Kumari adds the food of Nepal to Indian menu

A charming newcomer in Mount Vernon

Eats: dining reviews, Table Talk

October 30, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It takes chutzpah to add another Indian restaurant to the already crowded Mount Vernon scene, and it takes more chutzpah still to open the restaurant in a cavernous three-room space that can look painfully empty even when more than a dozen diners are present.

But I predict that Kumari, which opened in July, will succeed in a location where many other restaurants have failed. For one thing, the restaurant is the only one in the area to serve Nepalese as well as Indian food. And for another, the service is as charming as humanly possible. The interior is charming, too, with bright walls and colorful lanterns hanging from the ceiling.

But those are details. From the first nibble of peppery, paper-thin pappadam dipped in luscious blood-red tamarind sauce to the last spoonful of creamy mango kulfi, Kumari serves wonderful food, stuff that can inspire middle-of-the-night cravings.

During our visit, owner Mohan Thapa came to our table to dispense tidbits about the food and culture of his native Nepal. As we were eating an appetizer called Nepali khaja, he explained that the combination of foods is a staple in Nepalese homes.

The appetizer arrives in several dishes. One contains rice that is beaten to create dry, fluffy flakes, and another is filled with roasted soybeans. A bowl contains chunks of potatoes in a deep-red paste of spices, and another holds a spicy dish of lamb. Thapa advised us to put a little rice and a few soybeans on our spoons, then add the lamb or potatoes before popping the whole thing in our mouths. Delicious.

Our other appetizers were just as good. Shrimp pakoda were deep-fried, grease-free and enlivened by sophisticated spices; steamed dumplings called momo were filled with a tender mix of minced chicken, garlic and cilantro.

Main courses arrived with moist basmati rice, perfect for soaking up the rich cream sauce of the lamb rogan josh and for cooling the spice of the aloo gobi curry. Thapa spooned some rice onto our plates, then added an assortment of meats from our mixed tandoori platter: tender bone-in pieces of chicken and lamb, and an addictive sausage-like item called seekh kabab.

We also received a dish of puffed rice, which was dry and hard to eat because the grains rolled around the spoon.

The desserts were the usual assortment found in Indian restaurants but seemed to be prepared with more than the usual care. An enormous bowl of kheer, or rice pudding, was livened with pistachios and raisins, and rasmalai, a classic cottage-cheese dessert, was served in an incredible sweet rosewater sauce. The mango kulfi was wonderfully creamy.

Prices at Kumari are more than reasonable. For all this food, plus a few towering bottles of Taj Majal beer, the tab was well under $100 for three. For lunch, diners can really save money and opt for the $6.95 buffet (slightly more for a slightly larger selection on weekends).

In a phone interview, Thapa explained that Kumari is a living goddess who is designated as such by the king. When she becomes a woman, the title is passed on to another young girl. A picture of the goddess is painted on one wall of the restaurant. And why did Thapa choose the name? He just liked it, he said.

Kumari

Where: 911 N. Charles St.

Call: 410-547-1600

Open: Daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers $2.25-$6.95; entrees $6.95-$16.95

Food: *** 1/2

Service: *** 1/2

Atmosphere: ***

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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