Delicious Nepali dishes are accompanied by strong renditions of Indian classics in this handsome new eatery with food tasty enough to overcome uneven service
Now that Franklin County is home to the largest population of Bhutanese-Nepali refugees in America, Central Ohio eateries that serve Nepali cuisine are popping up with increasing regularity. The distinct, spicy and delicious Nepali food served (in generous portions) at Sargam Restaurant & Bar in Reynoldsburg is among the best in the area.
Sargam offers an attractive dining space in which to enjoy that food, so don’t let the dull exterior of the squat building deter you from entering. Once inside, you’ll find a charming room with dark wood, a nice bar, a tile floor, booths with patterned-fabric backs, and colorful decorations. The latter include fantastical pictures with Himalayan vistas and amusing statuettes of musicians perched on pedestals that are affixed to walls.
Like most local restaurants of its ilk, Sargam offers Indian dishes. Such items here feature an appreciated, often-fiery Nepali twist that speaks to Sargam’s “no training wheels” aesthetic.
The Lamb Vindaloo ($14, served with good basmati rice) features big pieces of tender meat and potatoes in an intense, incendiary and not-by-the-numbers sauce fragrant with spices that leaven the dish’s richness.
Four draft beers ($3 to $4), presented in frosty glasses, or a standout Mango Lassi topped with blanched almonds ($4) will help tame the inevitable facial flames. (Note: Dishes ordered “medium” and “hot” were “fire in the hole!” hot. Good luck to anyone tackling the “very hot” option.)Whew. My taste buds are on fire. Does anyone have any milk? Or bread? Something? Ice? Whew. Now I'm sweating. This is something. I... whew, boy. I feel like I can't even finish this thought.: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Sargam’s Chicken Thali ($13) stars a zesty chicken stew with cooked-down tomatoes, carrots and onions. Its accompaniments include rice, papadum, excellent daal, mixed pickles and two uncommon Nepali delights: appealingly sour gundruk (fermented greens) and wonderful Rayo Ko Saag.
Fans, like me, of Rayo Ko Saag — mustard greens that recall Chinese broccoli stir-fried with garlic, chilies, ginger, fennel and cumin seeds — can order this bold and terrific veggie dish as an entree, too ($9, served with basmati).
I’ve enjoyed the Nepali-style kebab meat called sekuwa in other local eateries, but the Sargam Special Sekuwa ($11) separates itself from the pack. It’s like meaty and garlicky pork cracklings animated by brash lashes of black salt, chilies, turmeric, cumin and soy sauce. The thick pig disks are so distinct and compelling that I found them hard to stop eating — until my lips felt ready to catch fire.
I could say the same thing about the killer Chicken Choila ($11), one of the best spicy chicken dishes I’ve sampled lately. Offering explosive flavors that could’ve come from the Sichuan playbook, it’s a big plate of tender boneless pieces stir-fried with peppers, onions and a nuanced and addictive chile sauce. The entree is topped with a tuft of cilantro and served with toasted, beaten rice — which is crisp, flaky and resembles dry cereal.
Bhatmas Chiura ($5) is a sort of salad composed of beaten rice and hard fried soybeans all tossed with chilies, raw onion, cilantro, diced tomatoes and more. I enjoy it, but it’s an acquired taste — and texture.
I’ve saved the Chicken Momos ($11) for my last food description. Why? Because they’re the one item from restaurants like this that Central Ohioans generally know about and will seek out. And, yes, the supple, big and juicy dumplings, filled with ground chicken fragrant with scallions and cilantro, served here are lovely and highly recommended. But I’d urge you to try something you’re less familiar with, too, such as the Rayo Ko Saag and the Chicken Choila.
On a closing note, I need to alert you to the uneven service I experienced. While never terrible and generally friendly, servers weren’t particularly helpful and sometimes seemed confused, distracted and preoccupied with their phones and to-go orders. That I’m nonetheless giving Sargam a strong endorsement speaks to the excellent food served in this nice-looking, still-young restaurant.