Wednesday, June 04, 2008

HFF Has Lunch: Govinda's - Los Angeles Ca

I never had Thai Temple brunch.

That's right, I admit it. For some reason I never had the urge to drag my ass out of bed early on a Sunday to then drive way out into West Berkeley to then circle for parking for twenty minutes to then stand in a long line around really really really (really) ugly Berkeleyans, so I could THEN get what I can only assume will be competent home-cooked Thai food for a relatively low price.

After reading some Yelp! reviews of the Thai Temple, I can assume that my experience at Govinda's here in LA was pretty much exactly the same, only with vegetarian Indian food in the place of Thai cuisine.

When I moved to LA, I moved to an area called "Palms." Palms is considered the last "ungentrified" area of the Westside, though admittedly it looks pretty g-d gentrified to me. I suppose that the the fact that 92% of Palms residents live in apartment buildings prevents the inevitable influx of Persian Palaces and McMansions. Still, I do like it here because there is a nice diversity, it's very close to trendy downtown Culver City, and it lets me take surface streets or I-10 to most of my necessary destinations, eliminating the dreaded 405 and 101 commutes.

The other exciting part? I live about a block from the biggest International Society for Krishna Consciousness center (read "Hare Krishna Temple") in California. When I go for my morning (okay, late morning) jog, I dart past innumerable saffron-robed white men with shaved heads and the, surprisingly enough, occasional Indian woman.

It's kinda nice. The Society also owns several of the apartment buildings on my block and everything is kept pretty neat and tidy. And the temple has a restaurant serving up lunch and dinner in buffet form every day of the week.

Once-a-week Thai Brunch can suck it.

For $6 I get either a dine-in plate or a to-go box loaded with Indian food from a buffet. I'm told that during the week they also operate a takeout stand with sandwiches and roti wraps. This stand was closed when I went.

After entering the temple, I stood in a relatively short line behind a woman who looked a lot like what dirty middle-aged white collar hippy douchebags in Berkeley would look like if they actually exercised, wore make-up, and cared how they dressed. But looking presentable can only go so far as I had to listen to her attempt to make friends with every person who served her and had to watch her as she stuck her hand underneath the sneeze guard and pointed with her finger at every item she wanted.

There are only, like, six things, so I don't see the need for such an invasive examination.

Anyway, I was greeted by a surly Indian gentleman (the only one--everyone else working behind the counter were earnest young European-Americans). He scooped some Jasmine rice on my plate, added some Dal, a couple pakora, some stewed cauliflower, a potato and cabbage dish, and some other very yellowish green vegetable items.

It's a well known fact that religious cults (and prisons) keep their members (prisoners) in thrall partly through sensory deprivation.

I can see how after eating Govinda's food for any period of time, even the mindless chanting of "hare krsna hare krsna krsna krsna hare hare hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare" might be exciting.

Where's the fucking flavor people? We're talking Indian food here! Up there with Ethiopian in terms of spice per square inch! Unfortunately the Krsna folks don't believe in onions, garlic, and (one would presume) salt, three ingredients which have done more for providing pleasure to the masses than the Dolphin Vibrator, Hitachi Magic Wand, and me combined.

I'm not going to say the food was bad. It wasn't. It was decent. It was the type of food that I'd expect a modestly skilled family in India to prepare on a daily basis. And it was only $6, so who am I to complain?

I wouldn't be complaining were it not for the glowing reviews of this place on Yelp! and other sites. This just reinforces my opinion that the Powers That Be on the Internet (middle class and wealthier whites and east Asians) find things produced by those not in the Powers That Be on the Internet (poor whites and other minorities) absolutely fascinating and worthy of praise when in fact they're probably no different than yourselves, except that their moms can't afford to grab takeout or Costco lasagna for every meal and instead have to, you know, cook a meal with cheap staples instead.

My food from Govinda's was strikingly lacking in, well, flavor. It just tasted like potatoes, cabbage, chickpeas, et al. These things are really really bland by themselves. They take great to spices, which is why Indian food is able to create magic from these bland components, but if you're unwilling to saturate them in spices and ghee, well, then they just taste like "meh."

The dal was respectably okay, the caulflower and zucchini dish was very bitter, the cabbage and potato dish was pleasantly wholesome, the pakora weren't crisp, and the roti was decent.

I'm not saying it was a bad meal! I'm not!

I'm saying it was a mediocre meal, worthy of it's $6 price tag, but not worthy of its innumerable praise on Yelp! by any means. I can toss a bunch of vegetables in a pot with spices and create a reasonable approximation of the food at Govinda's, devotion to God or not.

And it should be mentioned that Indian buffets in the $10 range offer a marked step up in quality, variety, and complexity.

That being said, I'm glad Govinda's is there and I imagine I'll make a return trip. I mean, you can't fault the place for producing a cheap product of respectable quality. I can only fault the innumerable douche bags who vaunt this meal as somehow better than their local fine dining restaurants, or even on par with a modest for-profit Indian buffet.

It's mediocre and inexpensive. That's it.

3764 Watseka Avenue
Los Angeles, Ca • 90034

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