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The Gossiping Gourmet: Choices galore for fans of Indian food

Sanaya Indian Cuisine is a charming little Indian restaurant in a small shopping center in Irvine. Indian restaurants are few and far between in our area, so it is always nice to discover one that has great food and friendly service.

A serve-yourself buffet at lunchtime offers many delicious choices, including all-you-can-eat appetizers, vegetarian delicacies, chicken, goat and lamb dishes, rice and dessert for $10.99. The restaurant also has a lunchtime takeout menu that features one item plus rice for $6.99 or one item plus rice and naan for $7.99. For $8.99, you get two items, rice and naan; $9.99 will get you three item plus rice and naan.

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My dining companion and I were there for dinner and were pleasantly surprised by the attentive service and helpful suggestions. We began our meal with an appetizer of vegetarian samosas. They were very large and full of really well-seasoned vegetables. I think they may have been the best I have ever tasted.

We shared a mango corn soup, which was unexpectedly sweet. It was made of corn pureed into a rich broth as well as little pieces of corn, and it was a winner.

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I ordered the lamb tikka masala for my entrée but wasn't really impressed with it because the meat was tough. The sauce that it came in was very good, with a rich, spicy flavor made from tomatoes and onions. I was sorry because the lamb would have been the perfect foil. The aloo parata bread was great for sopping up the sauces.

Our favorite dish was the shrimp saag, which had lots of bite and tons of flavor. You can choose the degree of hotness when you order, and we found perfection in going with "medium." The shrimp were lounging in a wonderful, rich puree of spinach that was complex and delicious.

We were quite full and still had dessert to eat.

We finished our meal with a dish called ras malai — cottage cheese dumplings made with milk and white flour and seasoned with cardamom and pistachio nuts.

I want to return soon because there were so many tempting offerings. I am looking forward to trying the fish vindaloo, the tandoori chicken and the lamb seekh kabob. Of course goat biryani, veggie biryani and many others are also very tempting.

Vegetarians will have a feast. Sanaya Indian Cuisine offers 14 vegetarian dishes, from chana masala to jeera aloo.

There are five paneer entrees: chili, mutter, palak, paneer tikka masala and shahi. Nine chicken entrees include curry, chili and achari. In another meat category are rogan josh lamb and goat curry.

This is a pleasant place to eat. The front is all glass and looks out to the large dining patio with pretty umbrellas and foliage. The inside has soft fabric walls in pretty patterns, black tables and chairs, an attractive chandelier, a stone wall and a statue of Buddha.

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at themarkos755@gmail.com.

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SANAYA INDIAN CUISINE

Location: 6626 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays

Prices: Appetizers: $3.99 to $5.99

Entrees: $7.99 to $15.99

Desserts: $2.99

Wine:

By the glass: $7.

Bottles: $25 to $30

Information: (949) 387-3700; sanayaindiancuisine.com

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