CAMBRIDGE — One of your hosts at the new Base Crave restaurant is Nithyam Pandey, who might appear at your table smiling, not saying a word. You’ll fall in love with him. He’s darling.
Nithyam is the son of Niranjan and Devika Pandey. The Nepalese restaurant is owned by two brothers who are married to two sisters. The other couple is Bhola and Saru Pandey.
The previous restaurant in this space, Full Moon, had been there for 22 years, opened by sisters Cary and Sarah Wheaton, then run by Sarah. It was filled with children who found lots of toys and train tables to occupy them while their parents ordered.
Those kids are probably out of college now and their parents are at Base Crave. It opened as Melting Pot, but then the two couples thought that there were too many establishments of that name and it didn’t explain what they were doing. “Someone might think it was a fondue place,” says Niranjan Pandey.
They decided against using any of the names of other places they had owned and sold because it would be unfair to the new management. The foursome had a restaurant in Manchester, N.H., called Cafe Momo, which they sold five years ago; more recently they had Base Camp Cafe, which they ran in Hanover, N.H., and Durbar Square in Portsmouth, N.H., also both sold now. They still own the year-old Mitho Restaurant (it means “delicious” in their language) in Winchester.
Niranjan Pandey says they thought they were through opening restaurants until they saw the Full Moon space. They renovated it themselves and opened in mid-January with a dining room that has cool and soothing colors — sponge-painted walls in silver, tan, aqua, and sage — and warm wood tabletops with a dark cherry stain. Burgundy fabric lines the banquettes, floors are light wood, and several mirrors make the room flooded with sunlight. A wall hanging says, “Breathe.” It’s peaceful.
Conversations around me range from impeachment proceedings and Democratic front-runners to climate change and successful nonprofits.
When the food comes, it’s right from the kitchen without delay, steamy hot. Every vegetable in a stir-fry or curry is thoughtfully cooked. The carefully designed menu offers plenty for vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-free diners, organic chicken and beautiful meats for carnivores. Many of the dishes are spicy, a server will explain to you, so the kitchen wants to know what your tolerance is.
They’re patient when they explain their food — they want you to try things and like them — but it’s still a surprise when the dishes arrive. You may not have had anything like chhoila, traditionally a spicy meat dish, but here made with grilled chicken or sweet potatoes. Roasted sweet potatoes are cut up and bathed in a spicy marinade of lime juice, cumin, mustard oil, and chiles. It’s served beside tiny grains of puffed rice. The hot, lime-soaked potatoes are unusual and delicious.
Small, perfectly round Nepalese dumplings called momos are pinched along the top, meant to be one bite (one big bite). They come eight to an order with a sweet and spicy, bright-red dipping sauce. The vegetable filling is juicy and flavorful, as is the chicken; there is also lamb, paneer and spinach, buffalo, or wild boar.
The food is so perfectly seasoned that you have to wonder how the cooks got that much flavor into a dish. Lentil dal soup, with red and yellow lentils, is simmered with ginger and cumin seed, no meat stock (it’s vegan); it’s mellow and heavenly.
Bhola Pandey owns an organic farm near Kathmandu. Food harvested there goes to needy families in the community, he tells me in a text. He hopes to turn the farm into a school. “The students will grow their own organic food as part of their curriculum,” he writes.
He and the others have really thought about how to offer nutritious food. Curries are lighter than you’re expecting with juicy pieces of chicken and mushroom in one, firm and tender squares of tofu in another with all those beautiful vegetables. The dark red curry sauces are prepared to order as hot or mild as you like.
Herb flatbread is crisp on top, tender inside; it comes with a thin, aromatic, bright green cilantro and avocado sauce you want to sip with a spoon. A very pretty plate of grilled rack of lamb offers rosy, juicy, tender chops with great flavor, alongside a stir-fry carrots, green beans, peppers, and sugar-snap peas, and a mound of basmati rice garnished with cilantro sauce.
Huron Village neighbors are a sophisticated and well-traveled clientele who seem to deeply appreciate the new restaurant and their hosts. They are particularly interested in the youngest one. Two women try to engage Nithyam, asking his name and other questions that might draw him out. When he dashes away shyly, they return to their conversation.
“So how’s your book going?" says one to the other.
344 Huron Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1485. Curries, grills, stir-fries $16-$27
Sheryl Julian can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.