Sacramento, CA 95818
Nepalese food is influenced by what its neighbors to the north, Tibet, and south, India, put on their tables. Around Kathmandu, there’s also the unique cuisine of the Newars. Samples of all three are available in plentiful supply at Kathmandu Kitchen on Broadway. Actually, I should say the newly remodeled Kathmandu Kitchen.
From Kathmandu’s orangish walls, on the right side of the restaurant, several sets of Buddha’s eyes impassively regard diners. The eyes, of course, are replete with a small third one between the brows and what appears to be a question-mark nose that’s actually the Nepali symbol for unity. Spanning most of the length of the left wall is a colorful mural of the home country, with verdant forest in the left-hand corner, a village toward its center and, above, the jagged pearly teeth of the Himalayas, bright against an indigo sky. A nifty upgrade of the interior. Outside, the sign above the door seems to be the beneficiary of some new paint and bolder colors.
But, as has been said before, ambience isn’t eaten. What is available, as noted above, is a menu with 20 vegetarian entrees as well as a variety of chicken, lamb and seafood offerings but—quite appropriately for Hindus—no beef. In Nepal, the Newari fill that void with a parade of water buffalo recipes.
There’s a Nepali version of deep-fried samosas offered as an appetizer—a broader mix of vegetables than the traditional Indian cumin- and coriander-spiced potatoes and peas. The Nepali samosa also is accompanied by achar, a tart method of pickling that can take numerous forms—potatoes, cucumber, daikon, combinations thereof—but always lemony, zippy and featuring a healthy dose of turmeric. Better as a starter is momo. The steamed dumplings are served throughout Nepal and are reminiscent of Chinese pot stickers. The chicken version is less bland than the vegetable-stuffed alternative, but both benefit from a dip in the sauce of tomato, ginger, lime juice and assorted spices that comes with them.
Dal, the lentil soup that is part of Nepal’s food triumvirate and India’s, to a somewhat lesser extent, is thick and aromatic—just like it’s supposed to be. Another Nepali classic, alu tama bodi, is an against-all-odds shockingly flavorful mix of potatoes and black-eyed peas. The inventor of spices did more for mankind than Prometheus. The saag is creamy but not overly salty, as some versions of the spinach dish tend to be.
Although this writer is not a fan of lunch buffets, Kathmandu has a varied one and always brings the menu in case a customer wants to go their own way. However, the buffet does lead to the discovery of chau chau—no relation to the dog—a noodle dish of Tibetan origin. Like momo, it comes in a vegetable and chicken version. For all the world it looks like bucatini pan-fried with a smattering of vegetables—broccoli among them—or with some chicken added. Sort of a yakisoba without the special elixir.
Equally addicting is the chicken makhani in a creamy, modestly spicy tomato sauce. From the seafood selection, the red-snapper curry is attention-getting but doesn’t engender sweat on the brow. The shrimp vindaloo also swims in a tomatoey sauce but packs a bigger punch than the curry.
On the negative side, perhaps it is totally authentic in the preparation of curries to leave bones in the chicken and lamb, but it requires extreme care on the part of the diner to ensure one isn’t overlooked. It’s easier with the lamb—bigger bones and the meat falls away easily—but when eating chicken curry, best to drop conversation with tablemates and focus on the task at hand.
Service, by day and by night, is pleasantly attentive but never intrusive. Despite SN&R’s visionary readers giving Kathmandu the nod as 2010’s best Indian restaurant, Bombay Bar & Grill still scores higher here, but Kathmandu moves into second.