The readers of The Press Democrat have spoken, and Pamposh Indian Restaurant in Santa Rosa has tied as Best Asian Restaurant for 2013. One name explains this success: Uddab Timilsina.
This soft-spoken native of Nepal has cooked at many Indian and Himalayan restaurants in Sonoma County during the past 14 years, interpreting Indian, Nepali and Kashmiri dishes with great skill. He's been at Pamposh for nine years, where he's established the room's reputation for excellence.
Pamposh means "lotus flower" in Kashmiri, and is a name often given to male children. Kashmir is a beautiful land in South Asia, tucked up against the Himalayas west of Nepal and east of Pakistan, its northern part controlled by Pakistan and its southern part by India. Mona Dhar is the owner of the restaurant along with her husband, Santa Rosa cardiologist Dr. Sanjay Dhar, and her brother, Sumeer Karihaloo. They are all originally from Kashmir, and so chef Timilsina's Nepalese background fits right in with their plan to bring this style of Indian cooking to Sonoma County.
Individual Indian art pieces adorn the front of each menu, which lists Kashmiri dishes like the spicy lamb curry called rogan josh, luscious chicken korma, the restaurant's signature dish of lamb or chicken in an apricot-coconut sauce, and the exotic cups of herb and spiced chai. These dishes and others prepared by chef Timilsina use spices that infuse the main ingredients with that distinct Indian character — turmeric, cardamom, coriander, black pepper, ginger, garlic, cumin, saffron, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves.
We've entered the height of the apricot season now, and the restaurant's lovely<strong> Lamb in Apricot Sauce</strong> ($15.95 ****) could hardly be better. The sauce is not just pureed apricot, but pairs the fruit with coconut and herbs, and the lamb is perfectly tender. These ingredients are cooked in a pan into a curry whose flavor elements blend together.
Having hot naan close at hand makes the experience even better. Our table ordered <strong>Pamposh Naan</strong> ($3.25 ****), a leavened dough containing basil, garlic and spices that's flash-baked in a super-hot tandoor oven, and also <strong>Onion Kulcha</strong> ($3.75 ****), naan stuffed with onions and fresh cilantro leaves and similarly flash-baked.
Tear off a big piece of hot, flavorful naan and use it to scoop up some of the meaty lamb curry. Or, of course, use it on any other dish, like the irresistible <strong>Chicken Korma</strong> ($14.95 ***), tender breast meat cooked with a smooth and creamy cashew sauce spiked with fresh ginger and hints of other spices like cardamom.
What drink goes with spicy Indian food? The wine list is small but includes several wines from Navarro Vineyards in the Anderson Valley, including a delicious 2010 Pinot Noir for $38. White wine is a good choice, too, and here's Navarro Vineyards' 2011 Edelzwicker for $26, and Preston Vineyards' organic 2012 Sauvignon Blanc. Beer is a favorite, and Taj Mahal and Flying Horse are from India, while Kingfisher is from New York state, although the brewing is overseen by executives from Bangalore. Salted lassi (a yogurt-based drink) and mango lassi are also available.
The menu promised house chutneys would be served with the <strong>Mixed Appetizers Platter</strong> ($7.95 ***), but no such luck. Two dips took their place. One was a dark and sweet tamarind sauce, the other made with mint, cilantro and chilies. The plate included two crunchy vegetable pakoras (fritters) and three marinated tandoori chicken pakoras, plus two fat samosas — conical wraps of dough filled with spiced potatoes. It was almost enough food for the three of us by itself.