29 November-5 December 2013 #683

Gaia Restaurant & Coffee Shop

Someplace Else by Lawrence Miller

Gaia Restaurant & Coffee Shop is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. Tucked in a quiet alley off Amrit Marg in Thamel, its dusty white and maroon sign competes with a dozen others. But the restaurant is a nice respite from the honking cabbies and hawking rickshaws of the main fares.

Gaia offers a full menu of well-composed Eurasian and South Asian dishes at fair prices. For those opting for an earlier meal, it also serves reasonably-priced breakfast and brewed coffee options. My dining companion and I arrived around 7pm on a Monday night to a nearly full house. With the floor spread between four seating areas, we had no trouble finding a cosy spot.

Our meal started with a selection from the cocktail menu and some appetisers. The cocktail menu is nothing out of the ordinary, but with prices at either Rs 260 or Rs 320, it is a better deal than the overpriced Nepali beers. The drinks were strong and refreshing with ample mint and lemon in my companion’s Mojito and lime in my Cuba Libre, both Rs 260.

Our appetisers were similarly delightful. The pumpkin-cream soup from the specials menu (Rs 240), delivered with a side of garlic French bread and a garnish of cream, boldly and successfully blended cinnamon spice, pumpkin and celery. The chicken wings (Rs 280), heavily fried and properly sized, lay in a delicious barbeque glaze mixing tomato and tang. These two dishes exemplify the determinedly middle-brow aspect suggested by the atmosphere, menu and pricing at the restaurant. The affected nonchalance would be both a charm and a sometime deterrent throughout the meal.

Our two main course selections came off a specials board laden with delicious and fresh-sounding items. The fish kabob (Rs 450) was grilled and served in a delicious tomato and capsicum-based gravy with a side of garlic butter rice and grilled vegetables. The rice was an obvious choice for a side, but the grilled vegetables paired very well with the fish, one accentuating the other’s seared flavour. The fish’s texture was firm, almost like chicken and not quite flaky. The manager explained that this fish is sourced from the Himalayas, frozen and then carefully softened in the kitchen. I was impressed by the lengths the restaurant went to source the fish as much as by its taste.

Our other main dish was a stuffed capsicum with a side of mashed potatoes and a small salad (Rs 360). Despite its vegetable base, this course was much more filling than the fish due to the cheese stuffing and the huge mound of buttered potatoes to its side. The dish was good – the stuffed capsicum was at once rich and freshly biting – but was a bit heavy on the uptake. The dish would have benefited from some extra gravy to help the potatoes down, an assortment of grilled veggies, or simply fewer potatoes. On the whole, though, the meal was very satisfying, a pleasant mix of effort, execution, and experimentation.

The mood throughout our dinner was pleasant and light-hearted as a hum of chatter played against subdued music. Ours, the most gregarious of waiters, wasn’t the easiest to flag down, but this reviewer is not one to hold a grudge.

How to get there: once you enter Thamel, take the first left leading towards Jyatha. As you are walking, keep an eye out for a white and maroon signboard to your left. It will point you to the restaurant.