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Tower of Excellence

Good evening! I am attempting to get this out quickly to you, so that you all have time before it becomes Monday to contemplate the menu. Yesterday I had the good fortune to visit for the first time Tower, the South Indian Vegetarian restaurant in Morrisville. It was a great visit, characterized by dee-licious food.

First of all, it was just incredibly exciting to go to the buffet, knowing that I could eat every single thing on it. That kind of worry-free eating doesn't happen for me that often. Now what I will say is that they were not so great about labeling things (as in not at all) as gluten-free or vegan. The companion that I was with yesterday is gluten-free and dairy-free. Fortunately I am familiar enough with Indian cooking that I was able to recognize pretty much all the dishes and advise her as to what would and wouldn't be friendly to her diet. Nor was it indicated anywhere as to how spicy the different dishes would be. I just happen to know that if one is sensitive to hot chilies (as this friend is), he or she should avoid the rasam altogether. However make no mistake, if one does not have any particular diet sensitivities and/or knows exactly what they are looking at when encountering Indian cuisine, this lunch buffet is a fantastic deal!

(photo Tower Indian Restaurant)

Now there were no menus, at least at lunch, only the buffet. That was kind of nice to not have the angst of poring over an extensive menu and narrowing it down to the few dishes that would fit into my allotted budget for one meal. We didn't have to think about what to order; instead we just got in line with everyone else at the steam tables. A mere $11 gained us access to the entire lunch buffet which contained no less than 30 preparations, including all the must-have Indian savories like samosas, idli, vada, roti, and masala dosa!

I simply cannot emphasize how much good food you could eat at this restaurant. Your enjoyment is only limited by your capacity to digest. How I miss those days in past decades when I could take ridiculously full advantage of an all-you-can-eat situation... lol. The service might not be friendly by American standards (a con mentioned in another review I read); the decor is not designer; and at least at lunch, there is only the buffet to choose from (but what a buffet!). Yet, everything was clean and neat; the service attentive, if not chatty (and it could be that the waiters just didn't speak English so well); every dish was excellently prepared; and the place was full of Indian diners. Having lots of native customers is always one of my barometers of authenticity, quality, and success. If you are looking for an authentic Indian dining experience, Tower is definitely the place to go.

This Week's Menu:

Entree #1 - Tomato Toor Dal I remember looking up toor dal once, curious about its nutritional profile. I actually don't remember the factoids from that research, other than toor dal is the most widely used lentil in many parts of India. It is so widely used that if you say "dal" without specifying which kind, people will assume you mean toor dal. What is it about the humble pigeon pea that makes it so loved? Being drought resistant, it is an easy crop to grow in a variety of climates. As far as us cooks are concerned, toor dal scores points because it is a relatively quick-cooking bean with a delightful flavor. This tomato and toor combo is wonderfully tangy and flavorful, as well as light on the tummy - a perfect summertime lunch food! *GF, soy-free


Entree #2 - 9-Vegetable Hot & Sour Soup It was time to bring this whiz-bang of a soup back on the menu, and I wanted to look for some good Asian-themed companions for it. That being said, we structured this week's menu with some old favorites as well as new additions. This soup deserves to be the centerpiece of the menu as it is mind-blowingly tasty. I have thought so every time that I have made it, and more importantly so have our customers. It is full of fresh veggies like bok choy, cabbage, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, plus chewy cubes of tofu. A touch of vinegar gives the soup a fantastic sour zing that makes all the other flavors pop! *GF, available without tofu by request


Entree #3 - Coconut Lime Tofu Soup This soup is a lovely Thai-inspired dish that combines one of the best culinary love-fests - coconut and lime. When coconut and lime get together, they make drop-dead beautiful children. This soup is no exception. Here the bride and bridegroom have a wedding party of a few simple ingredients like mushrooms, tofu, ginger, jalapeno, cilantro, and tamari that make this soup something to truly celebrate. I am so happy to finally have an occasion to bring this recipe back out of the "coming soon" file box. *GF


Side Dishes:

Brown Rice - $1/serving (1 cup)

Forbidden Black Rice - $2/serving (1 cup) Black rice was once a luxury reserved only for the Asian royalty that grew it. It was highly prized both for its health benefits (it contains large amounts of antioxidants) and because it is challenging and expensive to grow. Thanks to modern international trade and a couple of enterprising rice companies, black rice, once known as "the Emperor's rice," is now available to us common folk the world over. *GF, soy-free


Vietnamese Rainbow Spring Rolls w/ Ginger Peanut Sauce - $3/ea., $4 w/dipping sauce. I was looking for a new Asian side dish, so I consulted with my personal culinary expert, who has also spent time touring mainland China. He suggested spring rolls, which sounded delicious and also frighteningly labor-intensive. Still, the idea stuck with me and I began searching for "vegan gluten-free spring roll" recipes. I hit upon quite a few of these almost-raw Vietnamese spring roll recipes. Bingo! This version, from over at the Minimalist Baker, calls for beets, carrots, peppers, and fresh herbs (hence the rainbow allusion). Combine all that nutritional beauty with a ginger peanut sauce (one of my favorite sauces, ever!), and you have something simply irresistible. *GF, soy-free (sauce contains soy, spring rolls do not)


Coconut Milk Rice Pudding - $4/serving. I love it when I find a good recipe. It is like making a good friend, someone you can come back to again and again, finding comfort and pleasure in every meeting. This dessert is one of those. Its simple ingredients - rice, coconut milk, and agave nectar- are delicious on their own. Yet they also lend themselves to being dressed up by a variety of flavors. We have done plain vanilla; cinnamon, saffron, cardamom & raisin; and mango. For this week we are going back to the basics of deliciousness - vanilla and cinnamon - the perfect companions for relaxing at the end of a long day. *GF, soy-free


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