R: Imagine jet-setting to the Himalayan metropolis of Katmandu to dine in an enchanting little restaurant that prepares indulgent homemade Nepalese cuisine. Luckily, we didn't have to travel that far. Located on Venice Boulevard at Midvale just a few blocks west of Culver City, Katmandu Kitchen is in a neighborhood sprinkled with ethnic restaurants that represent nearly the entire globe.
Z: We crossed the threshold into the charming, homelike dining room and were instantly wrapped in captivating aromas gently drifting from the kitchen. A warm welcome from Sabina set a pleasant mood as she escorted us to our table and gave us a few minutes to peruse the menu.
R: Since Nepal is just north of India, we assumed we might encounter familiar Indian style dishes. Instead, we embarked on a refreshingly new culinary adventure. The many curry dishes on the menu differ from those found in typical Indian restaurants because these are meticulously prepared with a special composition of 12 different seasonings imported from Nepal.
Z: Sabina suggested we begin with Everest Momos and Bhat-Mas Sadheko, and assured us that these appetizers were totally vegan. Then for our entrees we chose Bamboo Curry, Aloo Gobi, and Mustard Miniac, along with Roti.
R: While awaiting our appetizers, we noted the soft lighting and the subtle blend of comforting sounds--the distant chopping, the sizzling of the sauté pan, and the soft exotic flute music accompanying the chanting of Tibetan monks. The ambience, while unpretentious, offered many unique touches imported from Katmandu, including the handmade curtains that drape the large window facing the street.
Z: The glass-covered white tablecloths featured attractive black and red Nepalese designs. Sabina told us that the colorful mandala mounted on the wall was hand painted by her mother who teaches mandala art in Katmandu.
R: Our Everest Momos were little steamed dumpling arranged on a white oval ramekin and were accompanied with a dipping sauce. One bite revealed a filling of minced carrots, cabbage, spinach, onions, ginger, and soybeans that was well seasoned with a healthy splash of spice. The Garlic Dipping Sauce consisted of a tomato base, lots of slivered garlic, lemon, and those fabulous imported spices that include timmur, a Himalayan spice that resembles black pepper but tastes exotically different.
Z: The mysterious Bhat-Mas Sadheko is a small white ramekin of steamed soybeans seasoned with slivered garlic and a tasty marinade that included their special spice mixture. The flavors were exceptional and seemed to amplify with each successive bite.
R: For me, the highlight is the Bamboo Curry, a traditional Nepalese dish made with black-eyed peas and fresh bamboo shoots with their distinctive lemony tang. The defining feature is the exceptional gravy with its unparalleled flavor spectrum: spicy, pungent, and savory.
Z: Our contingent of three (we brought our friend Chuck to share the experience) agreed the Bamboo Curry was the highlight of the meal, yet the other items we ordered were perfect complements. Because I'm fond of greens, I particularly appreciated the Mustard Miniac, a ramekin of chopped mustard greens that are stir-fried in slivered garlic and delicate spices.
R: While Alu Gobi, a curry dish of stir-fried potatoes, green peas, and cauliflower, is a typical Indian entree, Katmandu's knack for seasoning turns the dish into a uniquely different creation. Completing our meal was a bowl of white rice and the Roti, a rectangular flatbread similar to the Indian naan in flavor and preparation.
Z: Being a naturally curious pair, we asked Sabina about the chef and learned that he was her talented husband, Premu, who knows his seasonings like an artist knows his palette. The couple opened the restaurant eight months ago and is already gaining a steady clientele. Even the colorful walls hung with handmade Nepalese art offer the diner a visual feast, especially the wall with the huge painting of the dramatic snowcapped Himalayan peaks and the burgundy wall covered with a variety of masks.
R: Other striking works of art are the three hand-carved wooden "windows" that grace the walls. On the lunch buffet counter at the back of the restaurant sits a golden Buddha surrounded by candles. The restaurant offers outdoor dining at small wooden tables that flank both sides of the entrance. A string of Buddhist flags border the patio area.
Z: Katmandu Kitchen is not an all-vegetarian restaurant, but the ample selection of vegan offerings makes this an inviting place where one could return many times. Dishes like Raajma, Alu Bhyanta, and Chana Tarkari may be our choices next time. Our one disappointment was that neither of the two lentil soups nor their special noodle dish was vegan. Perhaps, someday they will be.
R: The restaurant is an excellent place to take non-veg friends who could enjoy the many meatier selections they offer. Prices are exceptionally reasonable with none of the vegetarian offerings over $5. One could dine well on a limited budget, enjoy the cozy atmosphere, and learn about Nepalese culture from Sabina who takes pride in sharing her country's customs.
Reviewed August 2004