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Omaha Magazine

Jaipur Owner Does it All: Cooking, Managing, Brewing

Apr 28, 2022 05:15PM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
tandoori chicken from jaipur omaha

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Gazing at the crystal balls extending from the ceiling at 5018 Underwood Ave., a patron might wonder if the dining experience they are about to have at The Jaipur in Dundee will be similar to one at The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village. That answer is yes.

On a blustery Tuesday night in late March, the new location was about one-third full of diners. People at the tables inquired about the style of food (North Indian) and what was on the menu. They inquired what the wait staff enjoys eating. They themselves found the food enjoyable.

A plate of rice with visible fragrant spices and aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes) came out steaming hot. A plethora of cilantro on top added a hint of green to an otherwise dreary spring day, but the large pane windows and aforementioned crystal balls on the chandeliers—a holdover from the previous Paragon and Kith and Kin restaurants—ensured ample lighting. 

The quality of the dish was much the same as a plate of Bengan Bearta consumed at the Rockbrook location a few days earlier. The roasted eggplant dish—sautéed with ginger, garlic, spices, and potatoes—includes jalapeño as one of the ingredients, but diners do not notice any spicy heat from the dish. The fragrant white rice showed a green cardamom pod sticking out. At both places, a diner can discover flavor without heat and sip wine or spiced chai in view of a large mural of a tiger being hunted. That carefully cultivated attention to American palates is a source of pride for Jaipur owner Gyanendra Bhandari.

Bhandari started cultivating these recipes for the restaurant in the early 2000s. He is originally from Nepal, where he was a lawyer, but came to America in the mid-1990s to attend college for the burgeoning field of computer engineering. He landed in New York City, but found the busy lifestyle did not work well with his studies. He bought his own limousine and drove part time while studying; his friends kept wanting him to go out for dinner, for drinks. He traveled to Omaha, then to Denver for a few months, and came back to complete his degree at Bellevue University.

Omaha, he said, had some of the nicest people on Earth, continuing that the support he found in Omaha was what brought him back to finish school here.

That’s when he worked at The Jaipur, which opened in 1992. He served food, bussed tables, and eventually became the chef. It was training that would serve him well when, in 2004, he offered to buy out then-owner Steve Gordon. 

“I know the pain of all the staff,” Bhandari said. “I treat them the way I want to be treated. I know how it goes.”

He also knew the customer base.

Bhandari said, “I have no tourists, so the priority was to provide the best product and service [to Omahans].”

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Knowing that Americans are not as used to spicy food as Indians or Nepalis, he created meals that would be pleasing to those palates. The Jaipur easily accommodates this, as the cuisine of North India leans toward curries and breads while using mild to moderate spices such as cinnamon or cardamom. South Indian food tends to be spicier and is based on more rice or lentil-based dishes and stews.

Vindaloo, a popular dish, is meat cooked in a red gravy. The spiciness of a vindaloo traditionally comes from turmeric, coriander, cumin, curry powder, and other spices, including several Kashmiri chilis, a chili with a Scoville unit of 1,000-2,000. Jalapeños, for reference, are generally 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville units. The dish packs some heat, but diners can always ask for their food prepared spicier.

Two dishes Bhandari recommends for those new to Indian food are chicken korma—chicken traditionally cooked with yogurt, ginger, garlic and milder spices such as turmeric and paprika—and Thimpu chicken—chicken cooked with cauliflower in creamy sauce. He recommends chicken tikka for children, who often don’t like gravies. On that dreary Tuesday in Dundee, a Caucasian toddler wearing a Batman sweatshirt was fed chicken tikka and rice from his mother’s plate and left it as clean as any toddler does.

If those dishes still don’t work for a customer, there is always the fusion menu, which offers more American-style dishes such as blackened salmon with Indian spices and a tikka wrap.

The attention to his customers’ tastes has brought in high-end clients. 

“Warren Buffett has been here a couple of times. Don Bacon has been here,” said the affable owner. “Business owners in Omaha…they are my friends.”

Bhandari prides himself on the freshness of the food he serves. He said customers won’t find soups made from yesterday’s chicken or cream that is about two days from being out of date. He also said everything is made in-house. An inquiry at the Dundee restaurant discovered there is one exception to that rule of everything being housemade—the three cakes, including an American-style carrot cake and the mango cheesecake—are not made there. The two traditional Indian desserts—kheer (rice pudding with cardamom and cinnamon) and kulfi (mango ice cream)—are made in house. Bhandari said anything that is not sold that day goes home with the staff. It’s also why he never has a buffet.

Although the last couple of years have been hard on many in the restaurant business, Bhandari announced on Facebook The Jaipur was opening a second location in June 2021, and in December, they held a soft opening. The Dundee space is about half the size of the Rockbrook restaurant.

“I was thinking of opening for a long time,” Bhandari said. “I was keeping an eye on that location.”

A call from his realtor gave Bhandari the push to open that second site, giving a different group of Omahans a place to experience his food. Like Rockbrook, Dundee’s village vibe means the people who eat there are often those who live there. That’s why Bhandari said the majority of people coming to eat at Jaipur Dundee don't eat at the Rockbrook location.

While Jaipur customers can get a bottle of name-brand beer from the menu at the Dundee location, they could not get a Jaipur beer from a tap as of presstime, as they do not have their brews in Dundee. They also have liquors and wine available.

While there are more than 30 Indian restaurants in Omaha, this stalwart of North Indian cuisine continues to find new patrons as people discover the flavors of India.

“The more Indian restaurants in town, the better it is for me,” Bhandari said. “If I continue to have good service, they will continue coming here.” 

Visit jaipurindianfood.com for more information.

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.