As I sit here eating my leftover biryani from an amazing dinner-date night, I can’t help but be reminded of how infrequently we get to enjoy beautifully-made food in a gorgeous setting.  This is made exceptionally rare for my husband and me by two factors: we’re parents and vegan.

It’s not that there aren’t options here in Naples – it’s just that to find a dining facility with all the elements of a romantic and satisfying experience with a selection of interesting and thoughtful plant-based food is like finding a unicorn in this area.

I found one though.

Dining at the new 21 Spices by Chef Asif in East Naples, just a few miles from 5th Street downtown, was as magical as saddling up a saffron-haired unicorn with a magic carpet and riding off into the sunset.  Plus, another rarity here – they’re open until 10 pm.

The restaurant was dim and twinkly.  Since the restaurant was not very full when we arrived, we had our choice of seating and we chose to sit along the wall.  It was quiet with no neighbors, but I can only imagine a place this great will be swarmed by midseason.  Now is the time to go!

Their fare is Indian cuisine and Chef Asif is extremely talented with his spices, all 21 of them.  Many options on the menu are vegetarian as it would be in India, but they do have some vegan options too! For starters, we ordered the samosas and a side of yellow lentils with some lentil crisps as recommended by our server who was informative and charming.  The naan, unfortunately, is NOT vegan – a bummer because the spicy naan sounded awesome.  The samosas were nicely plated and delicious and the yellow lentils were so flavorful and filling.

Because we so rarely get to have this experience we kind of forget how to order like normal people, so we clearly ordered too much food.

We were pretty much full by the time our main courses arrived, but I just had to keep going.  I really wanted to order the Aloo Gobi, but since my husband ordered that and I refuse to order the same dish, I decided to try the vegetable biryani.  I’m not a crazy person when it comes to my vegan food sharing the same space as nonvegan food, so when the biryani arrived tucked in bread like a parcel, the server carefully opened it to release the effervescent steam and I simply peeled it off because the bread crust contained milk ingredients.  My husband didn’t complain about my bread donation to him.  The basmati rice and vegetables were superb.  I also tried the aloo gobi and next time I eat there that will be my selection.

Also, let me tell you about the heat Chef Asif infuses into his dishes.  When the server asks you to choose from mild, spicy, very spicy and Indian spicy, choose wisely!  I ordered Indian spicy because I don’t mess around.  The spice level doesn’t disappoint, so if you’re not looking to burn your face off order on the lower rungs.

We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Asif.  Smiling from ear to ear, he was nice enough to stop by a few tables to introduce himself and welcome us to his restaurant which I thought was a nice gesture.  I told him that his signature Chef Asif craft cocktail was amazing and he informed me they plan on vamping up their craft cocktails soon, so that’s something to revisit.  They also have a full bar and a vast wine collection.

I’m always excited to find restaurants like this in Naples that can accommodate my diet and deliver on flavor.  I hope these unicorns continue to breed. While I wait for new mythical beasts to arrive, I will gladly plan a second visit to 21 Spices in the near future for another cardamom-scented experience.