Editor’s note: The following review was written before the coronavirus pandemic included warnings from public health officials to not visit restaurants and Virginia closed restaurants on March 23. The owner hopes to reopen in the future.
Not a month goes by that a reader doesn’t shoot me an email that boils down to a plea: Won’t you save a beloved restaurant? Almost always, the sender paints a picture of a dining room that’s empty despite what they believe is worthy cooking. Invariably, the note nudges me to check out the place and possibly write nice things about it.
Over the years, I’ve followed up on a number of such tips. Sometimes the food isn’t good enough to tell thousands of readers, and I decide not to broadcast the news. (Inferior restaurants, notably small independents, don’t need a food critic to pile on; they can disappear on their own, I figure.) To be honest, it’s a rare reader submission that leads me to cooking that matches the level of passion conveyed by their civilian booster.
Thank you, Tina Rosenthal, for your missive in February, imploring me to check out a “unique Nepalese restaurant” off the beaten track “even for Loudoun.” Everest Kitchen, she gushed in an email, is “REALLY GOOD, very reasonably priced.” Her worry? “It is almost always empty, so I hope the friendly proprietors can keep it in business.”
Which is how I found myself on a recent Sunday afternoon in Ryan Park, near Metro’s future Silver Line in Ashburn — alone, because no one in my immediate circle of stomachs wanted to make a trek for a meal that had yet to be vetted.
Their big loss. Almost immediately, I knew something good would come of my visit, if only because Suman Shrestha Kasajoo made me feel like an honored guest the moment the general manager and co-owner ushered me to a booth near a window. The menu he left on the table was of the sort favored by corporate chains, bound in plastic, but the aromas wafting from the rear kitchen indicated some personal cooking was in store — a useful tip, by the way, for sniffing out good restaurants in unfamiliar environs anywhere.
The selections are mostly Indian, a legacy of the restaurant that preceded Everest Kitchen, which opened almost two years ago, says Krishna Shrestha, the principal owner and no relation to his business partner. But the first page and a half of the menu flag the lesser-available flavors of Nepal, sandwiched between China in the north and India in the south and the birthplace of chef Ganesh Thapa.
Good Indian is as easy to find in the area as a MAGA hat at the Trump International Hotel. Nepalese food, best expressed at Royal Nepal in Alexandria, is a more elusive commodity. So I began my solo adventure with goat soup, a $5 bowl of shredded red meat bobbing in a broth yellowed by turmeric, and bold with cardamom and cilantro. Return visits let me eat my way through the other bowls, one using a pantry’s worth of beans, another green and thick with peas, green beans and minced chicken. The category was so compelling, I could have made meals of soup alone.
But there was momo to explore. Steamed dumplings are a good test of a Nepalese kitchen. They look like little satchels and can be enjoyed with or without meat. A filling of ground chicken with a whisper of ginger is my preferred way to eat the supple momo here, although minced cabbage, onion and garlic is a satisfying concert, too. The kitchen also makes fried momo — draped like the steamed dumplings in a vinegary red sauce — that announces itself with a brash sputter.
The pièce de résistance is a handsome platter of popular Nepalese snacks, arranged as an Ethiopian spread might be, in a happy circle. The pipeline of pleasure includes a few spoonfuls of grilled spiced chicken (choila), steamed potatoes shocked with green chiles, equally fired-up fried soybeans (bhatmas sadheko), mellow black-eyed peas and what looks like uncooked oatmeal but turns out to be dried, beaten rice. The glistening soybeans, tossed with red onion, green chile, coriander and more, lack one thing: a jar with a label — you know, for easy purchase. I push some flattened rice into something moist on the plate and get a pleasing crunch in the mouth. Kathmandu, here I come!
Everest Kitchen is a restful environment, its walls painted robin’s egg blue and its background music suggestive of a spa. A six-seat bar promises beer and wine with your meal, but only when a manager is present. Twice, servers were unable to serve alcohol. Shrestha Kasajoo is the restaurant’s best emissary. The other staff are pleasant but shy, less able to communicate the enticements of Everest Kitchen. The general manager hopes the recent hiring of another Nepalese manager will enhance service. My advice: Brush up on your pantomime skills and be patient.
The chef’s credentials encourage wider exploration of the menu. Thapa, 43, cooked at exclusively Indian restaurants in Boston and New York before coming to the Washington area, where his path to Everest Kitchen included stops at the esteemed Bombay Club near the White House and Jaipur Royal Indian Cuisine in Fairfax.
The Punjab region is well-represented by dal makhani: black lentils, red kidney beans, tomatoes and onion cooked to near-collapse with seasonings both hot and sweet and finished with a circle of cream on top. If there’s a better version in Northern Virginia, it eludes me. Goan shrimp curry combines springy shrimp and a moss-colored sauce that shows what friends we have in curry leaves, tamarind and mustard seeds. Lamb vindaloo has tender meat in its favor, but the seasoning pulls its punches. The better route is lamb chops masala, cloaked in a pepper-stoked onion gravy and so soft, you barely need teeth to enjoy.
The typical Indian bookends to a meal are very appealing. Flaky, whole-wheat methi paratha is the king of tandoor-baked breads here, and how nice that the kitchen sends out complimentary gulab jamun to new customers ahead of the bill.
Rosenthal, the Sterling, Va., reader who urged me to visit the restaurant, concluded her email with a forecast: “You will not be disappointed if you drop by.”
She was right. There wasn’t one meal at Everest Grill when I wasn’t grateful for her prompt. All three visits left friends and me eager to return — and concerned that half a dozen other diners was the most number I ever saw.
The restaurant deserves to be filled. Which brings me to my plea of the month: Make it happen, please?
Everest Kitchen (Good) 43490 Yukon Dr., Ashburn. 703-726-9333. everestkitchenashburn.com. Open: Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Prices: $4 to $13, main courses $10 to $23. Sound check: 68 decibels / Conversation is easy. Accessibility: The restaurant opens with a heavy front door; the women’s restroom is easier to access than the men’s.