One hopes to avoid hackneyed phrases like “diamond in the rough” when describing hidden gems in the restaurant business, but the cliché fits Namaste like a glove. Inside the abandoned shell of an old Sonic drive-in, in the humble environs of Seminary Drive and I-35, the tiny eatery is dishing up the fresh, fragrant cuisine of Nepal to anyone willing to take a chance.
Namaste is low on ambiance — the cheap plastic flowers scattered around the dining room really do spruce up the place — but it is clean as a whistle and smells magnificent. Nepalese food uses many spices familiar to the cuisine of Northern India, along with preparations of dumplings and “chowmin” noodles that show an influence of Chinese and Tibetan cultures. These all can be found on Namaste’s extensive menu, along with fried rice, curries, and masalas.
[box_info]Namaste 923 E Seminary Dr, FW. 817-349-9350. 10am-10pm Mon-Thu, 10am-11pm Fri-Sun. All major credit cards accepted.[/box_info]
On a recent lunchtime visit, my guest and I found the young host happy to give recommendations, occasionally knocking on the wall behind the register to ask the kitchen about the availability of certain dishes. Hurried conversations in Nepali were conducted through a hole in the wall covered with an inexpensive print canvas. Add it to a list of quirks that, upon reaching a critical mass, will seem either indelibly charming or uncomfortably unfamiliar. Once the food arrived, though, we were sold.
A small bowl of dahl, a thin lentil soup spiced with turmeric and ginger, began our meal. Toasted cumin and mustard seeds gave a perfumed crunch to the golden puree.
Namaste’s vegetable samosas were familiar treats, similar to the crispy fried pastries served as appetizers at many Indian restaurants. Inside the crust was a soft filling of potatoes spiked with coriander and ginger. There was also a strong flavor of thyme that took some getting used to. The lemony herb is a staple of Nepalese cuisine, but my palate was caught unawares. Once I adjusted, I enjoyed the education. Served alongside the samosas was tamarind chutney as thick and sweet as raspberry jam.
Our host recommended the biryani with mutton. Biryani is a dish of rice baked with spices, and it was a treat to try to identify the complex elements that infused the mound of perfectly tender basmati rice before us. There was cardamom, bay leaf, and cloves … and of course there was mutton. Mutton, like goat or rabbit, is one of those meats that always seems like it would be a lot of fun to order, until it actually shows up on the plate. Our mutton wasn’t bad, but it was still mutton, and all the cardamom and cloves in the world couldn’t keep it from being a bit gamey. I look forward to ordering this dish again, but I will probably opt for chicken.
The vegetable korma was less challenging and didn’t break any new ground for Nepalese neophytes, but it was beautifully prepared. Al dente jewels of broccoli, carrots, and squash lazed in a brilliant yellow cream sauce, begging to be sopped up with wedges of the kitchen’s smoky naan, a flatbread scorched on the walls of a tandoor oven.
Despite the rather rough, DIY décor, Namaste has a number of sophisticated strengths, including an extensive selection of vegetarian options. Diners not interested in meat will not feel a short shrift. Indeed, there is something for everyone on the large menu, and only one entrée — the shrimp tiki masala — costs more than $10.
For adventurous diners willing to take a step outside their comfort zone, Namaste’s fresh, affordable cuisine is a must-try.
Mutton Biryani $7.99
Vegetable Korma $7.99[/box_info]