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Married, With Restaurant

The Shresthas--who've been married sixteen years and have three daughters--understand all too well how important that support can be. Their first solo venture as a couple, Narayan's Nepal, failed to overcome the difficulties posed by its Hampden Avenue location, and it closed in June 1995. That restaurant was an offshoot of the original Narayan's in Boulder, which is owned by Shanti's brother. Shanti and Sam had worked at the Boulder eatery for nine years--she was the head cook and he kept the books--and they thought the unique cuisine and well-known name would guarantee success in the Denver area. They didn't.

"We tried everything," Sam recalls. "But it was just a bad location. And then my mother died in Nepal and we had to go back there, so we sold the restaurant and took a year off to save some money to try again."

They had to move a few mountains to do so--their latest struggle is to obtain a liquor license--but their Mt. Everest could prove a high point in the downtown dining scene. The colorfully decorated restaurant already draws a large crowd to the lunch buffet ($5.95); so far, dinner hasn't been as successful. The Shresthas are pinning their hopes on beer and wine bringing more people in, particularly those looking for vegetarian dishes that are hard to come by in the city.

The main difference between the cuisine of Nepal and that of India is that Nepalese cooks use noodles and they don't use yogurt or dairy products in their curries. Shanti is the head chef at Mt. Everest, and she stocks the steam table with about twenty simple but excellent examples of straightfoward Nepalese fare. The day we dropped in, the buffet included a mild, pureed-garbanzo soup, a spicy lentil soup, vegetable chow chow (Tibetan fried noodles), spinach curry, chicken curry, samosas, a cauliflower-heavy vegetable stir-fry, a side of seasoned bamboo shoots and a typical salad-bar spread of lettuces and fresh vegetables, along with two different types of rice, one with carrots and fresh cilantro and one plain. An extra-large bin contained more rice, this time in the form of Shanti's wickedly sweet rice pudding, the best excuse for loading up on starch I've found. Raisins, almonds and plenty of sugar made this an addictive dessert as well as the ideal coolant after a meal that emphasized varying degrees of hot spices.

Those spices differed not just in heat but in taste; each curry had a distinct, complex flavor. We found the buffet offerings so impressive that we returned to attempt Mt. Everest's menu; once again, we were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the staff. Both Shresthas made a point of visiting every table; Sam, who oversaw the placement of each entree, also inquired several times, quite sincerely, as to how our meal was going. And it was going wonderfully: What else could we expect from an eatery with a picture of the Dalai Lama above the entrance?

An order of chicken curry ($7.95) brought chunks of tender chicken, both white and dark meat, soaking in a warm, aromatic sauce. The dish came with steamed long-grain rice, a pungent lentil soup (daal), a small helping of lightly sauced cauliflower with potatoes and cabbage (takari), and a chutney of tomatoes, garlic and cilantro (achar). From the seven-item vegetarian menu, we tried the vegetable sampler ($7.95): more chutney, more rice, daal, takari, steamed vegetable-filled dumplings and two samosas, deep-fried pastries filled with a spicy mixture of vegetables. The lamb curry ($11.95) only sounded expensive; the sizable serving of savory lamb chunks awash with a concentrated garlic- and ginger-enhanced sauce was worth every penny and was accompanied by rice, daal, takari and achar. The lamb-stuffed roti ($8.95) turned out to be a huge piece of whole-wheat bread wrapped around garlicky, curried lamb mixed with potatoes and carrots; it, too, came with daal and achar. The roti was the diameter of an individual-sized pizza and about an inch and a half thick, so eating the entire thing was out of the question.

By now we felt like we'd swallowed an entire mountain of wonderful food. But we couldn't resist more of that fantastic rice pudding ($3), or the lalmohan ($3), basically two sugar-soaked dough balls. The sweetness of the desserts was surpassed only by the touching way Sam thanked us profusely--about eight times on our way out the door--for coming to his humble establishment.

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