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Unlike many restaurants that frown upon special requests, Avatar's invites customers to be specific and exacting in their needs. "Please challenge me," Kumar says, "and we will create anything you need—gluten-free, vegan, low carb, low sodium, whatever you want." He even blends food for a regular customer who is on a liquid diet.
The Petaluma menu is rife with choices—burritos, enchiladas and rice plates come with choice of chicken, ground turkey, tofu, lamb, rock shrimp, crab, salmon, sea bass or ahi. Drinks include sweet and salty lassis, chai, homemade lemonade and ginger beer.
When it comes to dessert, however, there is only one option, Avatar's Dream, which is described with a directive: "Close your eyes and picture the sweetest concoction of dessert flavors from around the world coming full circle on one plate of bliss." While it's unlikely that you just pictured a wedge of almond gelato on a chocolate graham cracker crust topped with pistachio marzipan and drizzled with mango and rose petal syrup, it's also unlikely that this sublime dessert would disappoint anyone.
Beneath sparkling eyes, Kumar weaves a rags-to-riches tale full of karmic give and take. There are those who helped him—his parents, who, though poor and raising nine children, were committed to education, which led him to UC Berkeley in 1987; the 70 employees of Autodesk who, in 1989, took a chance on the new restaurant next door and became some of its most loyal customers.
And then there are those he loves to help. Kumar, still the sole server in Sausalito, invites his customers to leave their résumés with him, which he then periodically gives to dining CEOs looking to hire new employees. He hosts an annual pancake breakfast fundraiser for the Sausalito public schools that last year brought in $16,000.
And when he announced five years ago that he was closing his restaurant for a couple of weeks while he traveled to his nephew's wedding, his customers were despondent. "Come to India with me!" Kumar told them, and though he was mostly joking, 72 of them took him up on it.
Not many people can honestly say, "I love everybody," but after spending an hour with Kumar, the sentiment is entirely believable.
"The second time I see you, I remember you," Kumar smiles, "and by the third time, we are friends."