1800 Connecticut Ave. NW 483-6470 Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 5:30 to 11 p.m. seven days a week. Prices: Dinner appetizers $1.25 to $3.95; main dishes $6.50 to $12. Cards: American Express, Carte Blanche, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa.
Looking for an inexpensive diversion from pasta, pate and Peking duck?
Any travel recommendation for the new year would likely include Katmandu, a kebab's toss from Dupont Circle. Here, the air is filled with sitar music, as well as the scents of cardamom and fennel, which perfume everything from rice to tea on this Nepalese-Kashmiri menu.
Behind the heavy stone facade of this ground floor oasis is a dark, red-upholstered and modestly exotic grotto consisting of three small, low-ceilinged dining rooms, so cavelike you almost expect to be issued a miner's helmet as you're shown to your seat. If you have a choice, sit in the dining room farthest from the main entrance, which offers a bit more comfort and, in my experience, more attentive service.
Charting a dinner plan is made relatively easy once you discover that the style of cooking at Katmandu is quite similar to the cooking found in many Indian restaurants. Charcoal-grilled kebabs of chicken, mutton and fish are a staple, as are curry and vegetable dishes. The breads, too, include the familiar light, puffed puri and whole-wheat grilled chapati and pratha. The seasonings are perhaps lighter, but no less intriguing.
For openers, try the little deep-fried, gourd-shaped pastries called momos, which come stuffed with a choice of chicken, mutton or vegetables; mild on their own, these turnovers are well served by the accompanying verdant, vibrant dipping sauce of yogurt, coriander and mint.
Vegetarians are in luck at Katmandu, where ordinary vegetables are transformed into extraordinary meals. Even this staunch meat eater found himself tempted by the possibilities of starting with the heady, mustard-colored lentil soup or a vegetable momos and continuing with main dishes of sukhi sabzi (a homey, stewlike melange of eggplant, tomato and cauliflower chunks, served over rice) and curried turnips, a generous bowl of meltingly soft, pleasantly sweet vegetable cubes, bathed in a gently fiery cream sauce.
Of course, that would mean passing up such satisfying dishes as the murgh biriani, an abundant rice pilaf topped with moist, flavorful chicken slices, sprinkled with raisins for sweetness and almonds for a delicate crunch, or gosht kofta paneer, which are simply glorified meatballs consisting of ground mutton and cottage cheese, enhanced with a full-flavored curry-spiked gravy. For heartier appetites, there is the "katmandu specialty," a pleasantly smoky, full-flavored cut of mutton, accompanied by rice and, like many of the entrees, a side dish of tangy pickled carrots.
Dessert includes an achingly sweet rice pudding, flavored with cardamom and sprinkled with nuts. A less cloying finish comes in the form of tea, fragrant with cardamom and fennel seeds.
In all, Katmandu offers a fair-priced introduction to food that is as filling as it is unusual.Tom Sietsema is on the staff of The Washington Post Food section.