- Matthew Schniper
Why hasn’t anyone opened an Indian/Nepalese restaurant in Manitou Springs before?
No long-timer I’ve spoken with can remember one. Yet, it seems the cuisine’s long overdue and actually perfect for the small mountain town. That’s partly because of the “granola factor” that also makes Manitou a welcoming location for The Hemp Store, witch/wizard/faerie culture and crystal shops, and enterprises of all sorts that cater to its health-and-wellness alternative demographic and keep Manitou delightfully weird.
Broad stereotype here, but those folks love a good Indian buffet where they can punish a bunch of vegetarian food (and butter chicken, too, of course) and where incense clinging to one’s clothing totally matches the restaurant’s cultural vibe and atmosphere. Babu’s Kitchen & Bar, you’re a perfect match.
Owner Babu Shrestha also operates the Boulder Nepal retail store at 734 Manitou Ave., and several more import shops like it in Boulder. He’s no stranger to business, but this is his first restaurant venture, and his staff exhibits that at many turns. At one visit we’re seated without menus, which we have to get up and grab ourselves. Each time we need anything, we must flag someone down. Menu knowledge is lacking. Empty plates aren’t cleared. Checks are presented before dessert’s offered. Multiple items we try to order are said to be out of stock each time, including something called Chaas, listed as a “popular Indian buttermilk drink lightly sprinkled with Indian herbal spices.” That same descriptor sits under the two menu items below it: fruit punch and iced tea.
After weeks of being open, that’s the type of minor fix that could easily be made to smooth out service points. As it stands, that service is “Manitou” — as an adjective. About as “weird” as most of us find the Bollywood sequences on the TV in Babu’s main dining area, since we aren’t a culture to sing-and-dance out our emotions.
I’m overjoyed to relive a fond memory of travels to India, making momo with a local family, when I find the rarely-seen-here dumplings (chicken or vegetable, steamed or fried) on the menu, delighting with a beautifully spicy roasted tomato chutney laced with cilantro and mint and chile essences.
Naan or roti bread should accompany whatever you order. We can’t say we’ve ever tried Lamb Rogan Josh elsewhere, a pleasing Kashmiri item featuring the soft, braised meat in a rich gravy exuding ginger and garlic notes among other typical herbs and spices. Our shrimp biryani feels a bit overpriced at $19.89 for not so many shrimp, and what appears to be a basic frozen green bean, corn, carrot and pea mix with sautéed white onions mixed in, though it’s far from bad. Best in our sampling: Babu’s excellent bainghan bharta, tandoor-oven-fired eggplant, mashed into a creamy spread, spicy (at our request), with aromatic seasoning and peas for a tiny pop in the mouth.
Babu’s clearly knows how to represent its bountiful, native cuisine well, quirky Manitou-ness aside ... or, right at home.