IN THE KITCHEN Ram Dhital opened Himalayan Bistro in West Roxbury 13 years ago, and from early on, “a lot of customers there were encouraging me to open another restaurant,” he said, including diners from Newton who longed for his kitchen’s cooking a bit closer to home.
Dhital, who has been in the United States for 23 years and hails from a suburb of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, was finally able to oblige a few months ago with the opening of House of Tandoor in Newton Centre.
THE LOCALE For a city of its size and an impressive array of international cuisines, Newton is surprisingly light on Indian restaurants at the moment, so House of Tandoor fills a definite void. Despite my being familiar with Newton Centre, it still took me a few minutes to find my way to House of Tandoor, which is accessed down the alley between Union and Beacon streets and through a sliding glass door (or via a stairway from Union Street).
The 52-seat dining room was previously occupied by a Japanese restaurant and has been completely renovated and redecorated with an eye-catching white tiled ceiling, colorful paintings, and metallic accents. Visit on the weekend and your eyes (and nose) will almost certainly be drawn to the aromatic buffet along one wall, with ornate copper-colored bowls brimming with a selection of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
ON THE MENU Many of House of Tandoor’s offerings will be well known to diners familiar with wide-ranging Indian menus, such as flavorful kormas, curries, tikka masalas, and saags.
Vegans are not given short shrift here: There are a significant number of vegan entrees, including jeera saag, fresh pan-roasted spinach with cumin seeds and other spices ($14), and jhanaeko daal, lentils tempered with jimbu, a Himalayan herb from the onion family ($15).
But, as with his first restaurant, Dhital wanted to introduce Nepali cuisine alongside Indian classics. When he first did so at Himalayan Bistro, “At that time, Nepali cooking wasn’t very popular or well-known to customers, but a lot of them were very curious to taste it — and they liked it,” he said.
Nowadays, as familiarity with Nepali cuisine has grown, many diners ask Dhital about momos, which he describes as large dumplings with Chinese origins and Indian spices that are a popular snack and street food in his home country. “They’re a real fusion food,” Dhital said.
At his Newton restaurant, the hearty dough made of wheat flour envelops vegetables, chicken, cheese, and even plantains; they’re then steamed or fried according to the customers’ wishes (five for $8, 10 for $13). The Nepali menu also features chow mein noodles ($13 to $16) bathed in Nepali spices and soy sauce and cooked with garlic, cabbage, carrots, onions, bell peppers, and the diner’s choice of protein.
“If customers are not familiar with the food, I recommend they try the buffet so they can taste many things and find their perfect dish,” Dhital said.
Indeed, during my visit, the buffet (open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., weekdays, $13; weekends, $15) served as an ideal testing ground for creamy, tomato-spiked chicken tikka masala, clay-oven-cooked tandoori chicken, well-spiced vegetables samosas, chana (chickpea) saag, goat curry, shrimp dopiaza, mutter paneer, the aforementioned jhaneko daal, and broccoli pakora (a parent at a nearby table reassured his children that they would like the crisp pakora if they tried it — and he was right). Scooped up with buttery, bubbly garlic naan bread, the colorful array of flavors and textures left me pleasantly stuffed and exceedingly excited to further acquaint myself with Dhital’s menu.
House of Tandoor, 81 Union St., Newton Centre. 617-916-2977, www.houseoftandoorusa.com.