BY CLAIRE McCURDY
706 Amsterdam Avenue
(between 94th St & 95th St)
Upper West Side
The vegetarian Ayurveda Restaurant and Cafe is justly called one of the hidden treasures of the Upper West Side. From the beginning the customer recognizes s/he is walking into a very different world. The place is painted *orange* on the exterior– with happy although slightly dilapidated gilt decorations. And you must traverse a maze of little orange doors before you arrive at the center of the restaurant. Inside, the great benign elephant headed god Ganesha greets you.
The air is scented with herbs and fragrant oils. The ceiling or sky is aquamarine surrounded by violet, curling clouds. Gentle young servers come forth to greet you and take you to a table. Ragas serenade you. The fixtures are not elaborate, resembling cafeteria style, but the atmosphere is very soothing.
No debates over the menu are necessary. It is prix fixe (ca. $10.95), a set lunch or dinner. There are no choices except for the type of rice you prefer, (brown or white) and which type of iced or hot tea or lassi you would like to accompany your meal. The meal arrives on a large circular serving platter and features the mix of flavors mandated by Ayurvedic thought– sweet, sour, hot, salty.
The platter is crowded with tiny little circular pots each holding yogurt with tiny lentil dumplings; or dal soup; or a sweet pumpkin stew; or a mix of spinach and potato; or cauliflower samosas.
The meals are mildly spiced but you can request a hotter flavor. Pots of green cilantro or spiced date accompany the meal, as does a basket of hot buttery flat bread. It is a formidable array, almost more than one can eat, for approximately $10.95.
The meal concludes with a sweet in a very tiny bowl– hot carrot halva, say, or spiced rice pudding. It is intensely sweet but since you are eating out of a minute bowl with very small spoons, somehow you manage it!
At the end of your meal you are directed to a table on which sits many bowls of fragrant, spiced seeds which aid digestion and flavor the breath. And there is a large cabinet containing strips of paper with thoughts for the day. Don’t confuse them with giant sized fortune cookies– many have a calm, koan-like quality which encourage reflection as you re-enter the maze of little orange doors and emerge to the street.
Alhough they do not advertise this service with much fanfare in the Cafe, for those who are interested in the medicinal oils and services of the Ayurveda Center, just around the corner on 96th St. There is a special arrangement available if you make a major purchase at the Ayurveda Center, undergo a netra basti treatment or a facial or massage, lunch or dinner at the Ayurveda Cafe are on the house. A significant deal!
And so, whether or not you are an affiliate of Ayurveda. Stop on by.