35 W. Main St.
Navigating the menu at the just-opened Himalaya Restaurant at the bottom of the Avenue in Ventura is like preparing for a trip to an exotic destination and anticipating an adventure you know will be fun, different, probably weirdish and certainly memorable. All of the above has held true on several visits to this new addition to our local culinary scene featuring the cuisine of Nepal, India and Tibet.
In a space that used to be a Taco Bell, manager Anup Rimal has created a warm and welcoming environment of bright smoky reds and cheerful yellows, festooned with Tibetan prayer flags, masks, fabrics and stunning photos of Mount Everest, Annapurna and other regional sites. It seemed only appropriate on my first visit to order for my main course the sherpa curry, a delightful mix of Indian spices (particularly heavy in cardamom flavor), onions, potatoes, and for a choice of meat I opted for the goat. I know of no other place in Ventura County where such a well-constructed and flavorful creation can be discovered. The chunks of goat meat are well-simmered to tenderize and give a moist succulence, and the slightly gamey and oily goat flavor was perfectly suited to the accompanying spices.
We began the meal with a traditional Nepalese appetizer momos, which are basically dumplings filled with spiced, finely chopped chicken (or lentils or several other options), with various dipping sauces and we also opted to get the bread assortment, with included delicious garlic naan, slightly buttered whole wheat parachi and also a flavorful unleavened chapatti. I was intrigued by the Nepal organic tea, which had a chai sort of flavor but was not quite as sweet or as immensely flavorful. It also took a while to arrive, and was not particularly hot, so I was underwhelmed by this beverage option. My companion had a lassi, which is the traditional savory yet sweet yogurt drink aromatically enhanced with cumin; it was refreshing, and a good accompaniment to the entire meal.
Side dishes included a very sweet mango chutney, a lentil bahra (little black lentil pancakes) and, of course, any number of rices, many of which we are liberally sprinkled with coriander seeds. Several types of birianis are also available, and I look forward to sampling some of these on a later visit.
The lunch menu is probably the best value at Himalaya. Combinations include various curries, burrito (sort of) options and several other selections, all of which come with soup, salad and small side dishes of vegetable curry and raita.
The curry is not as fiery as some Indian fare can be (I’m told Nepalese cuisine is generally less busy in flavor combinations), and the spice mixture seems to favor coriander and cumin, but little if any turmeric. The raita was slightly different on various visits. (One day there seemed to be more shredded carrot and it had a slightly orangey color, and another day was very cucumbery). However it comes, this yogurt accompaniment is always a delight and a good palate cleanser with exotically spiced food.
I have been slightly disappointed with the salad ingredients, uninteresting lettuce, non-flavorful tomatoes and uninspired presentation. The dressings, however, are quite good, particularly the tamarind, a flavorful mixture of tamarind bark, rice vinegar, citrus (possibly lime?) and garlic, with a slightly sweet, spicy bite. I happen to love the flavor of tamarind, and I actually asked for a side of this dressing to pour onto another order of the delectable momos.
I’ve yet to sample one of the dessert options. (I may go in for the gulab jamun, a rolled, fried white flour ball in a sickeningly sweet syrup; I love this dessert but it is so filling it kind of has to stand on its own.) There are also a great-sounding rice pudding and some homemade ice creams. The entire menu is vast, and as the restaurant just opened there are still some kinks to work out (particularly in slow service and attentiveness to unfamiliar customer questionings).
In sum, however, this new restaurant has tremendous promise and a very interesting and different menu. The food and the décor are there already, and as the customer base grows, I’m sure this will become a favored Ventura dining option.