Chowdown at Namaste in Petaluma
I seem to be the first one up this morning of those who attended a chowdown last night at Namaste in Petaluma. I'll start the thread, then others can post in it.
I had to decide if I would expend the energy to keep track of what everything was, make notes, etc., or just sit back and enjoy the food and conversation. I opted for the latter. So... What I found was that I really liked all the "main food" items, I mean really liked a lot. I specifically remember the lamb dish that came first; what wonderful flavor. Same for the chick pea dish, one that I wouldn't have expected to like so much. I suppose my least favorite of all the many main dishes was the prawn dish which I found too subtle for my taste buds, so I added a bit of sauce from other things to it and then liked it a lot, but that's probably just a personal preference. I didn't care much for the two types of naan, at least in comparison with the naan at Om in San Rafael. I also found the flavor in the desserts too subtle or one-dimensional for me, but again, just a personal preference. Those last two things really make no difference; I'll go back as often as I'm in Petaluma (and don't decide to go to the Water Street Cafe) for that very very good food.
Thanks all for a great time and for getting this report going! The lasting impression I have about Namaste's food is how good the basic ingredients are. While I didn't like either the rogan josh or the lamb vindaloo, no matter which was which, I have to say that the quality of the lamb was quite notable despite the miscues with the saucing. I found the prawns in coconut milk dish boringly monotonal, but that was one big, perfectly cooked, juicy prawn on my plate.
I thought the best dishes were the distinctly Nepalese dishes: momos, lamb choila, and the chana amchur (yes, with dried mango powder). I also liked the fried-to-a-crisp onion bhajia --- no blooming onion could ever touch it. While the menu describes choila as "slices", you can see the holes in the cubes of lamb from the skewers. And, when I've had it elsewhere, it's cut in cubes like this. The version here was not as highly seasoned as others, but the ginger did stand out in the blend.
Here's the photo of the momo (napped with some mint chutney) and choila on my appetizer plate. The dinnerware here is quite attractive.
The haldi murgh kabob was served on a sizzling plate.
And, here's my plate with a little bit of each of the entrees, rice and aloo paratha.
Some of us brought bottles of wine to share,
1983 Trimbach Gewurztraminer Alsace, http://www.maison-trimbach.fr/ , was my favorite of the night. All the rosey and pretty side of Gewurz in a bone-dry package and none of the coarseness, this 24 year old example was still youthful and not even reaching into middle age yet.
2003 De Burca "Rockin H Ranch" Sonoma Coast Syrah was a new one for me, and I'm delighted to have the chance to try it. A little edgey when first opened, this soon settled down to an elegant, cool climate expression of New World syrah with plummy fruit and silky tannins. Here's the specs for the 2004,
1995 Turley "Whitney-Tennessee" Napa Valley Zinfandel has been kicking around in my cellar since release. Didn't like it at all when it was young and kept meaning to sell the bottle but never got around to it. In maturity, it still has a lot of stuffing and huge fruit. Like most Turley's, it's meant for tasting and not for drinking with a meal, and I soon returned to the other two. But I'm glad I had a chance to revisit it again.
Mick, thanks for the thread starter. I enjoy Indian food, but I don't know much about it, and Nepalese food is unexplored territory for me.
Normally at a good Indian restaurant I sort of experience the meal as a delicious red-brown curry blur, mixed with bread or rice. Not really discerning Chowhound behavior, perhaps, but I do enjoy it. This time was different, both because the food merited some extra attention, and because I had a knowledgeable guide in kare raisu, across the table, pointing out distinctive characteristics and interesting spices.
I'll report on what really caught my attention:
Momos. I have to agree that these were one of the standouts. Steamed dumping-buns, you know, to all outside appearances, the Chinese sort that are dull while and of dumpling (not bread) texture, with a little dimple in the top surrounded by pleats. Inside was a surprising juicy spiced lamb concoction, and the green sauce just made it all come together. The texture of the dumping wrapped was just right, firm and thick enough to have its own character, which works well, as long as the filling has enough power to balance it, and this one certainly did. A fantastic dish, new to me, and I agree that it's a must-order.
Smoked lamb. If it's smoked, it's only a little, but nice seasoned chunks of cold rare lamb. Very good.
Onion Bahiji: Lime-sized knobby chunks of dark fried crunch. More of a textured snack than a dish, but definitely should be on your order list if you're in a large enough group. The two dipping sauces, one the green coriander that came with the dumplings, the other tamarind, were terrific.
The prawns and the veggies didn't make that much impression on me, though the white delicate creamy prawn dish certainly offered a distinctive change of pace from the richer curries.
The one with the potatoes, though, the Rogan Josh, I liked that one a lot. Too much coriander? Not for me.This dish managed to bring out the elusive lemoniness of coriander, despite all of the other interesting spice impressions in the dish, in a way that I found very appealing. A big winner in my book.
The Vindaloo was delicious, but no specifics remain in my memory.
The chick pea dish, I passed over earlier in a curry blur, but went back to it after hearing kare raisu sing its praises. I'm glad I did. It truly is special, though my memory has not retained descriptors. I just don't have the right hollows carved out in my brain for this cuisine yet, so details tend to flee. Maybe after a few more visits, the place is right across town for me.
I liked the potato-filled bread a lot. Two thin outer layers, with 1/8" of spiced potato in between, it wasn't strongly flavored, but had a terrific homey texture and I found it very fulfilling. The other bread was decent, and certainly wonderful with the curries, but didn't make an impression on my as a separate thing. I really do think of these breads as essential curry accompaniment, and don't tend to evaluate them outside that context.
The cottage-cheese-like rice dessert in a bowl didn't do anything in particular for me, but the Galub Jamun, if that's the balls of whatever-it-was, soaked with rosewater, I found very compelling in a subtle way. Sort of a soaked-sponge-cake appeal, but with just the bare minimum of sweetness. Refreshing, somehow. Wasn't too popular with much of the table, but I liked it.
The meal was a pleasure, both food and company. Thanks for discovering this place, Dr Mimi. It's great to have a place like this in my town, and I will certainly go back.
What a great place for the snarky family's first chowdown! The food was fabulous and the company was great. I'm sorry Kare Raisu is leaving us for points south, and look forward to his visits back our way.
Here's the snarky rundown:
We started with the momos, a heavenly version of a potsticker. The dough was more substantial than Chinese potstickers, and the filling was out of this world. Ground lamb with incredible spices. The lamb in every dish we had (four lamb dishes in all) was so fresh, and so versatile. It was perfectly cooked in each, and tasted differently in each. What a treat!
Next came the smoked lamb. Husband and I had a split decision on this, he with the thumb's up. I swear the menu said "sliced smoked lamb," but what arrived was served like a cut up sausage. The taste was too mild for me, but husband thought they were very good.
The final appetizer we had were the Onion Bahiji, which I though were pakoras. These were delicious, the best version of this type of dish I've ever had. They were very flavorful, and the tamarind sauce was perfect.
Next came the curries:
The Jhange Jhole [Prawns in Coconut milk] was very subtle, in a good way. The prawns were perfect, so fresh. They had the texture of the best ebi in sushi restaurants. The sauce was very delicate, almost like a scent more than a taste. Very enjoyable.
Husband and I enjoyed the Vegetable Korma, but it wasn't really a standout given how unique some of the other dishes were.
My favorite was the Channa Amchaur, an out of this universe chickpea curry. The chickpeas were al dente, a wonderful pop and you were in! The curry was described as mango powder and tamarind if I remember correctly, and was like nothing I ever had before, unlie the vegetarian curry. A big hit for me!
We then had two lamb dishes, Rogan Josh and Lamb Vindaloo. I'm in the Vindaloo had potato in it camp, as I recall Melanie pointing that out on the menu while we were trying to figure out which was which. Neither was spicey hot, so no clue there. At any rate, the dish I'm calling RJ had a tomato base and a richer taste. The vindaloo had more complex spices. Again, the lamb was delicious and fresh. These were my husband's favorites, with the vindaloo having the edge. When I mentioned to Mimi that I was surprised that the vindaloo didn't require a fire extinguisher, she said the chef will turn up the heat depending on how you order it, so those who like it hot shouldn't hesitate to ask.
Next up was a Tandoori Chicken, which Melanie had grilled the host about, making sure it would be tender and moist. I think KR's side of the table may have one out on that count, but I have to say that this was the least dry version of this dish I've ever had. Again, I probably wouldn't order this again here, not because it was problematic, it was very good. It's just that there are unusual dishes that are real treats, and I'd aim for them.
As for the breads, I only had the potato, but enjoyed it. Fans of fluffy, chewy nans will not like the style of this bread, which is more dry and layered. Fans of great taste will enjoy it immensely.
We had two desserts, a rice pudding which neither husband or I cared for (who knew they had marichino cherries in Nepal?) and a heavenly Galub Jamun. The first time I ever had this, it was made by the mother of an Indian friend of mine, and these were "even better than the real thing" as Bono would say. The balls were perfectly cooked and delicately spiced, and the sauce was very light, not too sweet, and again, had a wonderful flowery scent. Two thumbs up from the snark family.
Thanks again to Mimi and Melanie for arranging the wonderful evening. We hope to see everyone again soon!
Thanks for coming to my burg and eating at my most favorite place in Petaluma. I am glad there are others finally talking about my find! Proof positive that one can eat well on the East Side of Petaluma-- no need to go downtown for a meal (ps there are a few other favorites on my list). BTW chowhounders are witty, urbane and fun for a bit of hang out time...
If y'all want food hotter-- the chef will happily oblige--- just make the request when you order....
Looking forward to the next Chowhound Event in Sonoma County-- we truly rock up here in all the most unexpected places...
Thank you to Mimi for discovering this place and reporting on it to the chowhound community. It is a true gem - possibly the best South Asian Food that I have had in the North Bay thus far.
Thank you to Melanie for Organizing the event and to everyone for treating me. :) It was a pleasure to hae the chance to meet and dine with you all - which is the best part of the Chowdown!
-- Momos - You should not go to Namaste Cafe without ordering these - they were high among the stellar standouts of the evening. I was blown away by the tender - Chinese Potsticker reminicsent dough whigh was just hefty enough to encase the juicy wonderful ground lamb and herb filling within. If there was a Nepali shanghai soup dumpling this would be it. The pure tasting coriander chutney was a perfect accoutrement to contrast the excellent quality ground lamb.
-- Smoked Lamb - Would not order again - lamb meat was local and delicious - just anticipated a different preparation. We recived chunks rather than slices.
-- Onion Bahiji [Gram flour Onion Fritters] - I enjoyed that they cooked these a little bit longer than normal - I think the smokiness from this was complemented by the lovely sweet-sour tamarind sauce.
>> CURRIES :
-- Jhange Jhole [Prawns in Coconut milk] Good - just reminded me of Thai food.
-- Veggie Korma - Reminded me of Dona Maria Pipian, so I really liked this though it could be knocked for one-dimensionality - got coconut but not much else. I am a broccoli fiend so - I loved how the heads soaked up the sauce and loved to eat it with the basmati rice.
-- Channa Amchur(Sp) [Chickpeas in curry sauce] - My favorite dish - stuning. Wonderful al dente chickpeas swimming in a bright, tangy and warmingly spicy sauce. Soupnoodles suggested tamarind - which I do not doubt. Possibly mango powder?Order this!!!!
--- Rogan Josh and Lamb Vindaloo - There was confusion as to which was which - but I am know guessing that the cardamomn- heavy, potato laden lamb curry was the RJ. This is an assumption - based on the greater use of this spice in Kashmir - where this dish origanates - and would seem less prevelant in - beach-side Portuguese Goa's Vindaloo.
That said - I think that the RJ -was too heavy on the cardamom - I like the spice but it got to the point where it was almost too medicinal -though very much edible.
The potato-free vindaloo on the hand was beautiful. The gravy was rich and balanced and contained delicious local lamb which stood up top and fortified the sauce. I liked that there was still a "bite" to the lamb - not meltingly tender. Only knock - perhaps could have been slightly spicer. (Btw - leftovers even more delicious for breakfast today!)
- Tandoori Chicken - Our side of the table's was suprisingly moist, tender and a pleasure to eat (for breast meat). Best rendition I have had.
--Basmati Rice - As a rice lover I must comment! Perfectly cooked - fluffed, separate, and toothsome.
-- Breads - Both delicious - liked the potato slightly more because I felt the basil need more of that herb.
--Galub Jamun - Actually also one of my favorite dishes of the night! Surprising for a dish that I have deemed unedible everytime presented with in the past. Almost angelic in its yielding texture and nuanced rosewater syrup.
-- Kheer - OK - I like the textural contrasts in raisins and almonds - but there were none. Also appreciated that it was only slightly sweet.
I would also like to add what a pleasure it was to dine again with soupnoodles who sat across from me. His passion and knowledge for cuisine - specifically Chinese is truly admirable.