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You'd never guess it from looking at the restaurant's mundane strip mall exterior, but once you get inside, Shamiana offers a wonderfully elegant dining experience. The dining room is contemporary, sleek and tastefully decorated, and the food shines with exotic flavors that set it apart from most of the dozens of other Indian restaurants in the greater Seattle area.

Located in the Puget Consumers Coop Kirkland shopping plaza, Shamiana serves Indian food with flair. Known for its excellent lunch buffet, Shamiana also does a booming dinner business. It's pricier than most Indian restaurants, but the quality of the food and dining experience are well worth it. Plus, vegetarians get a break on the lunch buffet, paying $7.95 instead of the usual $995. Vegans will be grateful for the "non-dairy" notifications on menu and buffet items.

The two-level dining room is pretty, featuring sleek black tables and chairs, a red ceiling and walls stylishly covered with artifacts from India and Pakistan. A collection of tiny Pakistani slippers graces one wall; on another are unique Indian cooking utensils.

Some would call Shamiana's offerings "designer" Indian food. It is much more colorful than that offered by most Indian restaurants, and the spicing is much more delicate. During a recent weekday lunch buffet, I enjoyed an impressive, full-flavored lentil dal, the soup that is a mainstay of Indian cooking. The two entrees were very good: potatoes in a rich tomato sauce, and mixed vegetables with a light Indian five-spice sauce. Rice pilao, flavored with turmeric, cinnamon and cumin, and naan bread completed the meal (vegans can ask for chapati bread instead of naan).

If the buffet's not your thing, you can order one of four vegetarian specialties from the menu, for $9 or $10. There's butter masala paneer, a dish of homemade Indian cheese cubes in a rich masala cream sauce; saag paneer (spinach pureed with coconut milk with Indian cheese), and eggplant hashmet (slices of grilled eggplant topped with raita, tomatoes, red onions, coriander and pistachios. Dinner brings eight vegetarian options including eggplant bartha, spicy green beans, and peas in a sweet cumin cream sauce with tomatoes.

Vegetable samosas, the potato and pea pastries, make a great appetizer, or start with spicy baked eggplant. The chutney sampler is a great addition to any meal, combining three chutneys: coriander-green chili-coconut, sweet mango, and the chutney of the day.

Shamiana, at 10724 NE 68th Street, Kirkland, is open 11 to 2:30 weekdays and 5 to 9:30 or 10 every night. Phone: (425) 827-4902.