The newest addition to Columbia's already-hopping ethnic restaurant scene is Curry & Kabob, serving up appealing takes on the traditional food of Nepal. Think heavily spiced sauces, rice — and more than a little goat — alongside familiar Indian classics.
The Baltimore region is home to a handful of Nepalese restaurants that, like Curry & Kabob, partner the cuisine with food from India (whose northeast border abuts Nepal's southern border). Often, these places fly under the radar, operating as carry-out joints catering only to their immediate neighbors.
Both the food and the service at Curry & Kabob are good enough to deserve a wider audience.
On a recent Thursday night, the restaurant was about half full, with a combination of families and groups of friends. The restaurant is in the Wilde Lake Village shopping center space formerly occupied by Tokyo House; several obviously Japanese touches still exist, including an etched window and a sushi-friendly curved bar.
But a smattering of paintings of Nepal and tinkling Nepalese music helped erase the impression of the place as a Japanese restaurant.
As we settled in, a friendly, soft-spoken waiter brought us water (Curry & Kabob is BYOB and has no corkage fee), crispy flatbread and a trio of chutneys for snacking.
The dips — one spicy, fresh and green; another sweet and hot with onions; and the third a sweet tamarind liquid — were a welcome introduction to Curry & Kabob's skillful kitchen. Each dip was well-balanced and interesting; we especially liked mixing the onion and tamarind chutneys for an optimum balance of spice and sweet.
Fortunately, the restaurant gave us a generous helping of the flatbread, which gave us something to munch while the staff worked out a kitchen glitch that kept our meals from arriving promptly.
Our table's ticket got lost in the kitchen, our waiter explained, with an apology, as he delivered us complimentary steaming mugs of creamy spiced tea.
When our appetizer platter — the "non-veg" option ($8.95) — finally arrived, it was worth the wait. Chicken tikka was fork-tender, with a smoky flavor thanks to its time in the restaurant's tandoori oven. Two lamb preparations — one of ground lamb and one with pastry — were well seasoned and savory.
Nepalese and Indian food are both vegetarian-friendly; Curry & Kabob's paneer tikka ($14.95) was so satisfying, even the most dedicated carnivore wouldn't miss meat.
The paneer (springy cubes of cheese) was seasoned with spices, lemon juice and yogurt, then cooked in a clay oven. Served with a tangy masala sauce, lightly charred slices of onion and peppers, and fragrant basmati rice, the dish was smoky and full of flavor.
A side order of naan ($2.50) was light and airy, and made a great scoop for bits of paneer and masala.
Both the paneer and the appetizer platter were Indian-influenced, but the goat curry with bones ($16.95) was a nod to Nepal. The goat was tender and not at all gamy.
Served in a heavily spiced brown sauce (we ordered ours extra spicy and it was just hot enough, but not overwhelming), with rice on the side, the dish was interesting and appealing. The blend of spices and heat was approachable and vaguely familiar, but slightly different from anything we'd had before.
However, the goat dish might not be for everyone; it arrived, as advertised, with bones in the sauce, which might be unsettling for less adventurous diners.
The curry's complexity was a good advertisement for Nepalese cuisine as a whole. After tasting it, we regretted not ordering more from the Nepalese half of the menu — possibly trying the momo (steamed dumplings), a dhedo dish (a mixture of corn, millet and wheat flour served as an alternative to rice) or Nepali chowmein.
For dessert, we reverted to India, with an order of gulab jamun ($3.95), spongy balls of cheese, deep fried and served in a sweet, thin honey syrup. Each bite started sweet and ended tangy; a delicious end to the meal.
The evening ended with a few more apologies from our quiet, kind waiter. We appreciated the thought, but at that point, sated by the meal, the contrition was unnecessary.
On our way home, we planned our orders for our next visit. And decided that Nepalese food deserves to be Baltimore's next big food trend.
Curry & Kabob
Back story: Opened in March 2013 by business partners Chadra Chhanpyal and Oam Tulacham, both natives of Nepal, Curry & Kabob adds excellent Nepalese and Indian food, served in a friendly environment, to Columbia's already vibrant list of ethnic restaurants.
Parking: Lots surrounding shopping center
Signature dish: Curry & Kabob's goat curry with bones is an enjoyable introduction to Nepalese cuisine. Simmered in a savory brown sauce (you select the level of heat), the goat is tender and mild - much like lean beef.
Where: 10451 Twin Rivers Road, Columbia
Contact: 410-715-8777; http://www.currykabobrestaurant.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:00 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday (Lunch buffet served from opening to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.)
Credit Cards: All except American Express
Rating: 2.5 stars
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very Good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun