Seattle’s long been famous for its dearth of Indian food, so when a name chef from Mumbai, Nirmal Monteiro, opens a restaurant in the heart of Pioneer Square—a splash will be made.
As I write in this month’s review, Nirmal’s offers elegant quarters and carefully rendered pan-Indian food—tandoori from the north, Goan curry from the south, dishes from myriad points between, both lunch and dinner. Monteiro rotates through some 10 varieties of dal, the spiced legume porridge that might be made with pinto beans one day, lentils the next. Mine came as part of a five-dish thali, the small-plates-on-a-platter style of dining unique to India, and it was rich and beany, full of chickpeas and black-eyed peas and memorable moments of lemongrass. It was but one of many spot-on dishes that day.
But fine as the back of the house proves to be, the front of the house is its less heralded match. The visionaries behind Nirmal’s are Oliver Bangera and his wife, Dr. Gita Bangera, a dean at Bellevue college who, according to Oliver, “financed this thing.”
“None of this happens without my wife,” he says happily. Still, a visit to the restaurant shows that a good deal of the magic of Nirmal’s wouldn’t happen without her husband.
Oliver Bangera is a frontman for the ages—a seasoned restaurateur whose hearty sincerity and warm welcome extend to every diner in the place, as he works the house in full Thierry Rautureau mode. “We want people to feel like they’ve come home,” he says with feeling.
And many Indian expats no doubt will. “When I first came to the U.S. in 1989, people asked me whether there were cars in India,” he marvels. “Now about 25 to 35 percent of our guests are from India. What amazes me is that there’s so much knowledge! One guest, a blond, white, Scandinavian looking guy, he tells me he has a tandoor oven in his backyard! I mean the level of knowledge about food these days…it amazes me.”