Adding spice to Plymouth Road
by Shelley Daily
When Binod Dhakal, owner of Cardamom Indian restaurant, glanced out the window at the long line of people waiting to get a table during his opening weekend, "I was just so happy to see the response," he says. Dhakal, thirty-seven, says he's "worked all positions [in the restaurant business] starting at the bottom--busing, waiting tables, managing," since arriving in the states in 1995 from his native Nepal. Since the late 1990s, he'd managed Shalimar on Main Street, but "being a leader and wanting to be in charge," he wanted his own place.
The restaurant with bright red awnings in the Courtyard Shops on Plymouth Road opened at the end of April. Cardamom has about sixty seats, with plans for thirty more on an outside patio. "We only had to do some cosmetic changes," Dhakal says, including more intimate overhead lighting, carpeting, and reupholstered booths--which he says made at least one surprised customer ask, "This was a hamburger place?" (The former tenant was Famous Hamburgers.)
The scent of Indian spices, freshly ground and roasted by Nepalese chef Anjan Lama--a longtime friend of Dhakal who moved to Ann Arbor from Baltimore for the venture--greets customers. Dhakal says the menu items, which are "made from scratch each day using fresh ingredients," were a sellout that first weekend. The momos, Nepalese steamed dumplings--an item he makes often at home for his young sons, Ravi and Sunil--are popular, he says, as is the goat curry. The menu also includes chicken, lamb, seafood, and vegetarian curries, and there are other entrees and salads.
For weekday lunches, in addition to lunch-portioned curries, entree salads, and wraps, the restaurant features thalis ("plates" in Hindi), which "are based on the Indian eating philosophy of consuming each of the five tastes (sour, bitter, sweet, salty, and pungent/spicy) in a single meal," according to a Cardamom news release. They include small portions of four different dishes, and soup, bread, Indian condiments, and dessert.
When Dhakal left his large family in Nepal
at age nineteen, he planned to meet a friend in New York--but there was a misunderstanding. When he arrived, he discovered the friend was actually in California. So Dhakal embarked on the three-day cross-country trip on a Greyhound bus. "I come from a small country, so it was overwhelming," he smiles, "but exciting." He worked at a restaurant in Palm Springs for a couple years but missed being part of a larger Nepalese community and moved to Farmington Hills. He worked for Shalimar there until transferring to the Ann Arbor location. He met his wife, Becky Winkler-Dhakal, through the restaurant: she had traveled to India and frequented Shalimar to satisfy her food cravings. "It got to the point that I knew her regular takeout order, and we'd talk--and I finally asked her out."
Dhakal says he plans to apply for a liquor license and will also add Monday hours and online ordering via Facebook. For now, he says his focus is on "getting good food on the table with great service."
Cardamom, 1739 Plymouth Rd. (Courtyard Shops), 662-2877. Sun. & Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Currently closed Mon. cardamoma2.com
[Originally published in June, 2013.]