Twin Cities south Asian hot spots

Gorkha Palace, Darbar India Grill, and more

Rashmi Bhattachan knows momos, the Himalayan steamed dumplings that she sold for several years at the Mill City Farmers Market. She offers the pert, handmade buns at her new restaurant, Gorkha Palace, still sealed with a twist to look like a squashed soft-serve swirl. The momos are typically filled with scallions and spiced meats—try the yak, which is delicious, and not too different from ground beef.

Bhattachan launched her restaurant in the former home of Mairin's Table in partnership with Sarala Kattel, who formerly cooked at the Himalayan restaurant on Franklin Avenue. The restaurant is on a tucked-away block between Surdyk's and Ground Zero, but its small dining room has a welcoming feel, its walls and banquette upholstery awash in the warm, earthy tones of chiles, turmeric, and garam masala.

The two Nepali women are offering a seasonally changing menu of mostly Nepali and Indian dishes with a few Tibetan items in the mix. The more common dishes are as good as any. Tandoor-baked chicken sekuwa is tender, smoky, and expertly seasoned. Curries such as the machha, or tilapia, version are subtly but richly seasoned.

But the more unusual dishes are also rewarding. Aaloo katahar blends potatoes with jackfruit, a savory fruit that's rarely seen in the Twin Cities, and which has a similar flavor and texture to an artichoke. Gorkha serves a stew with locally raised goat, in lieu of beef, that challenges the meat's unpleasantly gamey, greasy reputation. Sure, there are a few bones and mysterious, unchewable cartilage bites, but the flesh itself is some of the best-tasting goat I've ever had, reminiscent of pork or lamb. (Bhattachan says she believes the less-funky flavor is because they use meat from castrated goats.)

The naan at Gorkha is less greasy than most, though it has the bland, floury flavor of matzo. The daal I tried was disappointing, as it seemed soupy and under-seasoned, but the spicier eight-bean soup, kwati, is a satisfying substitute.

Also worth noting: Gorkha is one of the few ethnic restaurants in town to emphasize sustainable business practices by purchasing local meats and dairy and operating a composting program.

Heather Jansz Curry Nights at Highland Grill
771 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul
651.690.1173; www.highlandgrill.com
Heather Jansz, 612.250.6556, www.heatherjansz.com

Every Monday night, Heather Jansz, the chef and cookbook author known as the "Curry Diva," spices up the Highland Grill's menu with a few of her fragrantly spiced Sri Lankan specials. Jansz, who used to run the Sri Lanka Curry House and Curry Leaf Deli and now is a private caterer who also teaches cooking classes, started the weekly restaurant stint this summer as a way to reach more of her fans. "I have so many followers, it's like a cult," she says. "Everyone's asking, 'Will you cook for me?' But I can't just have every human being show up to my house."

The roti—flatbreads that are ultra-thin and pasta-noodle tender, the way Jansz makes 'em—can seem like an odd thing to eat while seated at one of Highland's retro diner booths, but who cares? Especially if the roti is wrapped, like a giant meat burrito, around an inordinate amount of slow-cooked pork with rich, earthy seasoning, and topped with dal, cranberry chutney, and a coconut/cilantro sauce.

Jansz varies her offerings each week. Recently she featured dishes from Nepal as a fundraiser for a nonprofit that does work in that country: a cumin-and-coriander-laced chicken curry, plus curried potatoes, along with chickpeas and leeks perked up with garam masala. The spiciest dish on the plate—a side of sambal pickle achaar, or a white-hot blend of fresh tomato, cilantro, chiles, and fenugreek—was addictive enough to be worth the requisite suffering.

Jansz also occasionally offers special curry dinners at Highland Grill's sister restaurants, including an upcoming family-style feast dubbed "Indonesian Big Night." It takes place at the Edina Grill on November 10, but if you want to go, call soon—it will likely sell out quickly.

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