Dining 102011 Photo: Bettina Monique Chavez (Chef Bahda)

Peak form

Climbing to excellence at tibet nepal

By Dan O'Heron 10/20/2011

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Though a bit hungry, I didn’t feel like cooking. And, after looking into my refrigerator, I didn’t feel like eating either.
There were leftovers, mostly things with lettuce, but not a bone to pick. Being into the third week of a commitment to a strict diet that was supposed to get me in shape for upcoming holiday feasting explains the shortage.

Noticing that thick veins in romaine leaves were turning brown, I couldn’t help but muse about the good old days, when I would go weeks without seeing any lettuce except on a cheeseburger. And, oh that cheeseburger: All the ingredients oozing awkwardly out of the bun were a dieter’s wakeful dream. Passing a rag over my shoes, I decided to step out for dinner at Tibet Nepal House, where classic, light Himalayan dishes are frozen in time but not swimming in cholesterol.

After all of the slim pickings I’d had while dining in and out, I craved something substantial to chomp down on. I selected a platter of Tibetan gyag mo mo dumplings. Shared with a friend, the appetizer consisted of eight butterflied dumplings ($9.99), stuffed and steamed with grinds of yak meat, garlic, onion, coriander and ginger along with their spicy relative, black cardamom, and sweet and savory cumin. The delightful composition smacked of leanness, but the walls of the pastries were thick enough for me to have something to chew on at last.

Following such a promising prelude, should I be worried that ensuing courses would veer me off my health program? Not with my dandy $4.99 bowl of soup and its finely chopped vegetables, including mushrooms, green peas, secret sauce and a sprinkle of asafetida. This flavoring, extracted from a large fennel-like plant, is best used sparingly. If wide-flung, a powerful odor would clear the room.

My friend had a $5.99 bowl of southern Indian-inspired mulligatawny soup. When the British ruled India, they made no attempt to reform this highly seasoned vegetable broth. Here, Nepalese-style — with bits of chicken and lentils — my Anglicized friend said it’s not quite as pungent.

Pondering the main entree, my first thought went out for a striped bass I’d eaten here once before. Marinated in mustard seed, white cardamom, ginger and garlic, it’s pan-fried, served with spinach and sauced with turmeric and mint. This Himalayan bass preparation is like no other found at sea-level. But where in Asian mountains do they catch the bass?

Chef Bodha, a Nepalese, prepares some dishes with neighboring ancestries but seldom duplicates the sassy seasonings of India or candied gravies of China, which often camouflage the natural flavors of fine foods. With an alchemist’s knack for blending herbs and spices, some of which you’ve probably never heard of, Bodha turns out dishes with perfect balances of bitter and sweet. His cooking may have lower voltage than Indian fare, but the results are still electrifying.
The room and the service also had some beaming moments. Studding the walls, exotic paintings and photos — along with a brocaded tapestry of the Dalai Lama’s palace in Tibet — may set you to dreaming about life at the top of the world. But it might also be the considerate attentions of manager/host Rajan Adhikari and the piped-in native music that will cause you to rise to the occasion.

Adhikari, who learned to please crowds at the Crown Plaza in Katmandu, is both plausible in his explanations and ingratiating in his manner as he relates to customers about the food and cultures of the high countries. “You are not a stranger here,” he said. “Here, like in Tibet and Nepal, you are appreciated like a guest in one’s home.” As for the music — which is neither high-strung nor whimpering with twangs, as often played in Asian restaurants — he spoke of it as “calming and peaceful chantings meant for relaxing,” and maybe a little meditation, contemplation and acceptance?
The restaurant, he continued, may not be Zen’s pathway to satori, but it does bring people together for nourishment, connection, celebration, relaxation and surprise.

Surprise? Dangling from the rafters, you’ll be more amused than enlightened by myth-sized, cardboard cutouts of Yeti footprints, inscribed with compliments from customers, some done in crayon by young trekkers.

Relaxation? Instead of ordering expensive striped bass and something else for my friend, we decided to share a $15.99 mixed platter of chicken, shrimp and lamb. In earlier days of strict dieting, I’d eat quickly and abstractedly, as if food was less of an indulgence than a necessity. Now, I was back to eating slowly, thoughtfully, as if fixing each taste in my mind.

Celebration? Hallelujah! Splitting $15.99 for this fine dish, we weren’t likely to stick fight with chopsticks over the tab.

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