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Nepali Cafe Aims to Create Community Space in Changing Neighborhood

By Katie Honan | June 27, 2017 9:19am
 While in Kathmandu will have its official opening this week.
While in Kathmandu will have its official opening this week.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

RIDGEWOOD — A new Nepali restaurant and art space will officially open this week on Seneca Avenue, offering authentic menu items as well as new twists on American items.

Bikash Kharel, 23, moved with his family more than a decade ago from his village in Nepal to Ridgewood, where they opened up a few restaurants in the neighborhood.

Last summer, he took a break from managing his family's restaurant for a two-week trip back home. That turned into a sojourn where he traveled around Nepal by motorcycle, stopping in roadside cafes and small villages.

It was his first time experiencing his first home as an adult, and it inspired him to open up his own space.

His cafe and eatery, While in Kathmandu, will hopefully bridge the gap for recent immigrants, longtime residents and people interested in expanding their cuisine.

And it can be a haven in a rapidly changing neighborhood, he said. 

The restaurant at 756 Seneca Ave. features a long coffee bar and a backyard space. The kitchen is housed inside of a hut so it looks like a mountainside tea house.

"Why build a boring box when you can build a hut?," he said. 

Bikash Kharel holding a plate of masala wings with different sauces. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan) The jhol momos at While in Kathmandu. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)

The eatery, which had a soft opening last week, has an authentically Nepali menu and Nepali-inspired dishes. 

He's brought along a longtime family friend and former restaurateur, Shanti Maskey, to work as the chef.

The menu is both authentic and inventive, including masala wings with three spicy sauces and  various jhol momos, which are simmered in a light tomato sauce.

He's using his mom's recipe for pickling everything from radishes to watermelon skin, bringing the "homemade touch" to the menu.

There will also be khasi ho Bhutan — a dish of goat stomach and intestines simmered in the animal's blood that is popular in his home village.  

The staff of While in Kathmandu. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)

Kharel hopes to build a family-like atmosphere inside the restaurant, convincing his 29-year-old brother, Barash, to move back from Texas to help and bringing along a friend, Raish Bartaula, 23, to work as the barista.

The front coffee bar includes drip coffee made from imported HimCafe beans, along with more American-style coffee shop favorites.

Kharel ultimately wants to make the restaurant and art space, showcasing local musicians and artists. He is a rapper and producer on the side, and wants to give other artists a welcoming venue.

"There's a lot of great artists in the neighborhood," he said.

For Bartaula, the space can bring back a piece of Nepal for people who have left.

"For people who can't go back home, you can come here and it feels like home," he said.