Unusual pan-Himalayan cuisine in the heart of Cambridge
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  October 2, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars

QUALITY, QUANTITY: Annapurna Special Himalayan Bhojan is a multi-dish combination that
comes on brass plates and makes an interesting show.

Annapurna | 617.876.8664 | 2008 Mass Ave, Cambridge | Open Mon–Thurs, 11 am–10 pm; Fri, 11 am–11 pm; Sat, 7 am–11 pm; and Sun, 7 am–10 pm | DI, MC, VI | No liquor | No valet parking | Access up two steps from sidewalk level
Annapurna is owned and decorated by Nepalis, but in addition to Nepali cuisine, it serves a pan-Himalayan menu, including a lot of Afghan food, a couple of Tibetan items, some really good Indian-style curries and breads, and, for all I know, the best of Sikkim and Bhutan. In what’s proven to be a tricky location in Porter Square, they also hedge with some plain salads, “Cape Cod fried fish,” and what looked a lot like chicken nuggets as they cleaned up a child’s birthday party just before dinner hour. I didn’t taste these last things, though they may be a boon to parties in which someone just doesn’t like any kind of spice.

That said, the spicing in dishes here, at least those ordered by non-Asians, is rather mild, as is typical of these high-mountain cuisines. Most of the hot pepper went into pickles and chutneys, especially a truly superb mint one. To get it, you need to order something like chicken pakaura ($6), not crisp but genuinely tasty chopped-up chicken fritters with Himalayan herbs. This also comes with its own dip, a creamy peppery-cilantro sauce. Annapurna’s chicken momo ($5), also available in a vegetarian variety, are folded over like Peking ravioli instead of being drawn into the usual purse shape. On the other hand, aushak ($5; $11/entrée) are not the usual Peking-ravioli shape (as they are at the beloved Helmand), but flat pasties stuffed with scallions and topped with minted yogurt.

The restaurant has added American-style salads, including one of boiled beets and a bit of goat cheese ($5). You’ll want to explore the soups instead. Complimentary our night with a plate of papadum was a demitasse of yellow-split-pea soup jazzed up with coriander. Roasted-vegetable soup ($4) was a purée as rich as Canadian pea soup (which is made with pork), but likely accomplished without meat.

My favorite of the main dishes was beef terai curry ($8.95; also available with lamb or chicken), featuring a tomato-coconut sauce that spreads over quite a lot of aromatic basmati rice with a few peas. The “Annapurna Special Himalayan Bhojan” ($18/one person; $30/two; $42/three; $52/four) is a multi-dish combination that includes a salad of sliced carrots, cucumber, and red onion dressed simply with lemon and pepper; rice and a fresh-baked naan ($3 à la carte); a dish of creamy homemade yogurt and another of mango chutney; and, in the vegetarian version, a wonderful, slightly sweet spinach or kale dish, roasted cauliflower, and spiced chopped okra. (It also can be ordered with chicken curry.) All of this comes on brass plates and makes an interesting show.

Among the Afghan dishes, I recommend the sabzi challow ($13), a spinach-lamb curry that lingers on the palate. Mourgh challow ($12) brought chicken-breast chunks, some a bit dry, in onion curry with split peas. Dwopiaza ($15) gave us lamb kebabs (the large grill in the middle of the room survives two previous Afghan-style restaurants) marinated too much, grilled nicely, and served in a rich garlic-mushroom sauce.

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