Mountain High

Nepali food with attitude.

Capitol Hill is no Mount Everest, and Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary will not be your tablemates, but sit down for dinner at Annapurna, Broadway's brand-new Nepalese eatery, and new culinary heights at a reasonable cost are not out of reach. This humble restaurant opened its doors two months ago in a spartan basement a block down from Seattle Central Community College. The furnishings are sparse, the music (always Nepalese or Hindi) blares from a boom box, and the food is a hungry Sherpa's dream. You might even think you're in Kathmandu or Manali, but that a bike-helmet-wearing, tattooed 24-year-old swilling curry next to you and addressing you as "dude" ensures you're in Seattle. Proprietors Kumar and Rositha Shrestha are brother and sister from Kathmandu. Both attended Seattle Central Community College, he studying applications support and she business. Like many SCCC students, they would eat often at the nearby New Wok Chinese Restaurant. When New Wok's owners mentioned that they were about to retire, the Shresthas decided to grab the space and serve up some Nepalese food. "We always wanted to do something we knew we would be able to do very well," Kumar says, "and when this space became available, we knew this was it." THE SHRETHAS ARE not totally committed to releasing your inner Sherpa; for weekday lunchtimes, they lay out a $6.99 Indian buffet similar to those offered at most subcontinental eateries. But they put their Himalayan hearts into their dinner menu. To craft your own Himalayan dinner odyssey, start with an order of tensing momo ($6.25), spicy Tibetan chicken dumplings served with sides of zesty peanut and tomato chutney. Momo are to the Himalayas what pizza is to Italy or Buffalo chicken wings are to the American sports bar. Pick them up with your hands, dip in the chutney, and enjoy. Eat slowly if you're having them as an appetizer, which is how they're offered on Annapurna's menu; an order is seven luscious, juicy dumplings, more than enough for two diners. Now do the soup thing. Choices include an honest-to-goodness Kathmandu noodle ($5.95), a clear soup with sliced chicken breast, ginger root, cilantro, carrots, mushrooms, and celery. For those who have lived in Nepal and done the hippie thing, Annapurna's version of this soup will bring back memories of Freek Street in Kathmandu and the many excellent dives there that serve hot soups on cold winter nights. Another excellent option is the Tibetan vegetable thukpa, also a clear broth, with garlic, carrots, mushrooms, napa cabbage, celery, and noodles ($5.25). Thukpa and Kathmandu noodle soup are Himalayan cousins, and as any honest Himalayan will tell you, a far cry from the bland wide noodles and nondescript rice dishes that Tibet's Han Chinese masters have tried to impose on the Dalai Lama's people. ENOUGH POLITICS, on to the main course. The Nepalese habit of serving plats is a holdover from the '60s, when French climbers ascended in droves to Kathmandu and wanted their food served as a plat du jour ࠬa Paree. The plates on Annapurna's menu are served with basmati rice and a choice of chicken ($7.95), vegetables ($6.95), lamb ($8.95), or shrimp ($9.95). The meats may be enjoyed in a curry, or as part of a South Asian thali, or as a dinner combo. If curry is your choice, try the Annapurna curry, a zestful Nepalese curry cooked with ground spices, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. It's not too spicy, and the subtle flavors stand out. The thali reflects the growing influence of Indian cuisine in Nepal. It's hot and comes with a choice of two curries, dal (spicy Indian lentil soup), rice, pappadums, and dessert (usually gulab jamunliterally "sweet roseberry," made from rose-watered batter and very sweetor ice cream). Diners get a choice of a vegetarian or nonvegetarian thali. For our money, the pi裥 de r鳩stance is the kukura ko masu ($7.25), a simple, not too salty, lightly spiced Nepali chicken curry. This is the Sherpa's poulet au pot, his weekly chicken dinner, eaten among friends and family. Those who eat kukura climb the highest mountains and scale the snowiest peaks. Spiritually, you will too, once you've experienced the unpretentious charms of Annapurna, dude.

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