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Rice, Chicken Biryani & Chicken Tikka Masala

Rice (left), Chicken Biryani (middle) and Chicken Tikka Masala (right) at Aroma Indian Cuisine.

“People say that they have never had food like this. I get goose bumps on my arms, and I feel big and good.”

The above statement comes from Bipin Shrestha, owner of Aroma Contemporary Indian Cuisine, a small downtown restaurant that opened in May 2018 on the east side of 14th Street, south of the 14th and O streets intersection.

Shrestha is a humble person who takes compliments and pleasing his customers extremely seriously. He is also a person who keeps pretty busy – not only is he the owner of Aroma, he is the manager and head chef. And at times, head waiter.

A native of Nepal, Shrestha traveled to London after graduating from high school. There he trained as a chef in the European cuisine tradition. While he was successful in his cooking education, he missed the cooking techniques of his native heritage.

He decided that America might offer him more diversity in his profession, arriving first in California, then eventually Nebraska because he had family in Omaha. “The lifestyle is much better,” he said, referring to the Cornhusker State.

Bipin Shrestha welcomes diners

Bipin Shrestha welcomes diners to Aroma Contemporary Indian Cuisine.

Shrestha considered opening a restaurant in Omaha, but although he wasn’t very familiar with Lincoln, the business district location with its busy streets and nearby University of Nebraska-Lincoln population made his decision an easy one.

The Aroma menu offers Indian and Nepali dining choices with the emphasis on North Indian cuisine.

Shrestha cites the different spices he uses as a distinction from other Indian restaurants.

“Spices from Nepal (a mountainous region) and India (more of a plains region) may be the same, but they are a bit different in taste because of coming from the different areas,” he said. “The cooking is the same, but the taste is different.”

He said all of his dishes are made from scratch, and that he uses the best quality food he can obtain. He emphasizes the quality of the lamb he uses – free range and grass fed with no antibiotics or added hormones.

“If I have good food, people come and recognize it,” he said. “I’m proud of myself – not a single complaint [since he opened]. I work hard and keep alive.”

Since everything is made from scratch, Shrestha said that occasionally the restaurant may run out of a certain dish. He regrets that, but says that maintaining freshness and consistency in his dishes for customers is more important.

With more than a year of experience since opening, Shrestha is adjusting the restaurant’s menu a bit, removing some of the less-popular choices and adding new options. He had offered Lunch Specials and Mediterranean Cuisine Specials, but has decided to drop both.

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According to Shrestha, most of his lunchtime diners are in a rush, so he is adjusting that menu to include choices that can be quickly prepared and cost less.

A feature he will be adding is a Thali option – essentially an Indian platter where the meals will include three small entrees (a bit like tapas), chutney, curry, rice and papadum. He is also considering the possibility of a Student Hour discount for college and high school students.

According to Shrestha, the restaurant’s lunch demographic includes office staff and downtown employees, as well as university students. Aroma’s dinner crowd is once again UNL students, plus families, with ages ranging from the 30s to the 70s. “The evening customers take their time to eat and talk and enjoy the food and company – a family type restaurant,” he said.

The restaurant also has a healthy catering side with orders coming from UNL organizations and even orders from Omaha.

The Aroma menu offers nine appetizers including Vegetable or Meat Samosa ($3.95), Aroma Spinach Dip (with cinnamon and raisin chutney, $4.95) and Chicken 65 (breaded chicken with mustard seeds and Indian spices, $6.95). Mulligatawny soup can be ordered for $3.

Some 14 bread options range from $1.95 to $3.95 and include Naan, Stuffed Paratha, Onion Kulcha, Garlic Naan and Paneer Kulcha. Biryani dishes of Chicken, Lamb, Shrimp and Navaratan (spiced mixed vegetables, cashews and raisins) are available from $10.95 to $13.95.

Aroma's Tandoori Chicken

Aroma's Tandoori Chicken is marinated with yogurt and Indian spices, then cooked in a clay oven.

Chicken Tikka ($12), Tandoori Chicken ($10.95 half portion/$16.95 full) and Tandoori Lamb Tikka ($16.95) are among the six Tandoori Grill choices. A healthy choice of nine vegetarian dishes ($10.95 each) includes Aloo Govi (a curry of cauliflower and potatoes), Malai Kofta (kofta cheese dumplings stuffed with vegetables in a creamy curry sauce), Baigan Vartha (roasted eggplant sauteed with ginger and garlic spices in a mild creamy sauce) or Dal Makhani (black lentil dal in creamy gravy).

Chicken entrees at $11.95 consist of eight options, including Aroma’s two customer favorites: Chicken Tikka Masala (chicken tikka in tomato curry sauce – the No. 1 requested), followed by the second-most requested Chicken Tikka Madras (chicken tikka in medium spiced coconut curry sauce). The restaurant’s third and fourth most ordered dishes – Lamb Korma (lamb in creamy curry sauce) and Kadai Ghost (lamb with onion, tomato and jalapenos) – are among the seven Lamb Entrees at $12.95.

Four seafood entrees at $13.95 each include Shrimp Vindaloo (fish/shrimp in spinach curry sauce), Shrimp/Fish Korma (simmered in creamy curry sauce), Shrimp Bhuna (shrimp sauteed with ginger, garlic, jalapeno in creamy sauce) and Travancore Style Fish/Shrimp Molee (fish or shrimp curry, black mustard, red chilies and curry leaf).

Shrestha took the inspiration for his culinary creations from his mother’s home cooking. He said he would take a dish, do his own version based upon his cooking experiences and bring it to Aroma. “They were Mom’s secret recipes. I make them different so they are not like any other Indian restaurant. Original,” he said.

When he is working in the kitchen, Shrestha said that he makes sure the flavor of each dish is “just so – I’m doing something good,” and then he catches a whiff and tang of the combination of spices he is using, and he knows why he named his restaurant Aroma.

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