Among the vast swath of single stories in Garden Oaks, it looks even more majestic than it otherwise would. The Hare Krishna Temple & Cultural Center certainly isn't sitting quietly and anonymously waiting to be discovered. But its new restaurant isn't quite so ostentatious.
Govinda's Vegetarian Restaurant quietly began serving a buffet on July 10. As long as I've lived in Houston, I've heard the complaints that the Heights was lacking an Indian eatery. Okay, Govinda's isn't exactly in the Heights—it's in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest—but that's close enough for us, and for the many people who consider the GOOF a northern extension of the Greater Heights area.
The name makes it clear that the dishes that fill the steam tables are vegetarian, but it's less obvious that the cuisine is wholly sattvic. According to Ayurvedic thinking, all foods are categorized as either sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. Properly sattvic foods are fresh, organic and vegetarian, though dairy products are permitted.
The one exception is alliums, which are thought to be both overstimulating (garlic, especially is considered an aphrodisiac) and too heavy. Translation: The dishes are freshly made from wholesome ingredients, but in a move that seems antithetical to most lovers of Indian cuisine, there is no garlic or onion in any of it.
Tasting the food, I might not have readily identified what was missing, but there was no question that the nicely spiced saag aloo tasted different than other saags. Perhaps that tamasic designation does make some sense—aloo gobi, which initially tasted a bit bland without the alliums, grew in tangy fullness with each bite.
One companion and I enjoyed the sweetness of the paneer makhani, but another friend compared it unfavorably to Spaghetti-Os. This could be because of what seemed to me a very un-sattvic move of making sauces (there was a cardamom-scented penne in red sauce, too) from canned tomatoes that were visible in the open kitchen from our table. Fresh or boxed ones would have made a big difference in flavor and health.
A gentleman emerged from the kitchen in regular spurts proffering freshly prepared, ghee-covered paratha. Even with that, yellow rice and quinoa, the meal felt light enough to allow for a little extra carrot halwa. That, too, seemed to contain less cream and sugar than I typically expect, which was both refreshing and a little disappointing.
But for diners passionate about healthy food with a wash of spice, Garden Oaks may be a new culinary destination.