Warm, sunlit at lunchtime, clean and airy, Kathmandu Curry and Bar is among the vanguard of Gandhi District restaurants serving up Nepali dishes including the very much in-vogue momo dumplings.
On the advice of a well-traveled and extremely seasoned diner of a friend, I gave a miss to the places the papers have been hyping and told myself “if I ever get out of here, I am going to Kathmandu, that’s what I’m really gonna do.” (Apologies to Bob Seger.)
Momos are a small part of a full range of authentic Nepali dishes on offer, a list that also includes their Himalayan take on both curries and chow mein — a localized version of that Chinese staple is wildly popular in Nepal. Many Nepalis eat lentils — daal — daily, and they are a highlight of the restaurant’s vegetarian offerings, with black lentils served up with jimmu (Himalayan onion), and their yellow cousins dished out with fresh herbs.
Chicken, goat, mutton and lamb are mainstays of the meat offerings and over the course of two meals I sampled three of those. For my lunchtime appetizer, I had chicken choila — shredded chicken marinated in garlic, onion, ginger, and Himalayan spices. The chicken is grilled and served cold and comes with beaten rice (it comes out resembling oats and with a chewy bread-like texture), a spicy tomato-based chutney sauce, and fresh lemon. As with Sichuan cuisine, it packs a sneak-spicy punch.
The chili goat momo plate was the star of my lunch and one of the best things I’ve tasted in months. Delicate and velvety pillows of ricepaper are stuffed with a mixture of minced goat and herbs and spices, steamed, and served in brilliant red chili sauce. It’s spicy enough to bring a tear to your eye but not so much that it overwhelms the complex flavors and texture of the melt-in-your-mouth dumplings, their herbed ground meat filling putting me in mind of Middle Easter kofta kebab in texture. So I guess that’s my shorthand for it — a ground-cabrito meat kofta kebab inside the best Chinese-style dumpling you’ve ever had. (According to some sources, momos originated in neighboring Tibet.)
Chicken and vegetarian options are also available. In Nepal, local buffalo is a very common filling.
There was a nice spice balance to the lamb vindaloo curry I took home for dinner, but next time I’d like to trek deeper up into higher plateaus of this top-of-the-world cooking, stick my ice-pick into offerings like the goat Bhutan (goat hearts and livers peppered and spiced and served with beaten rice); the Newari platter of bara (spiced lentil patties), macha (anchovies), your choice of meat, egg, soybeans and leafy greens; and the thali (a little of everything) Kathmandu-style.
The drinks menu features some Nepalese twists on familiar cocktails, such as the mango juice in their “Mustang mojitos” and the rose-infused Belvedere vodka in their Resunga martinis. The brave of heart, healthy of liver, and thick of wallet can sample some of the exotic flavors of the Indian subcontinent in the $25 “Kathmandu Miracle,” which finds a concoction of Diamante DeLeon tequila, Grand Marnier Centenario, mace syrup, and lime spiced with cardamom and served in a masala-rimmed glass.
The desserts are dairy-based, including a Nepali-style rice pudding; rasmalai, a cheesecake-like treat dusted with almonds and pistachios; mango- or mint-flavored kulfi (Indian ice cream); and gulab jamun, milk solids kneaded into orbs and drizzled with syrup and cardamom.
Every dish is served up with genuine friendliness and an eagerness to educate curious diners on Nepali cuisine.
“Food is a culture,” one reads on Kathmandu’s website. “Food not only tells about the culture but also the civilization. Foods from Himalayas bring some elements of uniqueness as a way to cope with cold and dry environmental conditions.”
Sandwiched as they are between the world’s two most populous nations, and drawing inspiration from both while slavishly imitating neither, Nepali cuisine is a most welcome addition to Houston’s galaxy of options, even if nobody has ever thought of this city as either cold or dry.
Kathmandu Curry & Bar
5711 Hillcroft Ave, Suite A-6