The bright white walls almost bulge with the layers of paint required for covering the smoky patina of the former barbecue restaurant at this Spicewood Springs shopping center space.
The clean slate inside Nepali-Indian restaurant Himalaya Kosheli, modestly adorned with a few pieces of art, combined with the minimal signage out front define unassuming. The aesthetic made the restaurant somehow feel emptier than the complete lack of guests at the beginning of lunch.
We lifted the lids on the robust, shiny serving platters at the buffet station and a wave of aromatic air engulfed us. It was a spice aisle rousted to life, with vapors of cumin, clove and cardamom sweeping up and filling the space.
My friend and I loaded our plates from the $10.99 buffet, initially conscientious about keeping the dishes from blending, and tucked into an aromatic stew of bone-in goat curry brimming with the tingle of annise and mildly bitter thrum of bay leaf. Then we split the soft-boiled curried eggs with our forks and sampled the blend of eggy minerality, fennel and chive florality, and sweetness of caramelized onions.
We eyed one another with the excitement that comes when you’ve stumbled upon a revelatory discovery. Of course, we weren’t the first guests to darken the door of the restaurant opened by Nepal natives Devi Bhetuwal and chef Bhim Limbu last year, but alone in that room, we felt as if we’d been let in on a closely held secret. The shopping center that has been anchored by Asia Market, the adjacent Asia Cafe and Chen’s Noodle House for years, along with a rotating cast of characters, seemed to have a new member with equal staying power. It makes sense that "kosheli" means "surprise" in Nepalese.
Most of the buffet offerings will strike chords of familiarity with lovers of Indian food. There is the burnt orange tandoori chicken, supple, juicy and glowing from the clay oven, draped with citrus onions and circles of lemon. The milky cheese of smooth saag paneer tames the iron pop of spinach. Coriander pierces the richness of creamy black lentils cooked down with ghee, tomatoes and onions in a dish of dal makhani; and a perfumed and pickled buzz of fenugreek, red chili and mustard seeds radiated from achari okra, cabbage and chickpeas.
You won’t find the Nepalese staple momos along the buffet, and with good reason. Those pinched half-moon folds come prepared to order, both steamed and pan-fried. We ordered the chili chicken momos ($9.99), the dumplings pan-seared and coated in a dusky tomato-chili sauce, at dinner a couple of weeks later, along with gobi Manchurian ($5.99), the tangy fried cauliflower knobs resembling hunks of Indo-Chinese chicken.
You’ll recognize the Chinese influence on the menu in the form of an excellent chicken chow mein ($9.99), the sesame oil-slicked springy egg noodles weaving up and over crowns of broccoli, red pepper and chives. But the real treasures of the menu are the Indian curries.
Chef Bhim Limbu, who helped put Far West Nepalese-Indian restaurant Saffron on Austin’s dining map, coaxes deep, rich flavors from his assortment of slow-cooked sauces infused with spice. Tender vegetables soaked in a curry sweetened by coconut milk and breathy of garlic and ginger ($10.99). Bay leaf and clove melded in a luxuriant goat vindaloo ($13.99) ratcheted up with peppers and a touch of vinegar that led to excessive forehead dabbing from my friend, a New Delhi native. And the aromatics of clove and cardamom completely penetrated supple lamb in a dish of rogan josh ($13.99) of such quality that my same spritzing friend declared it the best he had encountered stateside or abroad.
Too bad he didn’t save room for dessert. The milky sweetness of the nutty rice pudding called kheer ($3.99) may have helped in extinguishing his vindaloo fire.
MORE RECOMMENDATIONS: MATTHEW ODAM'S 2018 DINING GUIDE