Namaste Café (Minneapolis, MN)

By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
The Mix
September/October 2007

A short-hand description for Nepali cuisine: "It's like Indian." Unfortunately, that's horribly wrong. There's no such thing as Indian cuisine -- India is a large, diverse country consisting of many different cultures and traditions -- and Nepali cuisine is unique in its own right. But the curries, lentils and spices used are similar to Indian cookery.

Namaste Café
2512 Hennepin Ave. S.
Minneapolis
(612) 827-2496
www.namastechai.com
Cuisine Type: Nepali
Reservations: Recommended for large parties
Diet Choices: The menu is varied enough to accommodate everyone.

Namaste serves traditional Nepali dishes, Indian dishes, and some modern dishes influenced by Nepali spices and preparations.

First, order the chai, with dairy milk or soy. They offer several different blends, hot or iced. These are award-winning and delicious.

We liked every appetizer we tried. The sekuwa were our favorite: marinated and grilled lamb pieces. We also liked the mamacha, steamed dumplings filled with spiced lamb or chicken.

Good no-meat choices are the aloo chop or the aloo chat. Chop are deep fried potato cakes mixed with peas and mushrooms. Chat is also a potato cake, topped with yogurt, onions, cilantro, masala sauce, tamarind juice, and puffed rice. Both are delicious. We also loved the fabulous broiled soybeans, mixed with scallions, ginger, garlic and mustard oil.

Entrees are mostly good, too. We loved the lamb curry and the mustard fish, both rich and flavorful dishes in their own unique sauces. The coconut curry with shrimp was disappointingly bland. Better is the creamy masala curry (more Indian than Nepali) or the Namaste marvelous flavorful special curry.

Namaste offers a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options. Eggplant with garlic and scallions is flavorful and delicious. The cauliflower, peas, and potatoes, is more subtle, flavored with cumin, paprika, tumeric, ginger, and cayenne.

Also vegan are the special bean dishes. These are traditional Nepali dishes, like you might find at roadside stalls throughout the country. We very much liked the aloo bodi (black-eyed peas and potatoes), the raajma (kidney beans and tomatoes), and the chole (chickpeas and tomatoes). These are cooked in different traditional spice mixtures and come with rice.

While these bean dishes are flavorful and tasty, to Western sensibilities they don't satisfy like a main course. So if you're ordering several dishes for the table, by all means order one of these as well. But if you're eating alone, order something else.

Actually, solo diners should order one of the combination meals. There are two -- vegetarian and nonvegetarian -- with four different menu items served with rice and dahl.

You can also order paratha flatbread to go with your meal. Or dahl, though it's soupy and not at all like the Indian dish.

Namaste offers spice levels from 1 to 5. We experimented and found a 5 to be only mildly hot. Traditional Nepali food isn't nearly as spicy as some Indian dishes, but Namaste has clearly toned down the spice level for local palates.

Namaste is located on Hennepin Avenue in a former house. It's a cute restaurant: nicely painted, with the tables spread far apart, and friendly servers. Service can be slow.

But do go, especially if you're on a budget. You can order an extravagant meal with chai, an appetizer, a main dish, and dessert, and spend only $25 including tax and tip. For a good meal in Uptown, that's a deal.

earlier review: Happy Gnome (St. Paul, MN)
later review: Jay's Café (St. Paul, MN)
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