A golden statue of Shiva greeted us at the front door as we picked up our first dinner from Namaste India Bistro, the Santa Cruz sibling to the restaurant’s Los Gatos and Monterey outposts. Lovingly decorated, with a small wine bar at the back, the new restaurant is a very welcome addition to the Westside. We loved our take-out order of Jhol Momo ($12.50), a classic Nepali dish consisting of eight plump dumplings, pale green globes twisted into knots at the center. With the dumplings came a separate container of creamy, tomato-tinged sauce, thickened with spicy sesame with a lovely kick at the end. Dumplings in a curry sauce—what a treat.
The Namaste menu lists many different momos (such a fun word to say), some with more firepower, some with chicken filling, but we loved our vegetarian version. This was easily enough for 3-4 people to share as a start to a meal.
I have to admit, I was taking a chance ordering a tandoori dish for takeaway. But the entree showed off the expertise of Namaste’s cooking team. An order of Tandoori Salmon ($29.50) proved generous, moist and delicious. Four rectangles of salmon lay on a thick cushion of thinly sliced onions and cilantro, with wedges of lime. Classic presentation. And again, plenty for another meal—or to share at the table with friends. Marinated in a spice-infused yogurt—usually including cumin, paprika, coriander and garlic—the fish arrived moist and tender. A mild smokiness from the clay oven is the haunting signature of tandoori cooking. The rich spices ignite complex sensory sparks. These dishes awaken the palate.
One of the must-have classics of Northern India cuisine, palak paneer is a go-to dish for us ($16.50). It’s easy to like the bright green dish of fresh creamy spinach puree cooked with tomatoes and studded with spices and fat cubes of the fresh cheese called paneer. Easily one of the best vegetable dishes I know of, and the Namaste version did not disappoint.
To go with our dumplings, salmon and palak paneer courses, we took home an order of Jeera rice ($5.50), a fragrant basmati rice studded with cumin and often cloves. I certainly detected the cumin and coriander in ours. The rice helped soak up a side of sweetly mysterious, cola-flavored tamarind chutney ($4).
A small order of mixed pickle ($3) is absolutely required with these dishes, splendidly hot and addictive, a mix of peppers and cucumbers pickled in garlic and chiles. I let the spicy juices drench the rice, while my dining partner bravely bit into the pickles themselves. His brow grew moist and his eyebrows raised, but he kept eating. Spicy food is irresistible. We could feel ourselves getting high on these flavors.
One bite led to another, and by the end of my dinner I wanted to eat a whole second plateful.
Namaste India Bistro is a great new addition to the Westside neighborhood, filling the shoes of the former long-standing Vasili’s with a menu that roams the vastness of India’s many regions, from Goan vindaloos to Manchurian and Nepalese dumplings and kebabs to countless curry and biryani dishes. During lunch hours, Namaste also offers a full listing of thali platters, with chutneys, dal and naan. Even after a single week of being open, the India dining spot has already found many fans. And I’ll be personally working my way through this menu, week by week. Curries are next!
Namaste India Bistro, 1501 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Open 11:30am-2:30pm, 5-9pm (9:30pm Friday and Saturday). Closed Monday. namasteindiabistro.com.