Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sketchbook Project, Take 2

I'm going to do it this time! Limited Edition version too :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Himalayan Cuisine

Barring a better place to post this than my art blog, I figured I may as well go all out and show off my awesome photography skills as well! ;)

So, for my extra credit for Intercultural Communications, we had to go to an "ethnic" restaurant and do a critique (too bad I can't use this for my critique paper in English too!). I chose Himalayan Cuisine as I'd been there a couple of times and it's my favorite restaurant for right now. They are located here (link is to a map) and their website is here. The sign, as seen above, only lists Indian and Nepalese food, but their take out menu also lists Tibetan as a choice.

This is the wall that blocks the kitchen door and is right next to the cash register. I think it's the most decorated area of the restaurant. They feature much of their mixed Asian art here. It used to be darker and more intimate, but they've recently opened up a banquet room next door and they're still working on it, so there is a lot more light than there used to be.

These are the booths. I just love the lights they used.

The menu is huge! 4 pages or so, front and back, and full of a whole treasure chest of foods to try and enjoy.

For our drinks, I chose Mango Lassi and my friend got a Masala Chai. According to Wikipedia, Mango Lassi is "made from yogurt, water and mango pulp. It may be made with or without additional sugar." My drink was very thick, like a milk shake, but without the grainy ice-cream crystals texture, more like smooth fruit pulp, and the mango was very intense. It was pretty sweet, so I think they added sugar but sometimes it's hard to tell with mango, as ripe mango is very sweet anyway.

My friends Masala Chai is one of the best Chais that I've had (Wikipedia says that a chai is a class of tea with a wide range of recipes; most have tea as a base, some kind of sweetener, milk, and spices as common ingredients). Sometimes you can get them too weak, but theirs is pretty strong (but not so strong as to be bitter). Theirs also comes unsweetened, which is how I prefer my tea anyway, but they bring you sweetener separately. I don't know what spices they chose to use, but I definitely got some pleasing hints of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

I'm not sure if it's every meal, but ours came with a starter bowl of their house made daal soup. Their soup is a mix of lentils with their own blend of secret spices. The texture is somewhat watery and smooth, with the back end leaving a kind of graininess of a pea soup, and a few larger lentils left half split for a bit of chewiness. As you can see from the picture, I'd already inhaled half of it before I remembered I should take a picture. It was homey and warming.

This is a starter we got called Chicken Choila. According to one of the waiters, this is a typical Nepalese dish, and while it should be made with water buffalo as per tradition, I guess we're a little short of those in Southern California and they needed to use chicken instead. Well, it is totally delicious with chicken! On their menu, this is "chicken breast marinated with himalayan sauce, bell pepper, onion, green onion cooked in a clay oven with himalayan spice". It was spicy but not too hot and the chicken was tender and moist. It had a nice curry-aftertaste too.

There were little black seeds in it we couldn't figure out what they were but it had a completely unique taste to my pallet. I ended up asking one of the waiters, and he said it was "methi". I was going to look it up later, but he surprised me and asked the chef who came back with "fenugreek seed". It was an almost lightly peppery flavor and was like crunching on a tiny popcorn kernel (but not hard at all).

My friend's order was Malai Kofta. He ordered the vegetarian version and their description is as follows: "Mashed home made cheese, potatoes, nuts, and spices combined together to make balls of Malai Kofta, then cooked with a specially prepared sauce of nuts, cream, tomatoes and onion paste with special herbs and spices." I don't even have the words to describe how delicious this is. It is so good, I would consider this one of my "if i was trapped on a deserted island, what would i have with me" things. It's like sweet and sour (only not as cloyingly sweet as the Chinese version of such things) and spicy. I liked it better than my order and it was very difficult to not keep "trying" his.
I ordered the Ghinge Machha (a Nepalese dish again). Their description is "Shrimps are cooked in a creamy onion and tomato sauce with himalayan sauce and herbs." While good and at the spice level I chose (they ask on a sliding scale of 1-10, like many Thai places do), it was over-shadowed by that soooo yummy Malai Kofta.

Each order comes with your choice of steamed rice (great for soaking up all those stew like sauces) or Naan bread. We both chose the Naan. You can get either the plain Naan, or for a little extra, order either the Garlic Cilantro Naan or the Garlic Herbal Naan. This is the Garlic Cilantro Naan. It's lighter than a pita, but still has enough substance to get both a slightly chewy texture on the inside and a really good crispiness on the outside. And it's just garlicky enough to not be over-powering.
This is a breath freshener/digestive aid they keep near the register in that colorful pot. It's called a mukhwas and this one has fennel seed and other unidentified seeds and nuts (it may or may not be sweetened or have rose oil in it). Some sites say you eat it, and some say you just chew it and spit it out. I wish I had remembered to try it, but I completely spaced out and rolled my rotund tummy out of there as soon as the bill was paid.

We were pretty much done with our meal when we finally got our Vegetables Momo (Tibetan- "Steamed dumplings filled with minced cabbage, spinach, mushroom, cashew nuts, onion, cilantro, green onion & spices served with a special sauce").

This is the inside of one. They were decent. The skin was thicker than a pot-sticker skin and the flavorings inside were very subtle. I think it would have been a better as a starter than as an "ender" since all the strong flavors of the other dishes (oh my god did I mention how fantastic the Malai Kofta was?!!) over-shadowed this one.

In the end we had ordered a TON of food (well, ok, I had ordered a ton of food). I wanted to try more things for this report/blog....consequently, I didn't have room for a dessert! :( I'd wanted to try their Gulab Jamun ("Juicy sweet milk balls") so I'll have to save that for next time. If you would like to try a dessert, I have had in the past and can recommend the Gajar Ka Halwa ("carrot pudding"). It's very buttery, carroty, not too sweet, and looks nothing like the pic in the wiki article I linked.

This was one of our many waiters and his cool uniform (I like the hats!). We didn't have a dedicated waiter like most American restaurants seem to have, so it was more like tag-team waitering. They're all really nice and have accents (ranging from thick and hard to understand to completely understandable), but I couldn't tell you where they were from. If I ever go during a time they are NOT busy, I might have more time to find out about each waiter.


Food: 9-10/10, my friends words- "mysteriously good" and "fun flavor identities"
Service: 6-8/10, a little slow, no water refills, momos were way late, bonus for the fenugreek incident.
Decor: 5-6/10, I liked it better when it was darker. Maybe it will be better when they're done with the banquet room. Walls are kinda bare.
Ambiance: 7/10, Good place for a date in the evening. Interesting business lunch for the day-time.