I’ve been seeing Nepali waiters in local Indian and Southeast Asian restaurants for several years, so it was only a matter of time before there was a Nepali restaurant. (A second will open soon in Arlington.) The food at Himalayan Bistro is only part Nepali; there is also a full Indian menu, with some very good versions of Indian-restaurant food. That said, Chef Dumbar Thapa is clearly a master of the spice palate and tandoor oven.
EXOTIC DESTINATION: Himalayan Bistro brings Nepali food to the Boston area.
The space is a converted ice-cream parlor, but it looks like it was designed to be a trendy bistro, with high ceilings, well-spaced tables on a polished-wood floor, splendid Buddhist art on the walls, and beams painted pale orange against a yellow ceiling and walls. Sitar music and exotic aromas make it clear that we aren’t in Kansas or West Roxbury anymore. But good food makes this restaurant welcome anywhere.
One of the only Nepali appetizers is Himalayan chicken fingers ($5.95), which is rather like the Chinese kind, except that the batter is green with chopped spinach. There are also a “momo platters” ($8.98–$10.95): eight Peking ravioli stuffed with vegetable, chicken, or lamb. They’re intended to be a Nepali dinner, but they make for an excellent appetizer, judging by our chicken version ($9.95), with its meaty-gingery filling and thin pasta skins.
The “Himalayan special platter” ($8.95) is a good assortment of Indian-restaurant standards: a meat samosa ($3.95/two, à la carte) so lean the filling is a little dry, but still nicely spiced; a vegetable samosa ($2.95) that is mostly potato and mild spice; two crunchy fried pakoras ($2.95) of mixed vegetables; a mildly spiced potato-pea patty ($2.95); a chicken pakora not so different from the chicken fingers; a cheese pakora ($4.95); a shrimp pakora ($7.25); some pieces of tender chicken kebab ($6.45); and a small piece of tandoori chicken. Like some of the other appetizers, this dish was decorated with whimsical constructions of uncooked spaghetti connected by melon balls. The mild spicing on this platter makes it a good option for children, but it can also be doctored with an unusual tray of chutneys for the spice lovers. On that note, what looks like regular mint chutney has a lot of dry fenugreek leaf in the flavor. What looks like usual incendiary onion-chili relish is actually a sweeter version made from red bell pepper. And the tamarind dip is richer and stronger than most. The only relatively weak appetizer I tried was my usual favorite from Western Indian, “bhel puri” ($3.95), which turned out to be like sweet-sour-spicy Crackerjacks, and a little too tame.
Entrées are served with beautiful ultra-long-grain white rice, like Persian rice but spiced with bits of bay, cumin, and cardamom. We skipped most of the Indian and South Indian items in favor of the Nepali dishes. “Achari” lamb ($13.95) is slightly pickled, like a cousin of vindaloo, but much more mildly spiced and served in a rich tomato sauce. “Quanti” ($8.95) is a thick seven-bean stew, with most of the beans holding shape, and a nicely balanced hit of spice harmonizing around the dry, maple-y flavor of fenugreek seeds. “Aloo bodi” ($10.95) used similar spices for potatoes and black-eyed peas, but was dominated by slices of salty canned bamboo shoots that I didn’t like. Stews and curries were served in handsome copper fondue pots to keep them warm on the table.
The chef at Himalayan Bistro is a true master of the tandoor. The tandoori mixed grill ($16.95) is one of the most impressive in Boston. Even served on a sizzling platter, the tandoori salmon ($13.95) was not overcooked. The chicken tandoori ($10.95/half; $20.95/full) was one of the most tender and delicious I’ve ever had. And the “seekh kebab” ($11.95) sausage was very, very good, as were the lamb kebab ($12.95), marinated chicken tikka ($11.95), and shrimp ($13.95). Gilding these lilies was a tomato-cream sauce: both rich and a little sharp.
With tandoori dishes, bread works better than rice, and the “plain” bread basket was a nice combination of puffed-up poori, buttery plain naan, and garlic naan with some herbs.
To get a better sense of their Indian food, I went back for the buffet lunch ($7.95). The only Nepali item was Himalayan salad: a sort of crunchier salad Russe, minus the beets. The other ringer was a copper warming platter of “pasta”: elbow macaroni with tomato sauce. I refuse to believe this is Indian or Nepali food, but it’s another option for families. (My children were exposed to a lot of ethnic restaurants but, because of the spices, they retained a considerable resistance to Thai and Indian food until their late teens.)