Boulder restaurant is the place for fresh fare from India, Nepal and Tibet
You don’t just stumble upon Gurkhas Restaurant. You need to go looking for it. Though tucked into a back corner of the Gunbarrel Shopping Center’s quadrangle, it is worth seeking out for its exceptional specialties from India, Nepal and Tibet. The owners previously ran the Annapurna Restaurant in Loveland but felt that there was a bigger (and more appreciative) audience for their careful and authentic renditions of specialties from the subcontinent and the Himalayas in Boulder, where many people have ethnic, spiritual, emotional or touristic ties to the region.
Ice water was promptly poured into aluminum beakers, and a trio of rolled papadams with two dipping sauces (below) appeared as we contemplated the sizable menu. In addition to soup, salad, appetizer, bread, side dish and dessert selections, the entrées are further subdivided into Nepali Specialties, Tandoori Specialties, Basmati Rice Specialties, Lamb Entrées, Chicken Entrées, Sea Food Entrées, Vegetarian Entrées and Tibetan Entrées. Gurkhas is predictably vegetarian-friendly, but it is also one of the very rare restaurants serving goat meat — the others usually being restaurants catering to the Hispanic community. Wine, (mostly imported) beer and non-alcoholic beverages similarly provide something for a range of tastes.
Three of us started our dinner with a shared Gurkhas Sampler (below), a pile of four vegetable pakoras, two chicken pakoras and 2 samosas. Each plump samosa was stuffed with chunked vegetables, primaily potato. The vegetable pakora was the best — shredded, battered, crisp-fried vegetables. The chicken version was the least successful of thre three, because the thin chicken didn’t stand up well to the high heat and really had dried out to leatheriness. One of the spices, or a combination of spices, turned the pakoras as red as a bindi, the distinctive red dot that many Indian women wear on their foreheads. We never did find out what the red spice(s) was/were, though we did ask.
We also shared a salad and another bread. The Kuchumber Salad (one of the charmingly spelled items on the menu) was was actually more a mixed salad of cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots with a light lemony dressing. The garlic naan (below) was hot and rich and glistened with just a hint of oil and sprinkled with rough-cut fresh herbs– truly wonderful. Then, we dipped into three main dishes and tasted from each others’ selections.
I was not familiar with Beigon Bharta, but a dish of minced eggplant cooked down with tomato and onion sounded really good to me. And it was. Only the small seeds gave away its eggplant foundation. Like the chicken and the shrimp and everything else on the menu, this thick spicy dish was distinctively seasoned with a mixture of herbs and spices that are blended in house.
Gurkhas’ Chicken Tikka Masala (below) is an aromatic stew consisting of cubed, marinated chicken breast in a creamy tomato sauce that is cooked in a tandoori oven. Both combine well with rice — of course.
Gurkhas marinates its tandoori shrimp (below) and cooks it to a bit of crispness on the outside and moistness on the inside. The skewer was removed in the kitchen, and the shrimp presented on a sizzling platter with a summer garden’s worth of vegetables.
Gurkhas Restaurant prides itself on these custom blends but also in obtaining fresh and seasonal ingredients, and handing them over to professional chefs to cook. Diners are given a choice of mild, medium or hot for most dishes. We all ordered medium, which like Baby Bear’s porridge turned out to be just right — a palate-sparking kick but not so spicy that the flavors were masked. We tried to identify a particular seasoning or two, but couldn’t. Benjamin Sunuwar, who is from Kathmandu but came to the Texas to study business and eventually came to Colorado, won’t tell us what they were. I really can’t blame him. The dishes are so distinctive that Gurkhas probably wants to keep the details a secret.
Sunuwar said that the lunch buffet, enjoyed mostly by patrons with Western tastes, tends to feature dishes on the milder side, while dinner offerings are more complex, spicier and optionally hotter. He said that on weekends, dinner patrons are 90 percent Asian. I assume that Gurkhas puts on extra staff on weekends, because when we were there, service was attentive and considerate, but painfully slow. Only two tables were occupied by mid-sized parties when we arrived on a weeknight a bit after 7:00, and we were the last to leave. Other than the ice water, there were mystifyingly long waits for everything from the beverages to the bill — mystifying because there were so few of us dining at the time. That might have been an aberration, but if not, don’t go if you’re really hungry or in any kind of a hurry. But otherwise, try it, because the food is really good.
At dinner, soups and salads, $3.99; appetizers, $3.99-$6.99; Nepali Specialties, $8.99-$12.99; Tandoori Specialties, $12.99-$14.99; Basmati Rice Specialties, $9.99-$12.99; Lamb Entrées, $12.99-$13.99; Chicken Entrées, $9.99-$12.99; Sea Food Entrées, $13.99; Vegetarian Entrées, $9.99-$13.99; Tibetan Entrées, $9.99-$10.99; tandoori bread, $1.99-$2.99; side orders, 99 cents-$1.99; desserts, $1.99-$2.99. At lunch, Gurkhas puts on a $9.99 buffet with a partly changing menu with dishes from India, Tibet, Nepal and also China.
Gurkhas Restaurant is in the Gunbarrel Shopping Center (I think the northwest corner, in back). The address is 6565 Gunpark Drive, Boulder; 303-530-1551.