Each week, GraceAnn Walden picks a restaurant in Petaluma or Novato that is worth checking out. Here's this week's choice:
1390 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma | 707-664-9245
Overview: Apparently, there is a community of people from Nepal living in Petaluma. Almost every one of the Indian restaurants here also bills themselves as Indian-Nepalese.
Part of my love for food, beyond dining, stems from my curiosity about other cultures. It’s a way to connect; to explore.
People wonder how I pick a place. I was conducting my all-day farm tour in Petaluma when we stopped at a convenience-liquor store to buy ice cream for the picnic’s dessert. The clerk appeared to be Indian, so I asked him if there were any good Indian restaurants in Petaluma.
He recommended Namaste. A few days later, I drove up from Novato in 15 minutes to give it a try. Since they bill themselves as “Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan gourmet food,” I couldn’t wait for my first taste of Nepali food.
Décor: Namaste is in a comfortable storefront with many photos and travel posters of Nepal. Cloth napkins at lunch are welcome.
The Drinks: There are some great Indian beers, but I opted for a mango lassi, a lovely drink of mango pulp and yogurt. On my second visit, I had an iced tea, which tasted like it was made from a dry mix.
Appetizers: Since I wanted to try new foods, I opted for the Tibetan momos, which are common to both Tibetan and Nepali cuisines. I ordered the lamb with spices. These are steamed dumplings served with a spicy dip, inexplicably called sweet Szechuan tomato chutney, mixing cuisines and countries (China) big time. The owner’s wife made them.
After a long wait, her husband served them, but they were filled with vegetables instead of lamb. He explained the mistake and said there would be a long wait for the right momos.
The dough was so chewy and tough, I could pass on anymore momos the rest of my life.
Entrees: On my first visit, again wanting to dive teeth first into Nepali food, I ordered the complete Nepalese meal: the thakali thali. A thali is a metal tray with small bowls of dishes, rice and dessert.
This thali contained a watery rice pudding, potatoes and cauliflower, which came off the buffet, lamb curry, yellow lentil soup, the same Szechuan sauce, rice and some thin chutney ($16.95).
There were exactly three thin pieces of dry lamb in the delicious curry sauce. The yellow lentil was a traditional Nepali dish and very good. But for $16.95 it was mediocre and at best skimpy.
I came back another day to give the Indian entrees a try at lunch. At a nearby table, there was an Indian looking man and wife, so I ordered what they had, tandoori chicken ($12.95). I also ordered the baigan bharta, my favorite veggie dish, oven-roasted eggplant with yogurt and spices ($10.95).
Of course, I had enough leftovers for dinner. I spoke to the couple and they were actually Nepali and from San Jose. It was their first time at Namaste. We agreed the tandoori was very good. I loved the eggplant dish. I’d stick to Indian dishes at Namaste in the future.
Desserts: Watery spiced rice pudding with cardamom.
Service: It looks like at lunch they have no chef and food is prepared by the wife, served by the husband.
Cost: I never take part, but they do have an all-you-can eat buffet for $9.25.
Disabled accessible: Yes.
Noise level: Moderate.