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As soon as the door closes, it mutes the early-evening traffic noise, and Thakur Neupane, 28, greets us with a smile. He leads us to one of eight four-tops in a room decorated with vibrant reds and yellows. Hanging tasseled drapery forms the centerpiece for the ceiling while Indian music plays softly in the background.

A family with young children is dining near us. “I have an 18-month old daughter and she will work here soon,” Neupane says to the parents with a grin.

Kathmandu's chef, Pradip Chettri, 40, is also Neupane’s uncle, and they are partners in the restaurant along with two of Neupane’s brothers. They reunited in Des Moines as refugees from Nepal and Bhutan, and they’ve been here for eight years.

“We wanted to bring a little taste of Nepalese food to the south side of Des Moines,” Neupane says. They travel to Kansas City and Chicago often for ingredients.

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Kathmandu has been open for just over three months at 1421 SE 14th Street in Des Moines, and its business has picked up considerably.

“This is my first time being a server,” Neupane says. But I never would have guessed it. Every table fills up within half an hour, and he handles the room efficiently and effortlessly. Neupane tells me that he will need to hire two new people soon.

I wanted to know what he would suggest for someone who has never dined in a Nepalese restaurant before.

“Nepalese cuisine is very similar to Indian cuisine — just less spicy,” Neupane says. “But our food is different. It’s not truly Indian and it’s not truly Nepalese. It’s a little bit in-between.”

He takes us through the menu and gives us his suggestions.

Vegetable Samosas

The vegetable samosas are on the larger side — thinly rolled dough filled with soft potato, fresh ginger, spinach and green peas. Then, they’re deep-fried and served hot. They come with a sweet-spicy tamarind sauce and a mint-cilantro sauce for dipping. The best way to eat these is to break them up and dip the pieces into the sauces.

Chicken Momo

The steamed chicken momo dumplings are similar to pot stickers and gyoza. Filled with a combination of chicken breast, cilantro, cabbage and red onion, they’re soft and savory with just a little chewiness. And the veggies in the filling are still crunchy. It's a great contrast of texture. A ramekin of spicy tomato sauce comes on the side for dipping.  After the first dumplings disappeared, we ran out of sauce, so I recommend asking for some extra.

Khashi Ko-Mashu

This satisfying goat stew is slow-cooked with carrot, onion and an assortment of flavorings: coriander powder, chilies, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and turmeric. And they add a nice, comforting warmness. Goat meat needs to be cooked low and slow, and the meat was tender and juicy and fell off the bone without being too shredded. Most Nepalese and Indian cuisine calls for young goats for their tenderness and milder flavor. And chef Chhetri cooked the khashi ko-mashu perfectly.

Kalo Dal

Dal, also spelled daaldhal or dhall, is a thick or thin purée of lentils. In this case, black lentils. They’re simmered with ginger, onion and a blend of spices and served in a bowl. Its rich taste and glowing combination of spices make it a nice, filling vegetarian dish. Kathmandu's dal is on the thicker side, and I ended up using the naan to dip into it, and that’s totally OK.

Gulab Jamun 

This dessert was something unique: three deep-fried patties of sweetened milk curds, immersed in a fragrant sugar syrup. They tasted similar to almond cookies. Gulab jamun is typically made from milk and flour. With a soft and chewy texture, they were a fun ending to a zesty meal.

All of the main dishes at Kathmandu come with a side of fluffy basmati rice and a complimentary basket of naan. And you can tweak your dish's heat level from mild to very hot.

I’ve had thicker naan before, but Kathmandu’s naan is thin and crispy. Several flavor variations of naan are available on the main menu. I enjoyed pulling it apart and dipping it into ko-mashu and the dal.

While we were tasting our selections, Neupane delivered a big, sizzling platter of tandoor to the family of four next to us. All tandoor dishes are served on a hot cast-iron skillet. They're meant to be enjoyed communal-style. And all four of the family members dug in heartily. I want to try that sometime.

I’d also like to try the curries and the biryanis, or rice dishes, served with rati, or roti — an unleavened bread cooked on a hot skillet and then lightly toasted over an open flame. But the chicken tikka masala is their bestseller.

Kathmandu Restaurant

Find it: 4121 SE 14th St.

Hours:

  • 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday
  • 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
  • closed on Wednesday

Info: 515-207-1463; www.kathmanduiowa.com, or find it on Facebook.

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