The everyday menu features four vegetarian dishes, my favorite of which was the Ceylon Veggie Plate ($9.55), which had a generous portion of deviled eggplant, mustard-pickled with a silky, smoky, pungent taste. It reminded me of smoked salmon, in the intensity and fullness of its flavor. The plate also came with lightly curried tomatoes, earthy Mysore lentils, green beans in a macadamia-nut dressing (that I didn't really like, it seemed more oily and earthy than something I wanted to eat, and I love green beans), and a delicious preparation of kale, cooked 'til it had just a hint of al dente bite and gussied up with a dusting of sweet meaty coconut.

The curried red chicken ($10.95) is marked by deep, dark flavors. The curry powder is roasted and smoky, and the chicken is soft as pudding and rich with a nearly chocolaty essence. However, it comes with turmeric-heavy curried potatoes that just sort of sit there and glow. The ocean perch in kaffir-lime sauce ($10.85) didn't thrill me either; the sauce was sweet with coconut milk and potently aromatic with the citrusy leaves, but the fish tasted overdone, as though it had been simmering in this heavy sauce all day. The best thing I had was a featured special, a chipotle-accented goat burrito that was sleek and again smoky, imbued with the best characteristics of a traditional mole with the added aromatics and lightness of the Sri Lankan sides.

Two of the desserts were wonderful, particularly the mango-bread pudding, which smells terrific, laced as it is with fresh-ground cinnamon, and dense and rich from the pita breads it is made with. The other gem is the "chocolate paté," a rich slab of intensely flavored Belgian chocolate given texture with slivers of garbanzo beans, of all things. When you factor in the lovely space (the walls are a romantic deep red and palm green, inspired by a ripening mango) and the wonderful tea menu--dozens of kinds, including the best Chai tea ($2.50) I've ever had, ground fresh so that none of the essential oils are lost to oxidation--it seems like a fine spot for culinary adventurers who won't mind the occasional "mmm, that's different."

Diana Watters

Except on Mondays. On Mondays Cafe Ceylon is really exceptional. That's when they put away the regular menu and offer an Indonesian Rijstaffel. A Dutch word meaning rice table, Rijstaffel is basically an Indonesian smorgasbord, a variety of dishes served family style and eaten with rice. First they present you with three varieties of rice that change weekly, but hopefully you'll get the aromatic nasi goreng, a heady mixture of nutty, pan-roasted mustard seeds, coriander, and kaffir-lime leaves. Then they load the table with half a dozen other selections that might include a plucky shredded-papaya salad, gado gado (a vegetable dish topped with a lush peanut sauce), water spinach with fried peanuts served under a bed of tomato-coconut-lime puree, and goat rendang (goat, by the way, tastes like a flavorful, less expensive cut of beef). There also might be a dry curry, chicken in a delicate, vibrantly fragrant lemongrass-and-galangal sauce, and krupeks or shrimp chips, a fried-tapioca chip slightly flavored with shrimp paste.

Sweet ginger tea, fried shallots, sambol, and chutney accompany the meal, which costs $14.95 per person or $12.95 without the meat dishes. It's one of those meals that's perfectly user-friendly, since everyone is digging around in dishes and everybody gets enough to eat (they refill emptied dishes), and because there's enough new and unpredictable things going on at the table to fill any gaps in conversation. It's particularly convenient that this happens on Monday night, when so many other restaurants are closed, and I suspect that over time Cafe Ceylon will get a big restaurant-crowd following for their Rijstaffel.

In any event, Sears will keep grinding spices for his small audience. "If I was in England or Australia," says Sears, "no one would think that what I'm doing is strange. People there know curry, they love curry, it doesn't matter what their ethnic background is--they're going to eat curry. Stepping into curry seems to be something that hasn't happened here yet. But hopefully, I'm seeing more and more women come in, women tend to be more adventurous eaters." If ladies' nights across the nation are any indication, women are the critical edge of the wedge--though it remains to be seen how dates will go when the dishes are more fragrant than the daters.

Cafe Ceylon will be closed December 21-December 28.

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