Seattle WA 98122
Nepalese Cuisine Warms Cold Adventurers
By: Grant Y
Located on the block next to Seattle Central Community College, Annapurna Cafe is a unique Capitol Hill restaurant that serves a combination of Tibetan, Nepalese and Indian cuisine. It's with some irony that the establishment is tucked beneath ground level via a flight of stairs, as the restaurant is named after a range of high peaks in the Himalayas. That's not to say say you won't see many a trekker in North Face gear resting over a bowl of hot curry however, as we found plenty of Seattlelites making camp here for lunch.
The atmosphere is true to Buddhist form, with orange, gold and royal red colored walls. Colored flags run along the ceiling, which in Buddhism, represent the five states of mind and the celestial Buddha.
Table seating can be cozy, with chairs bumping at times, but it's not uncomfortable. The lack of windows is a unique for the Hill, where eating and people watching is the standard, but the subterranean aspect actually lends a sense of novelty or adventure.
Annapurna Cafe offers a diverse menu of naan and roti breads, appetizers and specialty dishes. Soups include a creamy Mulligatawny lentil soup with egg noodle, chicken, tikka and mushrooms. Curry lovers will delight in the worldly selection of Himalayan, Lhasa, Jaipur, Goa, Vindaloo and traditional Nepalese curry. For the classic adventurer, Annapurna offers thali, which are essentially Indian combination plates.
Nepalese cuisine is a blend of various ethnic cuisines that encompass the geographic region. Worldly eaters will find similarities to Himalayan food, while others can relate to the Indian flavors and spices. Nepalese dietary and religion restrict beef and pork, which at Annapurna means meat selections are limited to chicken, lamb and seafood.
For starters, I was drawn to the Spinach Momo ($7.25), a 2004 Bite of Seattle winner, as well as the Onion Kulcha ($3.50), a leavened bread stuffed with spiced onion. My entree was the Annapurna Curry ($7.25) while Steve opted for the Gyatak Noodle Bowl ($8.95).
Service was fairly standard -- efficient and to the point. Our bill was a little slow to come and far past the lunch rush, so a slight, but not major ding.
I've never had Nepalese cuisine, so when I heard we would be checking out Annapurna Cafe on Capitol Hill, I was a little intrigued. Walking down the winding stairs, we were treated to the bright colors of the restaurant's decor.
The Spinach Momo was a green colored dumpling, jam-packed with spinach and spices. While some diners may be turned off by these strangely colored dumplings, I dove right in. The dumpling was an interesting mix of spicy and smooth and came with three different types of dipping sauces. The sauces included a sweet peanut, spicy sesame and tangy tamarind chutney.
I had the Gyatak noodle bowl, which is made with Tibetan style egg noodle, thick chunks of lamb, onion, scallion, tomato and fried egg. It was a heartier soup than most soups I've ever had. The Tibetan noodles were similar to Japanese ramen noodles and seemed to soak in the flavor of the rich broth. The chunks of lamb were surprisingly tender, while the carrots and broccoli were a nice change of pace to the rich, meaty flavors of the stock. After eating so much MSG loaded pho during my college years, it was great to find a heartier successor in Annapurna's soup.
I found our food to be quite enjoyable. We stayed strictly with the Nepalese food, as other items looked very similar to Indian cuisine that are common enough to be ordered elsewhere in the city.
I'm a dumpling fan by nature, so it's no surprise that I'm also a fan of the spinach momos. The stuffing had a consistency similar to Indian pakora, though the ingredients are quite different. However, like many spinach flour foods (e.g., spinach noodles at Shanghi Cafe), I had a hard time discerning the spinach flavor, which makes me wonder if the cooking process dilutes the taste.
No matter however, as I found the various chutneys a delight to dip. To the heat intolerant -- you may wish to avoid all but the peanut chutney, as the chutney and sesame can be surprisingly spicy.
My first impression of the onion kulcha was mixed, as I mistakenly thought it was supposed to be a naan bread, when instead the kulcha is a type of leavened bread. As a result, it is more dense and compact than the often fluffy naan bread. Seeing how I'm no fan of soda bread (see Wilde Rover) for that very reason, I wasn't too thrilled at first.
Upon realizing my mistake however, I re-evaluated my opinion, but was still on the fence. The onion and parsley were far more subtle than I would have expected, even though there was a gratuitous amount in the bread. It's worth a try, but I believe this dish will be hit or miss with most customers.
As a curry lover, I had to try the restaurant's namesake curry. And oh boy, I'm glad I did.
The lamb was cooked softly to the consistency of a tender beef brisket. All you chefs out there know the difficulty of lamb, so I was quite impressed. The curry was a deep red and brown rust hue, sharp, herbal and had a slightly gritty texture. It closely reminded me of the vindaloo at Shalimar, in the University District, which serves Pakistani and Indian cuisine.
Portion size was large for the $7.25 price, which makes Annapurna Cafe is a good place for you value eaters out there. But, with delicious food, you probably have all the reasons you need to take a visit anyways.
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