Who knew what might happen in Himalayan Kitchen's recent move. Granted, it wasn't supposed to be very far -- just around the corner, in fact.
But still, the upheaval could've been one of tectonic proportions. Not least of which because of the care required moving an entire restaurant famous for its conical clay tandoor oven, let alone a whole business.
Plus, the threat of a lapse in my naan consumption felt like the anxiety that comes from knowing a good friend or family member is going away for a good while -- summer camp, European trip, college -- and you knew before they were even gone how much you would miss them. Or their naan.
Lucky for me and other Himalayan Kitchen fans, the recent move was smooth and the kitchen's transition has been relatively seamless. For one, the menu remains intact. And the dining room is updated, bigger and more befitting the vibrancy of the food. A meal in the new venue feels a bit like a reunion, only one where everyone hasn't changed for the worse.
Baygan barta ($8.95) gives baba-ghannouj lovers another reason to love creamy pureed eggplant. The subtly spiced biriyanis built on slender basmati rice grains still come with an option of vegetables or your choice of meat, although I especially love the chicken ($10.95).
As the restaurant's name suggests, we're dealing with the Northern reaches of the subcontinent, where India juts up against Asia, sculpting the Himalayas, home of Nepal. Lamb curries and vegetable dishes sit alongside filled momos (dumplings $7.95 to $8.95) and the occasional stir-fry complete with chopped vegetables and electric-red sauce created, in part, by the presence of ketchup.
The cuisine mirrors the cultural layers comprising the region's flavors, including Persian, Indian, Chinese to name a few. You see the cultural converging, too, in the good-humored faces of Himalayan Kitchen's staff when they take an order, bring a second round of naan or joke about how much more food you could possibly fit onto a table. They can be scattered, but they always seem to be in a pleasant mood.
As for the food, the flavor speaks for itself. Meat dishes, especially searing hot tandoori lamb kebabs ($12.95) or creamy chicken coconut korma ($10.95) are popular. Tender meat, no matter its origin, tends to be the norm, especially in mild, delicate chicken butter dish ($9.95).
Medium spice levels are fairly innocuous, while hot is tear-jerking, but exhilarating for those who can handle it. A cold Spaten Optimator ($5.50) calms things down. The yogurt-spiked mango lassi ($2.95) is a creamy, non-alcoholic extinguisher. Nepali cuisine doesn't trigger anything on the Scoville scale, lulling the palate with creamy greens in a vegetarian momo ($7.95) that resembles a pot sticker.
In fact, it's many of the vegetarian-friendly items that strike me as remarkable. I'm not ashamed to proclaim my love of flesh -- especially the ground lamb samosas ($3.50) -- but I fully appreciate good deeds done to healthy things. Daal maharani ($8.95) gently stews lentils, tomatoes and onions into a puree-like texture that's sweet and complex -- ideal with the complementary basmati rice.
Bhindi masala ($8.95) takes misunderstood okra and dresses it up with hints of cumin. Onion ring fans (especially Indian-food novices) should try the onion bhaji ($2.95). The crispy coating is made from chickpea -- garbanzo bean -- flour, spiked with cumin for a haunting flavor. Paneer is a mild cheese bearing an unfortunate resemblance to tofu. Some will enjoy the mild nature, others might be left wanting more flavor. Still, I prefer the creamy saag paneer (spinach and cheese $8.95) over the seafood dishes that are relatively meek in flavor especially when compared to the concentrated flavors of a vinegary lamb vindaloo ($11.95) or the hearty aloo gobi with its chunks of tender potato and cauliflower ($8.95).
Traditionally, you eat these dishes with one type of starch, slender grains of basmati ice or flatbread, but both are complementary. The "bread basket" ($4.95) offers a sampling of onion-stuffed naan and whole-wheat flatbread with potatoes and peas, while keema (stuffed with ground lamb $2.75) and cheese naan ($2.25) together could constitute a meal, soft and steaming hot from the tandoor oven.
One thing to remember: flatbreads from any culture are always better when they're piping hot. It's never quite the same experience when it's been sitting exposed to air over the course of a buffet lunch ($9.95) or an overnight stay in a styrofoam to-go box. Life's too short for room-temperature naan. Dine in to try it at its prime and really savor it. There's plenty of time. Himalayan Kitchen isn't going anywhere.
Northern Indian and Nepali dishes make the sizeable menu, which spans from lamb curry to vegetarian momos. The tandoori oven creates sizzling lamb and luscious naan. The service, if a bit scattered, is kind, friendly and welcoming.
Location » 360 S. State St., Salt Lake City; 801-328-2077
Online » http://himalayankitchen.com" Target="_BLANK">himalayankitchen.com
Hours » Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5:30 to 10:30 p.m; Sunday, 5:30 to 10:30 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 » No
Credit cards » All major