Nirvana restaurant has been shuttered recently, undergoing an extensive remodel inside and a complete reinvention of its menu.
When the restaurant re-opens this Friday, diners will find themselves not in an Indian restaurant, but in a restaurant featuring food from the world over and a lounge and dining area designed, according to owners Rohit and Shivali Sharma, with diners’ comfort in mind.
“Every restaurant we go to, the first thing we ask is how comfortable we feel,” Rohit said last week as he stood amid the chaos of an active remodel. “And that’s what we want — for people to feel as comfortable as possible.”
Being restaurateurs, naturally, they also want their patrons to eat well. Rohit, 29, bought the restaurant a year ago, and both he and Shivali, 28, said that although the eaterie was doing well, they had come to see that Nirvana was, for many people, a special occasion restaurant and that serving only Indian food was proving limiting. Even as Indians themselves, Shivali said, they do not eat Indian food all that often.
Rohit, influenced by frequent travels to many parts of the globe, decided to broaden the restaurant’s offerings.
“We want to represent the world,” he said. “Even a fusion restaurant is inaccurate. We’re taking ideas and making them our own.”
And so, with the assistance of head chef Robert Erickson, who came to the restaurant last spring first as a patron and then a consultant, the Sharmas are remaking the menu. Erickson has more than 30 years of restaurant experience, including training at the Culinary Institute of America and stints at Maxim’s in Paris and Spago in Los Angeles. Most recently he was the head chef at the Shelburne Inn on the Washington coast. Under his direction, the restaurant will provide a small number of Indian dishes and will offer several other options as well, including small plates, such as open-faced samosas, asparagus and artichoke fondue and ale-steamed clams, and main dishes, such as cioppino, Tandoori chicken, New York strip loin with an espresso crust and an array of seafood dishes.
The quality of the food and the dining experience will be top notch, both the Sharmas say, and the menu will change with the seasons.
“You can do a four-star restaurant and be very affordable and unpretentious,” Erickson said. “It’s going to be for everybody. It won’t kill your wallet.”
On a recent tour of the restaurant, Rohit noted that the bar, previously in the hallway, has been relocated to the smaller dining room, a lounge that will offer more privacy to both lounge guests and diners.
The walls, previously red, are now painted a deep brown and the ceilings gold, though red accents show up throughout the restaurant, often in large photographs of famous cities throughout the world.
Shivali has taken charge of the decorating, including the color scheme.
“My wife loves chocolate,” Rohit said, “and she wanted that feeling of comfort.”
Both Rohit and Shivali know that several restaurants have preceded them in that space, but they are focused on their own work and future.
“A good restaurant with good service and good food at a reasonable price is going to be successful,” Rohit said.
Shivali and Rohit, who married this summer, say they are well suited to the tasks at hand. Rohit grew up in California, where his family still owns Indian restaurants, and he worked in them for many years. Shivali, from Vancouver, B.C., has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and worked as a human resources manager, acquiring skills important to running a restaurant.
Rohit attended medical school for three years in Grenada, but left after his father became ill. He will not be going back to medical school, and seated in a corner of Nirvana, he said, “I have found my path.”
The path to Nirvana was serendipitous, put in motion by the couple’s parents, who know one another and suggested the two meet. Both opposed the idea, but began emailing — Rohit in California and Shivali in Vancouver. Quickly the emails turned to long phone calls and then a visit in the neutral territory of Seattle, where they took a ferry ride to Vashon and ate at the Spice Route restaurant in the spring of 2011, when that restaurant was for sale.
A few months later, the restaurant belonged to Rohit, who opened it Oct. 8 last year and proposed to Shivali in the dining room.
Both say they have come to love the Island and believe its best days for food lie ahead.
“I think Vashon is going to become something spectacular as far as food is concerned,” Rohit said.
The two plan for Nirvana to be part of that transformation.
“I’m really excited to see where this goes,” Shivali said.
“We’re very confident,” Rohit added.
Nirvana will re-open on Friday for dinner; reservations for the first week are recommended. Call 463-4455.
After its first week, Nirvana will resume normal hours, including serving lunch and its Pacific Northwest breakfasts on the weekends. It will also be open Mondays, with the chef creating a bar menu for Monday night football.