The first two words that popped into my head as I stepped into Govinda’s Vegetarian Cuisine were “clean and simple.” The cozy space, located on Fort Street Mall, was Spartan, with bare white walls devoid of menu boards or food photos, and a kitchen area consisting of only a handful of stainless-steel food warmers.
In addition, Govinda’s menu is uncomplicated: two entrées a day, which are offered three different ways – as an a la carte item ($2.65); as a mini plate, with brown rice, salad and dessert ($4.50), and as a full plate, with two entrees, brown, rice salad, dessert and soup of the day ($7.15). Other menu items include a Garden Veggie Burger ($3.75), pocket pies Samosa and Spanakopita (each $2.65) as well as a hearty Govinda’s Cookie ($1.20).
Govinda’s is owned by Tim Walsh, who also owns and operates a popular concession trailer at UH Manoa. He opened his downtown eatery in late February and has quickly cultivated a devoted following. Govinda is another name for the Hindu deity Krishna. Go means “cow” and vinda translates into “protector.” The name is commonly used for restaurants that adhere to Krishna dietary practices, so you’ll find Govinda’s restaurants all over the world. Few, if any, of the restaurants are affiliated with one another.
According to Walsh, who is a Hare Krishna devotee, the food for both his eateries is prepared in a central kitchen and under strict guidelines. No meat, fish, eggs, MSG, preservatives, hydrogenated oils or artificial colors or flavors. The ingredients are sanctified before cooking begins, and the food is not tasted until it’s completed, at which time it is sanctified again. If the cooks touch their hair, skin or face during preparation, they must immediately wash their hands before continuing.
WHOLE FOODS: Govinda's "mini" plate of Sweet and Sour Vegetable Medley with Baked Tofu bursts with flavor and color. In the foreground is a glass of Blackberry-Raspberry Iced Herbal Tea. photo by Minako Ishii
They also squeeze their own juices and use organic and local products whenever possible.
“When we cook, it is like a meditation,” says Walsh. “We try to keep things really clean and people appreciate that.”
I didn’t know any of this when I first visited the restaurant. But after eating the Thai Red Curry with Coconut Milk and Tofu, I knew there was something special going on. The curry was silky, shiny and thick and featured a plethora of textures and flavors. There were so many ingredients, I had to take notes: tofu, spinach, lemongrass, carrots, zucchini, basil, onion, coconut, cauliflower, green peppers and even pineapple.
In addition, the curry had a complex taste that seemed to bloom with every bite. Starting off coconut creamy, it was both savory and a little fruity, building to a satisfying spiciness toward the end.
I washed down my entrée with a large cup of the aptly named Lemon-Mint-Ginger Rush ($1.75 for a large). The drink is powerfully delicious. It goes down smoothly like a sweetened tea and then zaps your tastebuds with bold and spicy ginger. I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t finish the whole thing. I think my mouth got tired.
I ate at Govinda’s the next day, hoping to be delighted again. The Sautéed Cabbage with Potatoes, Tomatoes and Baked Tofu was good, but it wasn’t great. Like the curry it was rich in texture, but the flavors, dominated by cumin and cardamom, weren’t as interesting.
But my beverage was great again. The Blackberry-Raspberry Iced Herbal Tea ($1.75) was flavor dynamite. The taste was vivid and bold, and since it was made with freshly squeezed juices, it was also simple and clean.
GOVINDA’S VEGETARIAN CUISINE
1118 Fort Street Mall
Monday through Friday
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.