Cosmic Cafe

I was expecting (how can I put this diplomatically? I can't) completely uninspired 'old hippie'-style vegetarian food. Instead, I found a wonderful restaurant.

Cosmic Cafe

1110 West Lynn, 482-0950

Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-10:30pm; Sunday, noon-9:30pm

www.cosmiccafeaustin.com

Surprise! Because the Cosmic Cafe is located in the old West Lynn Cafe's location, and because of the name, I was expecting (how can I put this diplomatically? I can't) completely uninspired "old hippie"-style vegetarian food. Instead, I found a wonderful restaurant. Perhaps the stark contrast between my expectations and my experience is causing me to rave a bit, but, among the ranks of purely vegetarian restaurants, Cosmic Cafe has set a new standard.

As all experienced vegetarians know, every cuisine on Earth has marvelous vegetarian dishes, and vegetarian cooking does not have to be bland or strange or dependent on brown rice and steamed vegetables cooked by college students. The key is the aforementioned global cuisines. Unfortunately, usually you have to go to a global restaurant of some kind (Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, etc.) and order a vegetarian item, and just hope your food does not become contaminated by too-close contact with the meat you know perfectly well is being cooked in the same kitchen.

That worry is blessedly absent here, yet the world cuisine know-how is present! Cosmic Cafe anchors its menu with Indian food, a particularly apt choice, since Indian food is fantastic (and trendy) and largely vegetarian to start with. What surprised me is that they got it right. It does not taste like imitation Indian food; it tastes like perfectly prepared Indian food, only perhaps just a little bit fresher and tastier. The Buddha's Delight ($8.91) was superb in every detail; the samosa, a fried dumpling filled with a lightly curried potato and pea mixture, was crisp and perfectly seasoned, as was the tangy and sweet tamarind dipping sauce that accompanied it. The dahl, a de rigueur Indian lentil soup, was substantial and spicy while remaining delicious and light. The papadam tasted fresh (a first in my experience), the rice was fragrant and fluffy, the nan bread hot and soft. (You can also get garlic nan, which is even better!) The "curried vegetables" turned out to be a classic Indian eggplant and potato curry, authentically seasoned.

Intrigued by the quality of the dahl, I ordered the other soup on the menu, a tomato soup with ginger, garlic, and basil. It was perfection: The flavors were in such perfect balance that none overpowered and all were enhanced.

In addition to the Indian theme, Mediterranean, Italian, and Mexican dishes round out the menu. The hummus ($5.40), served with nan bread, is creamy, light, and fresh. Order extra nan, though, because the serving is substantial. The Mandala Pizza ($7.56) is a nice, fresh, healthy pizza, perfect for a light lunch. The toppings (fresh tomatoes, onions, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, and mozzarella), impressed me, in that they were firm, yet thoroughly cooked, rather like grilled vegetables. The Dharma Bell ($9.45), a sautéed bell pepper stuffed with spiced potatoes and topped with melted cheese, was delicate in flavor and simultaneously filling, and served with a crisp vinaigrette-dressed salad for contrast. By the end of the meal, my companion and I were close to ecstatic.

For dessert, I sampled the Carrot Cake ($4.23), which was moist and spicy, with plenty of raisins and a modest amount of sweet icing. Throughout the meal, I quaffed a bottomless cup of soy chai, which is also available plain ($2.97). Iced raspberry tea, smoothies, shakes, and lassi are also offered. No alcohol is served, but you can bring your own, and many tables around us had.

On my second visit, I spotted a (nonvegetarian) local celebrity chef, who confesses to being addicted to the Buddha's delight. I remarked how unusual it was that nothing was even remotely disappointing, and he informed me that this is a second location, the first being in Dallas. The recipes were perfected there before they even opened the Austin location.

I only hope that after this review, I can still get in.

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