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Roseville, Granite Bay — where the world’s chefs come to play

Local dining destinations offer the world on your plate
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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Spices from the Himalayas, Peruvian festivals of the moon, the high flavors of Arabian nights — there’s no shortage of global doorways in Granite Bay and Roseville, which boast many restaurants that allow residents to travel the world on their plates. 

We visited three newer eateries to explore their cultural roots.  

Nepalese

On any given day you can find Govinda Dhakal chatting with customers inside his restaurant, Namaste Nepal, offering them advice on the best ways to travel in the mountain-hemmed valley of Kathmandu. Dhakal grew up in that bustling city and learned many of its oldest culinary secrets from his father.

In 2006, Govinda Dhakal moved to the United States to work as a Nepalese chef in Davis.

“I had a good number of customers who were coming in from Roseville,” Dhakal remembered. “Many of them were always telling me the city was a good place for business and that they hoped I would move it there.”

In May of this year, Dhakal opened Namaste Nepal in Roseville Square. His lunch buffet offers more than 16 items a day, alternating between 40 different offerings throughout the week. Recently, Dhakal expanded the buffet into the evenings.

“Generally, when people think of Indian food, they think of dishes that are very hot and spicy,” said Bibek Gyawali, the restaurant’s head waiter. “But Nepalese food is a fusion between Indian and Chinese styles, we use the same ingredients, but we mix them lighter, so the food tastes less spicy and oily.”

One staple of the buffet is Chicken Tandoor, doused in yogurt and spices and cooked over charcoal. The restaurant’s Fish Pakora, marinated red snapper with chickpea flour, is remarkably tender and hits the mouth with a distinct richness. The Garlic Schezwan Chicken stands out with strong flavor from layers of mild spices accented with a phantom bite. Dhakal’s take on yellow curry has also gotten high customer marks. A large portion of Namaste Nepal’s buffet is dedicated to vegetarian and vegan options. From the smooth blend of Rasmalai, a clotted cream stirred with rose water and pistachio nuts, to the pure tangy Chana Masala — garbanzo beans cooked in onion sauce with tomato bits — the restaurant has earned a loyal following among non-meat eaters.

For Dhakal, making customers of all preferences feel welcome is the main goal.

“In Nepal, the religion reveres travelers and guests,” he said. “Just like back home, I try to make people feel comfortable.”

Peruvian

When Jean Carlo Zapatau and Juliano Cardenas worked together as chefs in Peru, they could not have guessed that they’d eventually be reunited to bring the food of their homeland to Roseville.

For five months, customers have been walking into La Huaca, a spacious open dining house with colorful Nazca murals on its white walls and a line of clay fish darting over the top of the elegant stone bar. La Huaca was the brain child of George Henderson, who came to the United States from Peru. In order to create an authentic menu Henderson recruited Zapatau, a culinary graduate from Lima who had been the top chef in several restaurants in Peru and Columbia. Zapatau soon brought Cardenas to the project. Cardenas had been a sous chef for Zapatau in Lima. The chefs now work as a team to make La Huaca a virtual doorway to Peru.

“Peruvian cuisine has Spanish, African and Latin influences,” Zapatau said. “At La Huaca the concept is to use fresh meats and vegetables with the perfect balance of lime, salt and spices.”

One dish that signifies that style of cooking is La Huaca’s Ceviche Clasico. Stacked with newly cut white fish, slender sweet potatoes and plump choclo corn, this ceviche dish is a tidy, half-sweet, half-sharp temple of exquisite taste combinations. The restaurant also boasts a variety of Causas options, all made with gel potato and chili imported from Peru: The causas dishes range from De Pulpo al Olivo, which is octopus drizzled in olive-based dressing, to De Camarones, a causas served with shrimp, avocado and pisco liquor sauce. Customers can wash down La Huaca’s assortment of foods with Chicha Morada, a lavender ice-laden drink made from Peruvian purple corn and cloves, sweetened with sugar and cinnamon.

The name La Huaca comes from an ancient Incan term, La Huaca la Luna, meaning the shrine of the moon. The pre-Conquistador tradition involved communal feasting around a large clay slab. Henderson, Zapatau and Cardenas pay homage to the Incan past throughout the restaurant. 

“La Huaca isn’t just about the food itself, but the whole Peruvian experience,” Zapatau said. “Every single part of our design has a purpose connected to the Inca influence. When people come in, we want them to know what the real culture is like — and that their executive chef is taking care of them.”

Persian

Mamad Nafissi hasn’t forgotten that one of the first female generals in history was Persian and that palaces of Cyrus the Great were once the center of wisdom in the classical world. The ambiance inside Nafissi’s dining destination, Bubba Kababa, reflects this heritage, striking a perfect balance between ancient-looking accents and chic modern décor. 

Nafissi first crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-1970s, leaving Tehran to get an education in Montreal. Unhappy with the food in his boarding school, he began corresponding with his mother about her cooking style and recipes.

“I asked the people who ran the kitchen at the boarding school if I could start making something once a week,” Nafissi remembered. “By the time I was 18, I was cooking there all the time.”

After a successful career in the business world, Nafassi and his new wife Lana decided it was time to open a restaurant. Bubba Kababa became a reality in June. A popular way to start dinner inside its cozy confines is with a plate of Nafissi’s take on Baba Ganoush. Unlike most Greek and Persian restaurants, Nafissi has his Baba Ganoush served with the egg sunny-side up on the top of the mixed eggplant. Customers can control the yolk they mix into the ganoush, which itself has a striking garlic kick bolstered by hints of tomato and thin, succulent raw onions.

One course at Bubba Kababa earning plenty of fans is “the Phat Queen,” a plate that includes marinated boneless chicken kabobs and bright yellow chicken koobideh. The koobideh has a subtle, savory mix of textured spices while the kabobs’ charbroiled flavors are highlighted by the chicken’s moist juices. Bubba Kababa’s moussir, a Persian yogurt with shallots, is perfect for adding slight herb tartness to either style of chicken.

Nafissi also holds with the thousand-year Persian tradition of offering Sumac on his amazingly fluffy white rice. Sumac is a purple fruit-flower spice that adds a touch of lemony freshness to clear the palate between dishes.

“Make food good and make it healthy,” Nafissi said. “That’s the secret. It’s not complicated. We’re getting the word out because of simple things we do like using non-antibiotic meats cooked over open fire and non-starch rice. That’s the traditional way.”

Bubba Kababa’s authentic atmosphere has been reinforced as of late by Persian-style entertainment, from internationally known singer Faramarz Assef to regular evenings with belly dancing. Nafissi said that so far he and his wife are enjoying the experience.

“The best part for us is getting to know the customers,” he said. “When you start becoming friends with your customers, that’s how they know they are important to you.”