Howard County dining: Curry & Kabob

Curry & Kabob opened its doors last March in what might be among the worst cases of bad timing in Howard County history. It’s located in the Wilde Lake Village Center in an area that’s still open for business during a massive construction project that will permanently change the face and ambiance of Columbia’s first village center.

This 60-seat eatery combines Indian and Nepalese cuisines and occupies the space once known as the Tokyo Café.  And even though it’s a tad difficult to get to, what with the less-than-lavish parking area nearby, Curry & Kabob is well worth the effort.

There are vestiges of the former Japanese restaurant here: an etched glass panel near the front of the dining room and walls paneled in light oak. At dinnertime, tables are tastefully clad in white linens and boast merlot-colored napkins. And there are Asian-style melodies in the background.

Rather zen, to be sure. The relaxed mood continues as you sample complimentary crisp papadum (a bread that behaves like lightly flavored ultra-thin crackers) and a trio of relishes: soothing tamarind, perky onion chunks (dyed a startling red)  and a personable, deep green coriander.

The menu is copious, with sections devoted to each of the two featured cuisines, about two-thirds Indian, one-third Nepalese, including a four-dish section titled Nepali chow mein. The difference between the two approaches, according to owner Chandra Chantyal, is that Nepalese fare contains no dairy products, no thick sauces (or, generally, tomatoes) and no signature spice combos -- such as the Indian masala. Further, Nepalese dishes are generally built around more grains, beans and legumes and more vegetables.

Menu items are generally well described, but your server can also answer your questions about specific ingredients, should you be a tyro at either culinary style. At lunchtime, there’s a daily buffet for $9.99. But we visited for dinner, and Om Tulacsam, one of the owners, was our server and translator. And the other owner, Chantyal, cooked for us, then emerged from the kitchen to add his knowledge and pleasant smile to the proceedings.

Our visit began in India, with our appetizer course. An Indian fish pakora ($7.95) was delightful. Thin, tender, fish sticks that had been battered (with chick-pea flour) had been fried to perfection, then served on a bed of cool, crisp cucumbers and lettuce with tamarind and coriander dunks on the side, although the fish was a standout on its own. This dish set the standard for the evening, in that the kitchen offers a charming, often complex, balance of “exotic” (not palate-scorching) flavors. Sure, there can be a bit of zip, but it seems just right.

An Indian-style alu tikki chat ($5.95) boasted flavorful grilled patties that combined tender potatoes and green peas, that were topped by fresh veggies for pleasant textural and flavor contrasts, additionally enhanced by a splash of lemon.

Of course, we had to nosh on an Indian bread. We tried the onion kulcha ($3.50), a generous portion of  onion-stuffed naan that was warm, chewy and comforting.

A taste of two countries

Three of us chose our main dishes from the Indian side of the kitchen, while one opted to explore a meal from Nepal. Hot, fragrant basmati rice was served in a pair of bowls for all to use as embellishment for their protein.

There’s something to be said for a tendency to order the same dish at every Indian restaurant one visits. Being an “expert” on a particular specialty allows one to rate the place as a destination for return visits. Two of our guests did just that.

Chicken tikka masala ($14.95) was a generous portion of tender, moist boneless chicken breast pieces that had been baked in a tandoor oven, then lightly simmered with a creamy, tomato sauce. Sounds a bit Italian, doesn’t it? Tikka masala is anything but, yet charmingly, exotically subtle. And comforting. Worth paying a return visit says our chicken tikka taster.

Besides the chicken tikka, there are some 14 “tandoor specialties,” which is where you’ll find the kabobs mentioned in the restaurant’s name. One taster eschewed a kabob approach and opted for a simple tandoor chicken ($14.95). The ample portion featured tender, moist, bone-in chicken pieces that had been marinated in mildly spiced yogurt, then baked in the tandoor oven. The chicken was served up on a sizzling platter, sided by crisp-tender onions, bell peppers and zucchini slices. Think fajitas, Indian-style.

We can’t recall if any Indian eatery we’ve visited could boast 10 different lamb dishes on its menu, but Curry & Kabob can. Our lamb aficionado couldn’t resist the lamb korma ($15.95), yet another Indian specialty with a mild approach. And again, one of the better versions we’ve tried, with plenty of tender, toothsome lamb chunks in a creamy, nutty (ground cashews are featured), beautifully balanced and comforting sauce. A side of well-sautéed onions, bell peppers, zucchini and carrots added to the proceedings. Plus that basmati rice…mmm. And enough to enjoy again the next day.

Our most adventurous guest opted for a Nepalese entrée, the goat curry ($16.95). The small, bone-in goat pieces were tender and exotic in flavor but charmingly mild (tasted similar to beef). But the small bowl of mildly sauced meat was served on the side, while the main attraction was a huge mound of pureed legumes (lentils, chickpeas and more) surrounded by a variety of cooked vegetables that allowed for myriad texture and flavor combinations designed to highlight the goat. Worth ordering again.

There are eight desserts on the menu, including five Indian-style sweets and three from these shores (e.g. cheesecake, carrot cake). But you know our drill: We’re usually too full to try the post-prandial sweets.

As it comes up on its one-year anniversary, Curry & Kabob may be a more out-of-the-way eatery than its owners had anticipated. But we’re here to tell you, this good-natured, good-tasting place is well worth the trek.

And just FYI, we brought our own spirited beverages, with permission, but a liquor license is in the works, according to owner Chantyal.

Curry & Kabob
Wilde Lake Village Center
10451 Twin Rivers Road, Columbia

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