I’m willing to wager that, five years ago, most of us didn’t know our momo from our thukpa. How could we, with no restaurants in the area specializing in Nepali cuisine?
Happily, our opportunities to learn about the cuisine have grown dramatically since then, as the number of Nepali restaurants has mushroomed from zero to six. In addition to staples like momo (filled dumplings) and thukpa (tandoori chicken noodle soup), each new restaurant has added at least one or two new terms to our growing vocabulary. Kabab & Curry contributed an Afghani-style curry called balti, for one, and Everest Nepali Kitchen gave us jhol momo in a rich, spice-fragrant broth.
Newcomer Himalayan Grill builds on the list with a few worthy contributions of its own. The names of these specialties may be unfamiliar, but they invariably call to mind a similar dish (Indian, more often than not) that we can relate it to.
Jhaneko dal, for one, which the menu describes as “Lentils soaked overnight. Cooked with Nepali spices. Tempered with onion, cumin seeds, garlic, ginger and asafetida.” Those “Nepali spices” are a recurring theme throughout the menu, and in my experience their contribution to a dish is subtle. If it wasn’t for the name, Jhaneko dal wouldn’t seem out of place on the menu at an Indian restaurant.
Jhaneko dal is one of several vegetarian dishes worthy of adding to our glossary of Nepali specialties. Bhuteko kauli, cauliflower florets glistening in a sheen of ginger-garlic paste and Nepali spices, deserves a spot. So does aloo ra seemi, a rustic medley of potatoes, green beans and tomatoes.
Himalayan Grill also builds on the local vocabulary of non-vegetarian Nepali fare. Khashi, a coppery stew of goat meat simmered on the bone in a sauce redolent of chili spices, deserves a prime spot on the list. Judging by the nearly identical menu descriptions, Kukhura (which I haven’t tried yet) appears to be the same dish prepared with chicken.
Chicken sekuwa, which serves up marinated and tandoori-grilled boneless chicken on a cast iron sizzle platter, is another prime candidate for the list. And chicken choela is a must, the juicy, bite-size morsels of meat flanked by mounds of puffed rice, peanuts and a surprisingly refreshing potato-pea salad. Sekuwa and choela are also available in goat versions.
If you’ve eaten at any of the other Nepali restaurants in the area, you no doubt have already added a couple of momo variations to your glossary. Himalayan Grill invites you to add their own house-made version — filled with your choice of chicken, paneer or mixed vegetables, and served with a spicy achaar dipping sauce — to the list. You’d be wise to take them up on the offer.
Like other Nepali restaurants in the area, Himalayan Grill supplements its specialty cuisine with a selection of comfortingly familiar Indian dishes. The offering includes a solid sampling of vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare, meandering all over the subcontinent from chana masala to lamb vindaloo. There’s even a surprisingly varied list of seafood dishes for a restaurant specializing in the cuisine of a landlocked country — fish pakora, shrimp Madras, and tandoori lobster, to name a few.
Bhojan, Nepal’s answer to Indian thali samplers, are available in vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions. Both offer a taste of several Nepali and Indian dishes and include basmati rice, naan and dessert. Anyone interested in a broader sampling will find it in a lunch buffet that’s offered every day.
A friendly and accommodating wait staff are happy to answer any questions, though I wouldn’t count on them consistently delivering on the “Bar” part of the restaurant’s name with a proper martini. Maybe that will come with time, as some of the wait staff are more experienced than others.
The kitchen is clearly up to speed, though, even if the restaurant as a whole is still a work in progress. Himalayan Grill & Bar is barely three months old, after all. Last time I was there, a large replica of Mount Everest in the storefront window wasn’t quite finished — though I hasten to add the rest of the dining room is attractively decorated with colorful glass pendant lights and neatly framed scenes of Nepal on chocolate brown walls.
All in all, I’d say chances are good that Himalayan Grill will continue to contribute to the local vernacular of Nepali cuisine long after that Mount Everest sculpture is complete.
Himalayan Grill & Bar
1207-J Kildaire Farm Road, Cary
Cuisine: Nepali, Indian
Rating: 3 stars
Atmosphere: casual, colorful, inviting
Noise level: low to moderate
Service: eager-to-please, variably experienced
Recommended: momo, chicken sekuwa, goat khashi, chicken choela, jhaneko dal, bhuteko kauli
Open: Lunch and dinner daily.
Other: full bar; accommodates children; excellent vegetarian selection; parking in lot.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: 5 stars: Extraordinary. 4 stars: Excellent. 3 stars: Above average. 2 stars: Average. 1 star: Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $20. $$$ Entrees $21 to $30. $$$$ Entrees more than $30.