My desk is covered with papers in various states of being filed, a date book, several cookbooks, two baby books, an address book, a rolodex and a wide variety of the flotsam and jetsam of daily living. But the thing that catches my attention the most these days is a flier printed on neon pink paper. It's a take-out menu from Narayan's Nepal Restaurant, and when I'm inclined to let my thoughts drift away from the work at hand, I read over the menu and try to decide if there is any dish on there I wouldn't like to sample.
So far, no luck. Everything sounds too good.
One thing I appreciate about Narayan's, a spanking brand new restaurant in downtown Colorado Springs, is the grand selection of vegetarian entrees. It's the kind of place you can take carnivores and vegetarians, and not only will they both walk away satisfied, they'll both be thinking to themselves, "Hmm, I obviously had the better dish." Out of the group of six of us who dined at Narayan's one cold Saturday evening, each one of us proclaimed our dish the best of the lot.
Alu Dum ($7.95) is a fried potato curry, and it is as far from boring as a potato can get. It's a stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal, and the sauce is a wonderful kaleidoscope of flavors, not too hot for the self-proclaimed spice-wimps in our group. Similarly, the Shrimp Curry ($13.95) has the same blend of exotic spices, but not too much heat. The depth of flavor is wonderful -- comforting and challenging at once.
Speaking of shrimp, you must try the Shrimp Kawab ($13.95). You simply must. The deceptively simple description calls it "marinated jumbo shrimp baked on the tandoori oven." The shrimp themselves are enormous, perfectly cooked, juicy and plentiful. The seasoning again demonstrates the chef's fine and discerning hand with the palate of spices.
Among the lamb dishes, the Vindaloo ($11.95) is a triumph. Lamb and potatoes are cooked together in what is billed as a very hot and spicy sauce, but I found it to be delightfully tangy and robust, with enough seasoning to make you notice, but not enough to make you break a sweat. The Lamb Masala ($12.95) is an equally delectable treatment of lamb, wherein the lamb is first marinated, then roasted in a clay oven, then cooked with curry sauce. You'd think all these dishes called "curry" would be boring, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Each curry dish had i's own balance and blend of seasonings, making each one unique and delicious in its own right.
I had to order the Chicken Thukpa ($7.95) in part just because I like the sound of the name. It's Tibetan noodle soup, it's wonderful and the serving is gargantuan. The thin, aromatic broth was full of tender chunks of chicken as well as bits of fresh vegetables, swimming around an enormous pile of chewy noodles. This is definitely, as the menu states, perfect for Rocky Mountain winters.
Let your fancy wander about the menu. The vegetable pakoda (called pakora at Indian restaurants) is quite yummy, with a tender breading rather than a crispy coating. Deep fried but not greasy, the spiced batter compliments all the vegetables it coddles. The extensive menu of breads, eleven choices, beg to be explored, and aside from the regular naan bread I've only made it through two. Alu Paratha ($2.75) is a whole wheat flat bread stuffed with spiced potatoes and baked in a Tandoori oven. My three-year-old ate about half the order, although she referred to as a quesadilla. The potatoes are chopped fine and aromatically spiced, and the whole plate is served with two chutneys, the best of which is a cilantro/mint chutney that I would eat by the spoonful. It takes at least a minute for the full flavor of this chutney to develop inside your mouth, and it develops quite a little kick toward the end. I'm also partial to Onion Kulcha, which is naan stuffed with cooked onions and fresh cilantro. I can't wait to try the Roti, a flat bread stuffed with lamb, chicken or vegetables.
If you'd like to sample a variety of dishes before leaping wholeheartedly into the menu, consider stopping by Narayan's for the lunch buffet. The offerings change regularly, but for $5.95 (all you can eat) you can usually count on a soup (an incredible lentil touched with fresh cilantro today), naan, the best Tandoori chicken you've ever tasted and more. There's fresh fruit and Nepalese Khir for dessert, which is Basmati rice cooked in milk with raisins and nuts. This is less sweet than versions I've tasted at Indian restaurants, but still quite tasty.
Don't forget to indulge in a lassi. This is a drink made from homemade yogurt and a touch of rosewater, and it is tangy, thirst-quenching and fire fighting, should you get something spicy. The mango and cinnamon flavors were thick and delicious, and I can't wait to try the banana flavor.
Narayan's hasn't been open very long, so don't expect absolutely flawless service when you visit. The nice part is, the staff is obviously trying very hard, and they seem to be a trifle overwhelmed by their immediate success. Water glasses are kept filled, and the waitstaff is friendly and helpful, checking back and answering questions. If you have a large party, you will want to call ahead for reservations. Me, I'm trying to decide whether I'll be trying the Vegetable Momo or the Lamb Bhuteko next.