For me, a hallmark of a good meatless menu, whether it’s merely vegetarian or fully vegan, is the absence of meat. What I mean is, the menu doesn’t try to replace actual meat with fake meat, processed products that emulate the tastes and textures of chicken, beef and seafood. I’m more impressed with restaurants that achieve vegetarian results organically (whether or not the ingredients are actually organic; don’t get me started on that).
Consider the food at Daana Pani, an Indian restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Gujarat in the west. Nearly 90 percent of Gujaratis follow a form of Hinduism that adheres to a vegetarian diet, even despite its seacoast location. Perhaps that is why you’ll find the word Gujarati on Daana Pani’s menu but not the word vegetarian – it’s assumed.
And meat is not missed, not even by such an inveterate nonvegetarian as me. The dishes I sampled were full of complex spices and complementing textures.
A favorite was the palak paneer (more of a northern dish than Gujarati), a bright green curry with a thick and creamy spinach consistency and big cubes of chewy cottage cheese paneer. I initially enjoyed it on the fluffy basmati rice but later found myself just eating spoonfuls of the curry and cheese alone.
A traditional Gujarati dish is the Undhiyi, a rich curry with a variety of vegetables, including potatoes, peas and various beans, many of them still with a crunch. Notes of turmeric, cumin and coriander were apparent with garlic and chilies adding a bit of pique. The curried vegetables were served with puri, a deep-fried bread, which I used to make a sort of Indian burrito.
Veg hakka noodles was one of the items listed under the Indo Chinese heading. It featured a stack of noodles tossed with soy sauce with big chunks of green onions, bean sprouts and ginger.
When I arrived to pick up my order, the man at the counter apologized and said that one of the appetizers was not available. Instead, he suggested an order of assorted samosas, which I accepted. The turnovers were filled with potatoes and peas but each with a distinct flavor.
I also had an order of onion bhaji, the crispy fritters.
Daana Pani is in a small complex called Laxmi Plaza that also holds House of Spices, a grocery store with Indian specialties. The restaurant is down a short but decidedly unattractive hallway. There is a small dining room with yellow and blue chairs and a wall hanging of fake sod with the restaurant’s name spelled out in neon. The staff were friendly and welcoming and seemed appreciative for the business. (The website, on the other hand, is not especially user friendly.)
I referred to myself as an inveterate nonvegetarian but that’s mostly because my profession makes it difficult not to be. But I could see myself going more meatless when I can, especially when there are options like the food served at Daana Pani.