Himalyan Kitchen
Image: Almond Cruz

Himalyan Kitchen gives diners a reason to climb Kaimukī

Himalyan Kitchen / Typical introduction to a Hawaii food review: state that whatever type of food that is under review can be found cheaper and in abundant, decent-quality droves in the mainland. With that out of the way, it’s only fair to review Himalayan Kitchen given its standing as one of the few South Asian eateries on the island.

Perhaps a bit crazy-eyed from the recent media buzz about the new restaurant, one may be a little impatient in trying to find the hidden second floor enclave. Himalayan Kitchen is tucked away in the lot behind Kaimukï’s Big City Diner. If one still doesn’t see the restaurant once turning into the parking lot, veer to the left and look up. As one climbs the wooden stairs, the outside deck eating area leads to an elevated gazebo draped with a string of lights and colorful Tibetan prayer flags. A large marooned-draped rectangular table set with matching cloth napkins, thick silver cutlery and sturdy white dishes accompanied by stout-stemmed water glasses give a preview to the inside setting.

Passing through the wood-framed glass door, one is greeted by a team of young, enthusiastic staff sporting South Asian tops and black pants. The hostess wears a bindi. If one looks even for a few seconds, someone passing by will ask if you are all right. Attentive and bright-eyed–a characteristic of a new restaurant eager to please.

With dark wood dominating the décor, the pairing with the table settings give the restaurant a traditional steakhouse ambience, not contemporarily sparse and bright, but rather almost mustily welcoming, yet stately. The best time to eat here is arguably at dusk, as the fading orange-pink rays of the sun contrast with the wood interior, being further illuminated by muted ceiling lamps. One feels relaxed, ending the day along with the setting sun and a rich meal. As the clock moves toward seven o’clock the trickle of people turns into a constant stream, consisting of a mixture of retired couples, families with young children and curious date-goers. The establishment is BYOB, and one can see a number of customers jaunting off to Tamura’s to grab some wine or beer while waiting for their table.

The menu could be small and still draw a crowd for the novelty aspect. But Himalayan Kitchen offers a bigger variety with some American favorites and some dishes not as commonly found on menus around here. As the name suggests, the restaurant offers signature Himalayan dishes, ranging from seafood to meat to biryani (rice-based) dishes. There are also offerings of more general Nepali cuisine, curries, vegetarian dishes, tandoori dishes, breads, as well as a trio of “Himalayan Favorites with a Touch of Aloha!” With multiple local dishes proving that fusion in Hawaii can yield tasty greatness, the descriptions of meat “battered then cooked with bell pepper, onions, pineapple, and a touch of mildly spiced tomato sauce” sounded more like Panda Express-like menu items than South Asian-local Hawaiian fusion.

However, dishes such as the Goa Shrimp ($15.95) peak the interest. The Himalayan-style shrimp dish is cooked in coconut milk, mild spice and cilantro. The resulting dish turns out five meaty shrimp swimming in a thin, creamy sauce. While some coconut milk-based dishes can be overly thick and sweet, the soupy texture of the Goan-style shrimp accented with tumeric, ginger, red chilis and the star of this version of the dish–black sesame, makes way for a savory-sweet flavor that isn’t as common as the cream-tomato balance found in more popular South Asian dishes in America. The number of shrimp may be disappointing for the price, but at least there is enough sauce to pour over basmati rice and still have enough leftover to eat with the bread one will most likely end up ordering–one saucy aspect of South Asian cuisine that many may enjoy more than the meat itself in the sauce.

Another delight of South Asian dining is the prospect of choosing among several types of naan, paratha and roti, from plain to meat-stuffed. The Paneer Kulcha, naan filled with onions and homemade shredded paneer cheese, is freshly made and thick, dominated by the texture of the sauteed onions over the mild cheese. Another carbohydrate option Himalayan Kitchen offers is Nepali-style mashed potatoes as a substitute for basmati rice, as potatoes are a common staple of Himalayan cuisine.

The Gajar Ko Halwa ($5.95), Nepal style minced carrot cake, is a freshly made, healthy tasting alternative to its European counterpart. There is no need for extra cream, as baked carrot cake does, though the usual recipe does call for milk. The strong ginger and cinnamon tastes are a welcome zing to the warm, soft, grated carrots accented with chewy, sweet raisins.

While plain and mango lassis are often a draw to South Asian restaurants, as is the hot, sweet, milky chai tea, Himalayan Kitchen also offers a rose lassi ($3.50). Simply thick yogurt flavored with rose water and no artificial coloring and no ice to water down the drink, the large glass is a pleasant challenge to down through the plastic straw. More tart than sweet, drinking the rose lassi isn’t so much like eating the actual flower, like rose jam, as it is a slightly fragrant, filling, dessert-like drink.

With but a few cafeteria-style South Asian eateries here, moderately priced restaurants are the norm, and so are their prices. Those used to eating at South Asian restaurants catered to a non-South Asian clientele will be used to the prices with the relatively small, but well-crafted dishes packed with flavor. One can still appreciate the number of herbs and spices that go into the careful cooking process, valuing each whiff and bite of the resulting dishes.

Himalyan Kitchen

1137 11th Ave., 5:30–10pm daily, entrees $9.95–$16.95, most major credit cards accepted, 735-1122