Abhi Sainju dreams of Kathmandu at Abhi Eatery and Bar
By Jan Walsh // Photography by Beau Gustafson
Abhi Eatery and Bar’s owner and chef, Abhi Sainju, fulfills his dream of opening his own restaurant and shares his passion for Asian cuisine in every dish.
Abhi Eatery and Bar is located at The Summit in the former Primeaux Cheese and Vino location, with an ambience that is a striking mix of orange, black, gray, and gold. The full bar lines the wall on the right, below two identical sets of lucky symbols, which Sainju brought from Nepal. The symbols are known as Ashtamangala. (Ashta means eight, and mangala means auspicious.) They flank a stunning gold mirror. And shelves on both sides of the mirror boast a collection of family owned art from Nepal, which Sainju’s parents previously displayed in their home for 50 years. A large, original painting of a dragon is centered on the back wall above a semi-open kitchen. And on the wall to the left of the dining room is a breathtaking, original mural of the ancient religious architecture, Swayambhunath, which serves as the pièce de résistance of the restaurant. The Swayambhunath complex sits atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley and consists of a stupa (a hemispherical structure containing Buddist relics). The stupa has Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows with the number one (in Devanagari script) representing a nose.
Owner and chef Sainju, better known as “Abhi,” is a self-trained chef and native of Nepal. He moved to the U.S. in 1996. Here he could not find the same food that he had loved growing up, so he began cooking for himself. In 2013 he started his own sushi catering business, Everest Sushi, and most recently was the executive chef at Bamboo on 2nd. Sainju is also the owner and chef at Mo:Mo: located in the Pizitz Food Hall in downtown Birmingham.
Behind the bar, Steven Bradford serves as bar manager, making infused sake drinks and other cocktails to pair with Sainju’s cuisine.
Sainju’s original plan was to open Abhi with all new dishes that he has been busy developing over the past few months. But his local following would not have it. They are fiercely loyal to their their favorites and expect to find them on the menu. So he offers both a “regular” menu along with a “secret menu” of his newer offerings. Today we have the delight of being the restaurant’s first guests with a pre-opening tasting of the dishes Sainju is famous for as well as his latest inspirations. Abhi’s regular lunch and dinner menu leads with a section of “Let’s Share” starters. Here his following finds familiar favorites including Momos (house-made Nepalese turkey dumplings) and KFC (Kathmandu Fried Chicken) Lollipops. And today is momo heaven! We pair his celebrated Momos with lovely and aromatic Hana Flavored Sakes of Lychee and White Peach. Then arrives a new creation from the secret menu, scrumptious Veggie Momos with carrots, red and green onion, cilantro, cabbage, and mushrooms with a sesame tomato sauce, which adds a touch of heat and color to this lovely vegetarian dish.
Meanwhile, I am delighted today to be the first taster of his new Kathmandu Burger, which proves to be simply incredible. This juicy and delicious turkey burger is served with crisp, house-made potato chips and paired with Fentiman’s Mandrian Seville Orange Jigger. To the salads list he introduces a Salmon Tuna Poke Salad and Gado Gado, steamed seasonal veggies in house peanut sauce. His Noodle Bowl section includes all his famous bowls. Marinated Lamb Sekuwa debuts on his line-up of skewers. And to Sainju’s dreams of sushi is a roll so new that it is yet to be named—a sushi roll of eel, shrimp, tempura, and avocado. Other exciting new dishes on the menu that we will try next time are Chicken Rendang, Nepalese Lamb Curry, and Pandan Crème Brûlée.