From the mountains of Nepal

Back me up, fellow vegans. All five of you out there know the vegan dining options in Sacramento are slim. I can count on one hand the local eateries that use the V-word on their menus, and still have two fingers left to flash a peace sign to the flustered wait staff at most restaurants who can’t tell me if there’s chicken stock in the soup du jour.

When I heard Kathmandu Kitchen—downtown Davis’ excellent (and vegan-friendly) Nepalese restaurant—had opened a second venue in Sacramento, my stomach rejoiced! Many are the nights I have traveled across the causeway especially to consume Kathmandu Kitchen’s vegan thali dinner—a delightful assortment of vegetable-filled dumplings, chana masala, rice, naan, chutneys and pickles on a shiny steel platter. The thought that this same meal would now be available mere blocks from my house was heavenly.

I eagerly dragged a friend to the restaurant’s new digs on Broadway, in the former location of Maharani Restaurant, salivating like Pavlov’s dog at the thought of the savory thali that would soon be mine. Once inside, we were momentarily stunned, both by the intoxicating smell of cumin and by the equally overpowering color scheme. The top half of the restaurant is painted a shocking melon orange, while the bottom half is a deep teal. This unorthodox combination has the effect of a bizarre tribute to the orange-and-aqua days of Howard Johnson. Wall treatments aside, the establishment offered a functional décor similar to many of Broadway’s Asian eateries—rows of white tables adorned with plastic flowers and white paper placemats.

A waiter in a crisp white shirt immediately seated us and proffered menus. The menu displayed a selection of tandoori, vindaloo, naan and other staples of Indian and Nepalese cuisine nearly identical to those at the Davis location. Chicken, seafood, lamb and vegetable dishes were represented in abundance. However, the vegan thali dinner was conspicuously absent.

My dreams of vegan dumplings were dashed, but I was soon cheered by the arrival of a basket of pappadam served with a fresh tomato-and-cilantro puree the waiter smilingly identified as “Nepali salsa.”

The conciliatory pappadam was only the first of the waiter’s near-psychic ministrations. When my friend’s nose began to run from the spice of the salsa, the waiter appeared wordlessly with extra paper napkins. My water glass was quickly topped off every time it reached half-empty. Upon learning I was vegan, a term he obviously was comfortable with, the waiter was happy to point out all the vegan and vegetarian options on the menu.

After devouring the entire basket of pappadam and two servings of Nepali salsa, we tucked into a mixed appetizer plate. The plate held samosas bursting with peas and potatoes, vegetable pakora and alu tiki (a breaded mashed-potato patty spiced with curry and cumin) piled on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce with the requisite tamarind and mint sauces. The appetizers—being warm, salty, potato-based and fried—delivered the satisfaction of the best American comfort food with enough spice and tang to please a more discriminating palate. If only Denny’s served samosas at 3 a.m.!

Our entrees arrived when we were halfway through our appetizers, causing an awkward shuffle to fit everything onto the table at once. The food was presented in the usual Indian-restaurant fashion, steaming helpings heaped into oval bowls with a minimum of garnish. The chana masala offered tender garbanzo beans and fresh tomatoes shimmering in a golden sauce. Discs of green onions punctuated the dish, adding the occasional pungent burst of flavor to the masala’s mild tang and creating a perfect harmony of tastes.

My friend’s prawn vindaloo was a sumptuous blend of potato chunks and plump prawns in a South Indian cherry sauce. The vindaloo had an appealing sweetness, which was prevented from being overbearing by the presence of a slight heat. Both dishes came with ample sauce and heaping bowls of white basmati rice to soak it up.

The sole disappointment in the otherwise delicious meal was the garlic basil naan. Though the portion was generous and vastly overflowed the bread basket, the naan was dry and bland in spite of its flavorful toppings. Though tasty when coated in the sauces from the entrees, it did not stand on its own.

We rounded off the evening with hot chai, which filled the atmosphere at our table with the heady smells of cardamom and cinnamon. Unfortunately, the taste proved to be a weaker version of the enticing smell. The chai was pleasing, but lacked the kick adventurous sippers would hope for.

With its no-frills ambience, prompt service and largely satisfying cuisine, Kathmandu Kitchen already seems like a fixture on Broadway’s restaurant row. Now if its owners would just bring the vegan thali dinner across the causeway!