Cat Man Do is a "Cat Man Don't

By Anna Rockne

Cat Man Do, the new restaurant just off the northwest corner of campus serving an infusion of Indian, Nepalese, and Tibetan cuisine, had a quiet opening in the beginning of February. The inspiration for the name of the restaurant may have come from Kathmandu, Nepal, a city that many restaurants borrow their name from, but the title my newest neighbor chose disservices the prestige of the city, and begs to be turned into horrendous puns.

When I stepped inside, I was surprised that this warm yet sleek interior could be housed in the mismatched beige and yellow wooden shack I hate walking past every day. The dining area is split into two small rooms, and three of the walls in the first room are painted an intense red accented with gold, portraying a technique called “dragging.” This room is framed in black wainscoting with gold trim.

In the next room, the walls are covered in a similar red wallpaper with a symmetrical gold pattern. Each table is lit with a single, hanging fixture with a frosted glass shade. Ornate stained glass chandeliers hang in the center of both rooms.

Our friendly, unimposing server offered us our choice of seating, because, at the ripe hour of 5 p.m., we were the first diners that evening. We began with sweet mango Lassi’s, a traditional Indian drink made with blended yogurt and spices. They were refreshing, just the right shade of sweetness, and surprisingly filling.

We chose another likely favorite for our appetizer, the pork momos, a Himalayan dumpling seasoned with cilantro and green onions. They were very subtly spicy but a bit too salty after being dipped in the garlic-based sauce that came with them.

Cat Man Do customizes the spiciness of dishes on a scale of one to ten, which seems like a perfect science, but was instead an exactness the restaurant failed to measure up to. I ordered the chicken breast with Tikki Masala at a six on the spiciness scale, and my date chose the eggplant vegetable curry, also a six on the spiciness scale, but there was a significant difference in the kick of our dishes.

Having been raised on German, Irish, and Norwegian-influenced Midwestern cooking, the eggplant curry barely surpassed my weak threshold for spicy food. It was made up of equal parts potatoes and eggplant, but was overall flavorful. Vegetarian options may be an emphasis here as the vegetable curries outnumbered the meat curries on the menu.

My chicken dish, despite being drenched in buttery sauce, was dry and crumbly. Another low point for some tastes: it was mostly dark meat. This coupled with the clumped, and, in places even crunchy, basmati rice, made my dining experience only marginally more satisfying than the time Café Mac served Butter Chicken.

We finished our meal with the only dessert the restaurant offers so far, Kheer, a rice pudding with rosewater, cardamom, raisins and cashews. The rosewater was undetectable and I got a shock when I bit into something bitter that I expected to be a raisin. It was a cardamom seed; usually two or three of these seeds are sufficient to add flavor to a whole dish, but they aren’t meant to be eaten directly.

Many of Cat Man Do’s weaknesses might be attributed to its brief three-week existence. Our server had to venture back to the kitchen before answering most of my questions about the menu, a cup of chai tea came over-steeped and very bitter, and our entire meal took over an hour and a half even though we came when the restaurant was literally empty.

Our server encouraged us to return for Cat Man Do’s grand opening sometime in the next few weeks, and upcoming specials. But after my mediocre impression of the food and service, I may have to conclude with one withstanding pun: Cat Man Don’t.

Cat Man Do
1659 Grand Ave
St. Paul, MN 55105