The accidental curry tourist
Davis, CA 95616
Good for: Indian and Nepali cuisine
Notable dishes: baingan bharta and palak paneer
I had no intention of reviewing Kathmandu Kitchen this week, but sometimes plans suddenly change. Some friends and I happened to just meander through the front door, drawn by the curry-scented air and suddenly we found ourselves seated in a dimly lit room ordering a round of overly sweet lemongrass mojitos.
We started with a plate of appetizers. The salty pakoras (fried vegetable fritters) were both crispy and tender, taking well to the spicy mint sauce provided. A chewy momo—a sort of Indian-style, extra-chewy wonton—tasted a bit bland but paired nicely with sweet tamarind sauce. The crispy potato samosa boasted of spice and billowed steam at the first bite before demanding to be dunked in a chill raita. A few sad pickles devoid of flavor were also served and quickly forgotten.
Palak paneer is an Indian restaurant classic that most people are familiar with: homemade farmer’s cheese cooked with spinach and spices. This one was as flavorful and creamy as they come, and rich with garlic and ginger. While often paneer is usually tough and chewy, this was soft and velvety and the table fought to fish out every bit.
A plate of tandoori chicken announced its arrival with a hissing sear as it continued to cook on a blazing hot metal plate. We quickly lashed the bright red bird with generous squeezes of lemon juice and devoured it efficiently, basking in the juicy meat and subtle spice.
Kormas, for those looking to learn, are dishes where meat and vegetables are braised in a sauce made of yogurt, cream or coconut milk blended with spices and nut paste. Here, the prawn korma sits in a canary-colored coconut-and-cashew sauce blended with a hefty hand of curry powder. In relation to the restaurant’s other, spicier dishes, it first comes off as unseasoned and flat. It must be eaten alone to better appreciate its subdued flavors and the perfectly cooked shrimp.
The dal seemed to be all out of whack as what arrived was simply a lentil soup too watery and thin to be considered a proper dal. And, while the flavor was fine and rich, dal should be eaten with naan and not slurped with a spoon.
Kathmandu’s laal maas is a rather unique curry that would almost seem like a riff on Italian food if not for the spices. Chunks of lamb are braised in a shocking red chili sauce. Shouts of numerous spices such as black cardamom, coriander and cumin all beckoned for attention, yet it was the sweet and spicy kashmiri chili’s bold flavor that rose above the din.
A golden saffron rice bejeweled with golden raisins proved to be a sweet treat that cut through the hotter dishes, and the house naan was chewy and addictive; both soaked up the numerous sauces with an appreciated greed and should be ordered.
The baingan bharta consisted of roasted eggplant mashed into a delightfully chunky paste, heavily spiced, and served with juicy green peas. It was texturally alluring and the flavor both savory and sweet.
Gulab jamun is a classic Indian dessert—pastry made of deep-fried milk solids soaked in rose water syrup. Here the dish is floral, well made and sweet enough to kill a diabetic.
Kathmandu Kitchen is an excellent stop to make if you happen to be in Davis. The food is solid and you’ll find yourself smiling by the end of the meal.