Narayan Somname, chef/owner Yeti Restaurant
Yeti Restaurant, at Jack London Village in Glen Ellen, is a conglomeration of cultures. Yeti specializes in authentic Nepali and Indian dishes, while situated in the California wine country, serviced by staff who chit-chat in Spanish, and owned and operated by Chef Narayan Somname, a native of Nepal – who has cooked in restaurants as far away as Japan. To boot, Somname said his most popular dish is his take on classic Indian Tikka Masala.
“Customers have told me I have the best curry in California,” said Somname, who opened Yeti in 2008 and has accumulated critic’s praise and several awards since then. Somname said the idea of an Indian/Nepali restaurant in wine country was a natural one, as so many of the flavors from those dishes go so well with wine.
“Residents of this area are a worldly crowd,” said Somname. “Customers have travelled and they have often tasted authentic cuisine from these places. I wanted to make it even better here.”
Somname grew up in Panauti, Nepal, a “small town” of 10,000 people, southeast of Kathmandu. Somname learned to cook from his grandfather, a well-known chef who cooked at festivals, parties, and community gatherings. Somname grew up knowing he wanted to be a chef, envious of the lifestyle his grandpa had found through cooking. Somname’s grandfather was self-taught. “At that time in Nepal – the 1960s and 70s – we didn’t have electricity or the Internet, there was no culture of travel,” said Somname.
By the 80s, however, some of that had changed. Somname began cooking at the historic Hotel Panauti in his hometown, and then moved on to Hotel Crystal in Kathmandu. In 1994, Somname and his wife joined friends living in Mountain View, California. While running a restaurant there called Amber India, Somname completed a correspondence degree in hotel and restaurant management through a university in Pennsylvania.
After graduation, Somname and his family, now with two children, moved across the Pacific, opening a successful Indian restaurant in Japan, and welcoming their third and youngest child there.
In the early 2000s, they returned to California, this time to Sonoma County. Somname saw the space open up in the Jack London Village and knew it was exactly what he had been hoping for.
“I want to say thank you to the locals, the Sonoma locals; they are some of my best customers,” said Somname, “and I want to say thank you to staff. The staff that is here now is the same staff that started when Yeti opened.”
Somname said the base of his tomato curry for the Tikka Masala, the tomato, is ubiquitous across cultures, from Italy to France to India, therefore the dish has universal appeal. “The tomato is a universal ingredient,” said Somname.
However, Somname admitted that he has tinkered the recipe a bit, Californianizing it by using specialty vegetable oil instead of cashew oil and using locally sourced meat and produce. Somname grinds and blends all his own spices sent from India and can tailor the spiciness of the dishes for his customers.
Yeti Restaurant is located at 14301 Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen. They can be reached at 996-9930.
Chicken Tikka MasalaServes 6-8
2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts cut into cubes
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped or grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped or grated garlic
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 teaspoon chaat masala
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 2 cups whole milk yogurt
- 1 lb. tomatoes
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 Tablespoon butter or ghee
- 1 inch thick piece of fresh ginger cut in juliennes
- 4-5 green chilies or jalapenos
- 1 teaspoon garam masala powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
- 1 cup cream
- Almond slivers for decoration
- Coriander leaves
Mix all the ingredients for the marinade and stir in the chicken cubes. Marinate for at least 2 hours.
Strain and puree the tomatoes.
Heat oil and butter in a cooking pot. Sautee the ginger until it turns lightly brown. Add the chilies, ginger, ground cumin seeds. Add the tomatoes and a little of the strained juice from the tomatoes.
Put the marinated chicken pieces on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes. When almost done, remove from oven and add to the tomato sauce. Cook for 5-7 minutes.
Turn off heat; stir in the cream and garam masala powder. Sprinkle the dish with coriander leaves and almond slivers.
Note: the basic sauce and marinade can be made in advance.
Sarah Phelps is an editor, staff writer, and native Kenwoodian.