Top-notch Indian food is one of New Orleans' few culinary blind spots, especially when it comes to dishes that are vegan or vegetarian. Eating lovingly prepared, meat-free Indian food can be a sensory delight, with aromas, textures and nuanced layers of flavor that can tempt even the most voracious carnivore. This kind of cooking is in short supply in the city today, but Good Karma Cafe is offering a new option.
Venturing inside Swan River Yoga to Good Karma feels almost restorative. An abundance of natural light and brightly patterned walls make the space seem expansive in spite of its low ceilings. There is an aviary theme throughout — from swan murals to peacock feather centerpieces. Red-lacquered, shimmery tables are scattered throughout the restaurant, but the most compelling seating arrangement is a low-slung gathering of jewel-toned floor pillows (with accompanying table) tucked away in the back corner of the restaurant.
A soft-spoken, gently attentive staff radiates an air of calm, and the counter is piled high with vegan sweets as enticing as the savory menu items. Vegan baked goods are generally hit or miss, often due to the omission of key ingredients — butter, milk, eggs. Vegan and raw creations at Good Karma will turn skeptics into believers. Triple chocolate bundt cake is dense and fudgy, speckled with chunks of melt-in-your-mouth dark cacao. Peanut butter cookies have an ideal sweet-salty balance, with pliable bend that will please chewy-cookie lovers. Lavender bundt cake steals the show with its rich golden color and tender crumb offset by delicate, amethyst-flecked frosting. It is reminiscent of eating candied flower petals.
The menu features a wide selection of healthy, freshly squeezed juices and smoothies in all colors of the rainbow. The "throat affair" juice feels like the early morning equivalent of a hot toddy, combining the vegetable-powered benefits of kale, celery and carrots with a cold-fighting zip of parsley, ginger and lemon to ward off winter malaise.
Good Karma's chai teas feature spices such as cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg mixed with delicate precision. Chai tea beginners may want to add coconut cream as a milky sweetener.
Indian breakfast options are robust and heat-packed across the board, most notably upma. Similar in consistency to couscous, upma is a grain-based dish, which arrives as a fluffy scoop of saffron-colored semolina dappled with cumin, ginger, chilies and bits of roasted red pepper. A freshly made coconut chutney (the kitchen staff cracks the coconuts) is served on the side, revealing the complexities of the nut's flavor: smooth, tangy and bright with an understated, slightly sweet finish. The dish is a unique culinary departure that feels familiar and adventurous.
For lunch, the ever-changing Good Karma plate includes a freshly made soup, vegetables, rice (brown or basmati) and a light salad. The salad's rich dressing — made from almonds — is masterfully executed. One winter vegetable medley enlivened potatoes and beets with the addition of the Indian tuber kasu — a member of the taro family that's similar in texture and taste to a sweet potato.
Golden vegetable-based Malaysian curry is refreshingly complex, with bursts of star anise and hints of coconut..
It pains me to speak ill of avocado (nature's butter), but the avocado sandwich at Good Karma leaves something to be desired. The combination of sliced avocado, sprouts, tomato wheels and cucumber slivers lacks the depth and flavor common elsewhere on the restaurant's menu. Even a generous swipe of Veganaise doesn't save the sandwich from tasting dry.
Above all, though, Good Karma Cafe serves healthy, Indian-inspired meals that both satisfy and reinvigorate.