Enlightened Eating

Frenching the Buddha at Ricky Gopeesingh's Nirvana

I love the way Gopeesingh handles fruits and vegetables, like his cabbage slaws and tropical fruit chutneys and the complimentary salad that precedes each entrée — a toothsome confetti of slivered green apple, jicama, red pepper, and carrot in a champagne-citrus vinaigrette. He knows how to grill a steak or pan-roast a chicken with peppercorns, cilantro, and thyme (a special), but his sensibility is deeply vegetarian, revering what comes from tree and field. Seeing how he can incorporate sautéed carrots, itty-bitty broccoli florets, and buttery braised purple and green cabbage into a dish that includes lentil dhal and spiced Gulf shelf shrimp ($19) makes you realize exactly how veg-deprived most restaurant meals are. Produce isn't an afterthought here — it's woven through the experience from your first bite of roti swiped through a pool of apple chutney to your last spoonful of mango sorbet with berry compote. A potato and plantain salad ($5, a side order), one of Gopeesingh's more brilliant inventions, takes the traditional Trinidadian classic mix of green peas, red-skinned potatoes, and carrots and sweetens the deal with candied plantains. I could eat it for breakfast, brunch, dinner, and dessert and still crave the stuff. Gopeesingh's kitchen, which happily whips up vegetarian or vegan dinners on request, celebrates bounty in a way that's nearly religious.

Not that he doesn't know what to do with a great piece of meat. Gopeesingh rubs a rib eye ($25) with pungent garam masala and grills it to an exact medium rare. Cut into it and inhale the perfume of cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon; you'll never be satisfied again with plain green peppercorns or sauce bordelaise. Seriously sumptuous garlic mashed potatoes and a veggie mix of carrots, purple cabbage, and broccoli soften the steak's extroverted flavors.

Gopeesingh's general palate tends toward the sweet rather than the savory, so some of these dishes can get to feel cloying when they're eaten in sequence. The dash of sugar in the roti is delicious, as are the tart honey tones of mango and apple, but by the time you get to the end of a meal that's included tropical fruits, sugared wontons, honey bell mango cream aioli, coconut rice, and pineapple citrus vinaigrette, you might think dessert is overkill. It was for me, anyway. I didn't like the texture or the temperature of the crème brûlée ($7). At that point, I think a bitter black cup of Jamaican coffee would have been more to the point. Gopee­singh might rethink his dessert course — a handful of salted nuts or a sour cheese with spiced crackers would have been just the ticket.

Joe Rocco

Nirvana's early-bird prix fixe, served weekdays from 5 till 6:30 p.m. and weekends from 5 to 6, makes a great pretheater or preconcert deal: $15.99 for three courses with a choice of entrée and a glass of wine. They'll get you out in time for that 7:30 showtime at the Kravis Center or Florida Stage. Soothe one hunger with mango goat cheese chicken and another with Red Hot Chili Peppers live at Mizner Park. And there you have the ingredients for an occasional glimpse of nirvana. We may not get there, but we can all eat trying.

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