Review published August 2006
NAMASTE CAFE TAKES its name from a Sanskrit greeting that means, “The divine in me bows to the divine in you.” A moniker like this might lead you to expect the little eatery to be the dining equivalent of yoga class: a pleasantly virtuous experience that would leave you feeling lithe and serene. What you’ll find instead is less strenuous and more interesting: an imaginative approach to the exotic culinary traditions of Nepal and its south Asian neighbors. If you’re between meals or pressed for time, you can grab a terrific chai here—it’s made from scratch and not too sweet. But if you have a free evening for a real meal, then start with an appetizer, stay for dessert, and atone with an extra yoga class the next day.
The dining room, in a converted house in the Uptown neighborhood, is painted in bright saffron hues and ornamented with Nepalese statues and wall reliefs. The menu offers just enough information to provide context without over-selling the food. The aloo chop appetizer, for example, is described as “a popular teashop item.” These spicy little potato cakes—mixed with green peas, filled with mushrooms, and served with sesame sauce—were certainly welcomed at our table. The same tangy sauce accompanied the mamacha dumplings, “the most popular street food in Kathmandu.” These weren’t quite as notable as the aloo chop, but we gobbled them almost as quickly.
Our main-dish curries were uniformly wonderful and surprisingly diverse. The Kathmandu with chicken was lively with cayenne, ginger, and garlic. The Namaste special featured paprika and cilantro. The deep-dish lamb contained cloves, cardamom, and curry leaves.
You can specify your desired level of heat on a scale of one to five. This was a boon to the lone heat-averse member of our party, who ordered her creamy masala curry at level one. It was as complex and satisfying as the rest of our dishes, which we’d ordered at a still-fairly-mild level three.
Namaste is a place where vegans and carnivores can coexist without anyone looking enviously at anyone else’s plate. All four vegetarian entrée specialties and the vegetarian combination meal are vegan-compliant.
Our favorite dessert was the one we almost overlooked: locally made Sonny’s vanilla ice cream with dark masala chai tea. The tea melted the ice cream into a fragrant, foamy soup. And our table polished off both varieties of the sikarni, a tart, traditional Nepali dessert made from creamy, whole-milk yogurt with fruit and nuts. Only one dessert remained after a round of sampling. The menu described the rasmalai as a “specially prepared spongy ricotta.” While the cinnamon-cardamom-pistachio flavors of the dish were delicious, the spongy texture was too odd for our liking.
As we swapped bites around the table, reveling in our newly enlightened palates and discussing the subtle differences between our curries, we bowed to the divine in the chef. And we vowed to come back and try another round of curries—this time with the heat dialed up to level four. MM
2512 Hennepin Ave. S.