Restaurant review: Himalayan Grille

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Rehabbing the attractive, former Mykonos Taverna and Bakery Greek restaurant space into the Himalayan Grille looks to have been surprisingly easy. A mouthless, enigmatic face with a nose like a question mark beneath a bindi (a cosmetic red dot worn on the forehead) has been skillfully painted onto the facsimile of a Greek windmill. There have been other colorful decor additions - such as ceremonial daggers and photographs of snowy mountains - but the principal differences emanate from the kitchen.

As a result, roomy and tidy Himalayan Grille in Gahanna, open since February, has the nicest setting and best service of the small but hopefully still-growing number of local eateries offering Indian fare plus dishes that originated in Nepal and the contested Chinese region of Tibet, both of which border India. But it's not just this restaurant's relatively cushy digs that stand out - Himalayan Grille's food is affordable and appealing, spicy yet nuanced.

Diners can customize their level of botanical heat, but this cuisine is inherently bold, so I recommend starting with a mouth-calming beverage such as a large Kingfisher ($7), one of the 22-ounce Indian beers offered. It's a great match with Bhatamas Sadheko ($4), an assertive and aromatic, toasted soybean salad ignited by a sort of Nepali pico de gallo.

Chopped tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, jalapeno and scallion plus lemon juice and plenty of red onion supply much of the flavor; crunchy flakes of toasted "beaten rice" - which occupy half the plate - function as a palate realigner in between piquant bites. I liked this appetizer, but some of the soybeans were so gravel-hard, they aroused concerns inside my mouth.

For similar flavors - plus the added attractions of ginger, turmeric and no dental damage - opt for the Chicken Choila ($6.50). Here, the potent chopped veggies season boneless pieces of curry-powder-yellow breast meat presented in a characteristically generous serving.

Momos ($11) - dumplings popular in Nepal and Tibet - are sold steamed or fried, and in both chicken and vegetable versions. Acting on my personable server's recommendation, I went with the steamed chicken.

A dozen bundles arrived bearing a kicky, sausage-like filling with a curry flavor reminiscent of mild chorizo. On the side: a tangy, "creamy" and cold but complementary sauce fashioned by blending nuts with tomato.

Ema Datshi ($10) is often called the national dish of Bhutan, another country that edges up to the Himalayas. What I received was like spicy and delicious potato soup, with wide slices of spuds and other root vegetables (such as radishes and onions) plus green peppers and habanero chilies all bobbing in a milky and buttery but light-bodied broth. It's especially delightful spooned over the fluffy basmati rice on the side.

Unfortunately, no sides come with Himalayan Grille's Khasi Ko Sekuwa ($15). And instead of served traditionally on a skewer, as the menu describes, the Nepali classic arrives a la fajitas - literally smoking and sizzling on a cast-iron skillet. But with sweet onions and peppers playing off lotsa marinated-to-tangy, sear-crusted goat lumps (some tender, some definitely not), it's still a success.

If dining with a partner, dinner could be that fiery, lean-meat dish polished off with a huge basket of accomplished, fresh naan glistening with ghee ($5.50 buys slices of plain, onion and - my favorite - pungent garlic naan). Or how about one of the many familiar Indian favorites such as Lamb Vindaloo ($11.50), starring an addictive vinegar-spiked tomato gravy?

Fraught with indecision? Try the steal-of-a-deal Chicken Thali ($13), a personal smorgasbord with not-dull dal, chicken curry fragrant with clove and ginger, pleasantly bitter Nepali-style saag (not creamy, stir-fried with mustard greens and toasted cumin seeds), garlicky raita and much more.

Whatever you choose, if you seek attentive service and comfortable environs with your spicy food, Himalayan Grille can fill that bill.

Himalayan Grille

1307 Stoneridge Dr.,