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Harmonic Convergence

Vegetarian Thai cooking finds a happy om at the Maharishi's pacifying Heaven on Earth

Indeed, only two of the Thai dishes I sampled here left me unmoved. A basil-and-

ginger-spiked stir fry of eggplant and tofu was perfectly nice, perfectly unexciting. And pad Thai, the rice-stick pasta for which I have exacting standards, proved gummy and off-puttingly red.

There's Indian food on the menu, and it's not bad, but it pales beside the Thai dishes. Sag paneer was a one-note affair of faintly tart, very pureed spinach and rubbery homemade white cheese. Indian breads like potato-stuffed aloo paratha and puffy little whole-wheat pooris made better choices, although their cilantro and yogurt sauces seemed unduly laid back ... er, harmonic. Samosa turnovers of spiced potato were on the pasty side. But the Dynamic Pakoras -- herby mixed-vegetable fritters -- lived up to their name.

Alcohol joins meat, seafood and eggs on Heaven on Earth's non grata list. Instead there are esoteric remedial teas meant to counter feelings of irritability, lethargy, restlessness and the like, plus an oddly engaging "coffee alternative" called Raja's Cup that suggests a milky coffee-tea hybrid. All are on sale at the counter, natch, along with TM tracts and official Maharishi catalogs offering everything from spices to bamboo-flute tapes. My theory that life has become synonymous with product placement seems more valid by the second. Today, a Denny's sweatshirt; tomorrow, Maharishi aromatherapy oils.

If there is any proselytizing here, however, it is of the discreetest sort. Our host pressed a product catalog on me as I left, and on another occasion gave me an Ayur-vedic health tome to read while I waited for my companions.

All in all, Heaven on Earth seems more of a novelty act than a serious restaurant. It is meant to be the prototype for a chain operated by the Maharishi-related WPEC corporation in the hotels they've been snapping up all over the country. The monk who roams the premises, Budha Charan, has owned vegetarian restaurants in Thailand -- indeed, his charming sister and his nephew are the kitchen geniuses here in Houston. But there's no wait staff -- literally -- which means the place can't run smoothly. Dishes routinely arrive without serving spoons, and getting a water refill can be nearly impossible. Perhaps the relentlessly soothing music and calming teas are supposed to offset such worldly concerns. They don't.

Still, I got the offbeat adventure I came for, and the kind of Thai food that could lure me back. A good mee krob is hard to find.

Heaven on Earth, Heaven on Earth Plaza Hotel, 801 Calhoun, 659-2222.

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