some cracked black pepper and a little red-wine vinegar, because without the traditional ham to add flavor, split-pea soup can be pretty bland. The homemade whole wheat bread was delicious, though, served in fat slabs perfect for scooping up the thick soup. With a slightly crisp crust and a soft, absorbent center, the bread worked well with everything else on the plate, too, including the steamed butternut squash. Although Govinda's didn't add seasoning or ghee to the squash, diners could season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.

The subjis and pakoras were the real stars. Although the eggplant with paneer was tasty enough, the bonus gouranga potato subji was heaven on a plate: golden potatoes steamed and then served in a sauce of sour cream, butter, turmeric, rosemary, basil and oregano. This simple preparation was perfect over the bright-yellow basmati rice, which tasted of a hint of saffron.

The cauliflower pakora was actually broccoli, but no matter -- garbanzo-bean batter and deep-frying in ghee suits broccoli just as well as it does cauliflower. This is one of the most popular dishes at Govinda's, and it was easy to see why.

The little cup of sweet rice rounded everything off beautifully.

Govinda's is open from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; for more information, call 303-333-5461 or visit www.krishnadenver.com.

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