In a less-traveled part of old Bardstown Road near Buechel, Louisville has one of its most diverse grocery and dining areas. There is a Persian restaurant, a Bosnian spot known for gyros, an Asian restaurant and grocery, a European pastry deli and coffee shop, a Nepalese/Indian grocery and… a Nepalese restaurant, Kathmandu Kitchen and Bar.
Indian restaurants are accommodating to gluten intolerance and vegetarians, so I was interested to see what Himalayan twist Kathmandu might bring. Some of my regular dining companions aren’t as fond of Southeast Asian fare as I am, so I took my dad for two reasons: First, I wanted to see how far we could get into a political discussion before he brought up the fall of the Roman Empire, and second, about halfway through the meal, I planned to start patting my pockets to do my “looks like I forgot my wallet; you got this one?” dance that has worked 113 times in a row.
Himalayan cuisine leans heavily on cilantro and spices such as black and green cardamom, cumin, fennel and cinnamon as well as including some of my favorites such as saffron. Many of these spices are also noted for their medicinal properties such as reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure and helping digestion… which is great if you tweak your back, have a heated conference call and have been eating too much dairy… or what I like to call, Tuesday.
At Kathmandu, vegetarians can look forward to whole sections of the menu dedicated to them: Maas/Musuroo ko Dal (lentil dishes) for $9, Mixed Vegetable Tarkari (like a veggie curry) for $10, a Himalayan version of Mattar Paneer (more of a gravy style dish with rice) for $10 and Alu Gobi (flavorful potatoes and cauliflower cooked with spice) for $10.
Meat eaters have dead animal options such goat, shrimp and chicken.
Alcohol: though I am not opposed to a liquid lunch or a little Irish in my morning brew, Kathmandu serves only beer, a selection of domestics and interesting imports.
I started the meal with the Nepalese black tea, which definitely had a bit more kick than your average cup o’ tea. With ginger sugar and hints of cinnamon and cumin, it had an earthy, hearty taste to it… like a tea that has lived a little and has a story to tell.
Though customary to eat signature dishes with one’s hand, our duo decided to use the utensils and cutlery provided because, ‘Merica.
For my entrée, I went for the yellow lentils (the Musuroo ko Dal) for $9, a stew served with a side of jasmine rice. The server asked me if I was familiar with Nepalese food. My answer of no garnered the response, “OK, so I am going to put you down for low heat.” My 20-year-old self would have taken umbrage, but my 47-year-old self thanked him for his intuition on the limitations of my alimentary canal.
On top of my lentils, I noticed several dark red, whole peppers. In Chinese food, these would conjure memories of face-melting peppers that peg out on the Scoville scale. After the proper amount of goading from my dad, I tried one. The pepper had a nutty, smoky flavor; not too hot on the tongue. I thought I had dodged a bullet, but then the slow burn kicked in as did the flop sweat.
The rest of the dish had the consistency of a lentil stew but with a more flavorful taste profile with some of the Himalayan spices. I am never sure whether to put the main dish over the side dish of rice, dump the rice into the entrée, or just make a mess assembling bites between the two dishes. . . so a mess it was. I definitely picked up similarities to Indian cuisine but also tasted the spices and black Himalayan salt that I understand make it uniquely Nepalese.
On the carnivorous side of the table, Dad ordered the goat at a medium-low spice threshold. He described his meal as having a slow heat that builds. Goat can be gamy, but this was cooked with a hearty gravy that he said held up to the big taste of the meat. He liked the way the cilantro pulled the varied flavors together in his large helping of animal.
He then went on to explain that overexpansion and military overspending coupled with government corruption and political instability around 400 AD precipitated the fall of Rome. We ended up being at our table for a while.
If the cuisine sounds interesting, but Buechel is a little bit of a drive for you, it also delivers via GrubHub. •