A chef born and raised in the town of Chitwan, Nepal? As exotic as his roots and upbringing may sound, Sunil Bastola, executive chef of Fairfax's contemporary Indian restaurant, Bollywood Bistro, is as Americanized as any other D.C. chef. Just appreciate the restaurant's setting, for one -- flashy film clips adorn the mango-colored walls, eclipsing any Raj-era trappings of most local Indian eateries. But Bastola can bring to his modern-day cooking a traditional Indian -- even Nepalese -- mindset that few of his colleagues can muster. For example, a Goan lobster dish glazed with tamarind and a broiled Atlantic salmon served with a mango sauce. Then consider the Nepalese fare: goat boti, adraki jhinga (ginger-infused jumbo shrimp curry) and mustard chicken soup (fresh green mustard leaves and diced chicken cooked with homemade chicken broth).

If you go
Bollywood Bistro
Where: 3955 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax
INfo: 703-271-0031
Hours: Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun., noon to 3 p.m.; Dinner, Mon.-Thurs., 5 to 10 p.m., Sat. until 10:30 p.m., Sun. until 9:30 p.m.

As colorful as all this food is, Bastola says he only started cooking professionally in 2001, when he moved to the United States from Nepal. But he also admits that cooking has been nearly a lifelong passion.

"I was interested in cooking when I was 7 or 8 years old at home," he says. "I don't know what inspired me to make tasty food for my family. I guess the influences came from my mom and my grandmother. I looked at them and then copied them."

Home-schooled in cooking, Bastola admits that he did not receive any academic culinary training. He did have many cookbooks that he studied, learning how to prepare and to present Indian cuisine. However, now all his cookbooks are gone. "Our home burned down and I lost all my books," he says.

Bastola may have lost all his cookbooks, but clearly he has not lost his understanding of, and zeal for, bringing Indian and Nepalese foods and flavors to D.C. Explaining that the spicing in the two cuisines is similar, he focuses on interlacing them with dishes that contemporary audiences crave.

"I want to serve what people today really want," he says. "That really is fusion cooking, yet I want to keep the traditional flavors. We have a small menu of traditional flavors in contemporary recipes. You must use the basic spices to create good cooking."

His family may have been the source of his initial inspiration, but the grown-up Bastola looks everywhere and at many different food presentations to help generate his ideas.

"I think, 'I want to do that, but better,'" he says. "The food must look good before it goes into the mouth." As a result, Bastola can point to such signature dishes as the aam palak chat (mango and spinach chat, with green mango and crispy spinach with a tamarind dressing), not what anyone could call a commonplace Indian menu item.

Despite his smooth integration of traditional flavors into contemporary cooking, Bastola never shuns his mom's advice. "My mom loves our tandoori chicken," he says, "and sometimes she will give me tips on traditional spices and seasonings." Even better, Bastola can recount some home-cooked meals from childhood, and tap into his mother's repertoire and kitchen memories for new takes on his menu items.

As part-owner as well as executive chef, Bastola has an investment in every aspect of the daily running of Bollywood Bistro, from picking out china and cutlery to enhancing the ambiance. But chances are he displays his Nepalese passion most when behind the various cooking pots.


What is your comfort food?

When I am tired or stressed, I want to eat lentils. They are a good source of protein and energy. And I like them with rice.

What is your cooking philosophy?

I love when I want to cook for my staff, if they say, "That is the best food I've ever had," then it works. People should be happy after eating my food.

Which is your favorite restaurant?

Chipotle, because it is fast and easy. I love that. For fine dining, the Japanese seafood restaurant, Sakura, in Germantown.

Where is your favorite place in the world?

I haven't been there yet, but the base of Mt. Everest, that would be my dream place to go.

What do you do in your leisure time?

If I am in the mood, I cook for my family. Otherwise, I go out and visit friends or browse the internet for new recipes.


Sesame Seared Scallops.

This low-fat seafood dinner is easy to prepare: scallops get cooked quickly, making them ideal time-savers.

Serves 2

1/2 pound fresh sea scallops (10-20 size)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon black and brown sesame seeds

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika mixed with ground white pepper

Salt to taste

1 lime wedge

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Rinse and pat dry scallops. Heat the oil in a griddle over high heat and cook the scallops until opaque, turning frequently, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle sesame seeds on the scallops. After 1 minute add the seasonings and salt, and squeeze lime juice over all. Stir, garnish with the cilantro, and serve.