Adventure to Nepal via Avon
I like when a restaurant takes me somewhere. And I’m not talking about a dining experience on top of the mountain or one accessed only by snowcat or horse. I like when the food’s spices, aromas and flavors journey me to a far away land, and when the server’s accent and restaurant’s decor chime in to convince my entire being of culinary travel.Tucked inside the Christie Lodge in Avon, Narayan’s Nepal Restaurant delivers you to the Himayalan-kissed country with its authentic cuisine. “Narayan is my brother’s name. He is very well respected,” Shanti Shrestha, co-owner, said. “He brought 65 of us over to the United States from Nepal in 1972.”
Shrestha has been in the states for 11 years. She learned to cook from her mother in Nepal. The trade suited her, and she went to school to learn Nepalese and Indian cooking professionally. She now teaches most of the chefs that cook at her restaurant. Executive chef Nima Sharpa is also professionally trained in Nepalese and Indian cooking. In Nepal he worked as a mountain guide for foreign travelers, also cooking during exhibitions through the Himalayan Mountains. As a Sherpa, he lived at 11,000 feet, and a day hike would take him to 17,000 feet, which is nothing for a man known for his endurance in high altitudes.We began the feast with the combo platter ($8.95) appetizer, which consists of shrimp pakoda, chicken pakoda, vegetable pakoda and samosa. Pakoda is similar to tempura, but the Nepalese fried snacks are battered in chick pea flour, or besan. The starter is very light, served with a spicy tomato-based dipping sauce, Achar, and garnished with intricately carved carrots and radishes. The samosa is the crown jewel of the appetizer plate. Spiced potatoes and green peas are deep fried in a flaky pastry puff, simple yet delicious.The extensive menu was a bit overwhelming because all the choices sounded so tasty. I asked Shrestha to order for us, with which a quick smile she rattled off four entrees: vegetable korma ($9.95), chicken curry ($10.95), lamb kawab ($14.95) and vegetable momo ($9.95).While we waited for our main dishes, our server brought out garlic naan ($2.50), soft, puffy bread baked in a Tandoori, or clay, oven. The flat bread was irresistible to the point that it was hard to stop eating it. The bread is reminiscent of pita, but much lighter with a full butter taste. Shrestha said because of its labor-intensive recipe, naan is reserved for holidays and celebratory occasions in Nepal. Lucky for us, it’s always on the menu in Avon.
The lamb kawab arrived on a sizzling skillet with onions. The lamb is marinated in yogurt and herbs overnight, giving the meat tips a tangy and robust flavor. The lamb is cooked in a Tandoori oven until tender. Vegetable korma, a traditional Indian dish, is a bit on the sweet side. Mixed vegetables are topped with nuts in light cream sauce. A mild spice evens out its decadence. “When the guests are coming over you make this dish,” Shestha said.Vegetable korma is just one of many strictly-vegetarian entrees on the menu, making Narayan’s a perfect stop for vegetarians in the Vail Valley. You can’t go wrong with chicken curry, a traditional dish of Nepal, but the vegetable momo will have you wishing you ordered two. A very simple dish in Nepal, Shestha said, steamed mixed vegetables are enveloped in a dumpling served with Achar, spicy tomato-based sauce, for dipping. It’s a dish Nepalese eat every day, Shestha said. One taste and you might feel the same way.
You can’t leave a country without trying its desserts. Lal Mohan ($2.95) and Kulfi ($3.50) is what I recommend. Lal Mohan is two fluffy round milk pastries in a very sweet syrup, and Kulfi is an Indian style ice cream in mango, but much icier than the American version. Since Nepalese food leaves you feeling satisfied, but not bulging at the seams, dessert is a must.For more information on how to travel to Nepal via Avon, call (970) 748-0835.