I rely on word-of-mouth as much as any other diner, which is a good thing considering that my friends and acquaintances aren't what you would call shy.
Reviews are based on personal experience, and when such experiences are colored by companions who have different tastes, it makes for a dramatic experience. It was like listening to a Greek chorus as I heard differing opinions about The Kathmandu after it opened earlier this year.
One report detailed friendly service and a "delightful" lunch buffet (that's not an adjective I normally associate with buffets). Another friend recounted the scattered service, cold atmosphere and disappointing food.
On several visits, I found a maddening inconsistency in the food and service, as the restaurant's staff appears green, but eager. The huge menu has a few disappointing standards but a handful of less-obvious treasures. These traits, along with the honest feedback of its fans, might help raise The Kathmandu from inconsistent but enjoyable to solid.
The large strip-mall dining room has the vibe of a hole-in-the-wall space, thanks to an uninspired beige, white and earth-toned color scheme, brightened by colorful Nepali textiles. When the service is lacking, the room can feel cold. When service is timely and attentive, the place can feel as warm and welcoming as a dish of Jwanu curry ($10.95 to $15.95).
To say a curry is aromatic is a redundancy, but this beautiful variation features the under-appreciated flavor of caraway seed. Listed under the Nepali specialties among methi (fenugreek)-inflected curry ($10.95 to $15.95) and delicious ground lamb-filled momo dumplings ($12.95), it exudes a unique aroma that's floral, earthy and heady. It punctuates meat --- either bland chicken or small bone-in pieces of tender goat --- nicely.
Likewise, chili chicken ($13.95) stands out for its bold flavor. Each dish is made to order based on a diner's heat preference, and this one can be made tongue-numbing hot, but it also tastes just fine at a universal "medium." This is what sweet and sour chicken should be: fried chicken pieces coated in a tangy, sweet and salty sauce, bearing homage to Nepal's geographic and sociological placement between China and India.
Vegetarian legume dishes are plentiful in Nepali and Indian cooking, but our best experiences at Kathmandu came from meat dishes. Sizzling platters of tandoor seared chicken ($9.95 to $12.95) and sami pakora (ground lamb nuggets, $6.95) were satisfying with a cold Taj Mahal beer from a small beer and wine list, or a viscous mango juice ($3.95) freckled with ground cardamom.
Ordering in multi-course fashion can sometimes lead to mistiming by either the kitchen or the server. When a starter was forgotten, and then main dishes were delivered first, servers were apologetic, but powerless to change the pace of the meal.
On some visits, we were showered with attention, and while waiting at a display table near the host station, we heard about the silks, the instruments and textiles festooned about.
On another visit, we were neglected, and felt grateful for the flat-screen television hovering above the tables. After all, I might never climb Mount Everest, but I could watch an expedition suffer while waiting for a fresh batch of naan ($1.95), or better, the Kathmandu special naan ($4.95) studded with minced chicken, mild paneer (cheese) and cashew nuts.
The Kathmandu is full of surprises. Approach it with the mind-set that this is a new restaurant still finding its legs. But if you do go, and things aren't ideal, be sure to calmly tell them what you think.
Being a chorus to a restaurant reviewer is one thing. Being a chorus to a promising new restaurant is better.
Food » HH
Mood » Hhj
Service » HH
Noise » b
Expansive, yet homey, this Nepali venue offers classic Indian flavors as well as tempting Chinese hybrids. Cardamom-scented mango juice or a cold Taj Mahal are ideal to pair with chili chicken or an aromatic caraway curry.
Location » 3142 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City; 801-466-3504
Online » http://www.thekathmandu.net
Hours » Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $$
Liquor » Beer and wine
Corkage » $5
Reservations » Accepted
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » No
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major