Sherpas? Cuisine?

A new Seattle restaurant advances the notion that Himalayan food is edible enough to pay for

OUR SOGGY CORNER of the universe sucks up diverse groups of 魩gr鳠whose process of settling in and down usually includes opening a restaurant or two. We can take our pick from tribal delicacies of the Amharic and Iberians, Moors and Mississippians; the Wolofs, Abyssinians, Hakkas, and Caribs—or con-fusions of any or all of the above. Himalayan Sherpa Restaurant

4214 University Wy NE, 633-2100

Daily 10-10

AE, CB, Diner's, MC, V

liquor license pending The latest? Seattle now has the only Sherpa/Nepalese/Bhutanese restaurant in the Western world. I've never been to Nepal, but I've read those Everest books and I know Sherpas are the brawny, ever-smiling stoics who always bail out the foolish and arrogant honky climbers. Sherpas drink yak-butter tea and eat their own fingernails in these books, which shed no other light on the region's cuisine. For all I know, the food here at the Himalayan Sherpa could be a Ukrainian/Hmong fusion, or made up altogether. I have no reason to suspect such a thing, but you can see my problem. The restaurant, Japanese in a past life, is cleanly designed, and hung with Tibetan prayer flags, and pictures of the Dalai Lama and famous Sherpas. The menu is divided between Sherpa, Nepalese, and Bhutanese dishes. On my first expedition, I set up base camp in the Sherpa section and had the steamed dumplings, called momos. They come stuffed with ground meat (which was a little dry) or vegetarian (which were better), served with a delicious salsa-like achar sauce and a cup of oniony potato soup on the side. The Sherpa chow mein ($6.75) was oily in a good way, plentiful with chicken, sweet peppers, and homemade whole-wheat noodles. The Sherpa stew ($5.95) was just that—beef, potatoes, onions, carrots, and whole-wheat pasta in a savory, unthickened soup. These dishes were uncomplicated, hearty (some might say heavy), and full-flavored. Over on the Nepalese side, dishes were a lot like Indian food. The lamb curry (8.95) was tasty enough but unremarkable. It was served with basmati rice, pickled daikon radish and a salad with—gulp!--ranch dressing. Sometimes ethnic restaurants hoping to make us comfortable by offering familiarity succeed only in stirring up contempt or, worse, boredom. On this menu, things like ranch dressing, baked potato skins ($5.95), Parmesan cheese, carrot sticks, and Himalayan Chicken Caesar Salad ($6.95) detract from any appearance of authenticity—which in any event would be difficult to carry off, given such an arcane cuisine from such an isolated corner of the planet. In the Himalayan geography and latitudes, diets include few fresh vegetables, particularly ones like lettuce, sweet peppers, radicchio, and mushrooms—all of which can be found on your plate in this restaurant. This is an interesting problem. Health-obsessed Americans are hooked on the year-round bounty of California produce and tied to the apron strings of the umami mommy of intensely flavored foods from hot-blooded climates. So how to make jaded folks happy with a cuisine that's essentially boiled meat, soup, and carbohydrates is a puzzle; serving an Everest sundae ($3.50) and hot wings ($5.95) is not the solution. STILL, THERE ARE good things here. The samosas ($3.50) are stuffed with potatoes and peas in a very flaky dough, fried in clean oil, and served with a pool of tamarind syrup overlaid with a light, creamy mint sauce. The ama dhatsi ($7.95) is a spicy mushroom curry with a soupy broth, flavored, amazingly, with cheddar cheese—not authentic certainly, but undeniably good. Fried rice ($6.95) is full of meat (chicken or beef ), and the vegetarian version is chockfull of vegetables probably not found on the Asian continent. Kothay ($7.50), the Sherpa version of pot stickers, are especially fine—pan-fried dumplettes stuffed with chicken, beef, pork, or vegetables. Thimpu chili ($7.95) is a Bhutanese dish—spicy, tasty, stewy, chewy beef with potatoes and phing noodles. (The threadlike noodles are few and far between and seem extraneous with the potatoes and rice.) The Nepalese sweet tea ($2) is like chai; the Nepali khir ($3.95) is basmati rice pudding with golden raisins and cashews. It's rich and soupy with cream and—like the tea—is not too sweet. You can taste a fair number of these entr饳 at the lunch buffet ($6.50). Stews and curries are served on a plate in an annoying soup cup surrounded by and towering ceramically over the basmati and salad. To eat it gracefully and in conjunction with the rest of the food, you have to dump it onto the plate, and leave the cup sitting dirty and empty until it is bussed by a passing waitroid. This is unpleasantly reminiscent of the "monkey dish" fad of '70s restaurants when entr饬 potato, and vegetable in separate little dishes were brought chattering on a dinner plate to the table by the trembling server. The method was thought to add "class," but actually was just a pain in the ass for everybody except the cooks (who thought it up in the first place to avoid having to be fastidious). Also off-putting was CNN's earnest reportage, broadcast at full volume, layered over with reggae-like Nepal pop music, the combination lending TV vistas of bombed-out Belgrade the unsettling feel of a war with soundtrack by KCMU. The Himalayan is part of a hopeful gentrification at the south end of the Ave. Two other restaurants in the same block (Ruby, Raindancer) have such amenities as interior decoration, printed menus, and piped-in music—rare in the neighborhood's customary student eat-it-and-beat-it joints. (The Himalayan plans to add a no-smoking bar when its liquor license comes through.) The price is right at the Himalayan Sherpa, the service is friendly, and it's clean enough to take your mom. If the owners ever make up their minds what exactly their place is, and whom they want to serve, they have a good chance of making it in the jungle that is University Way.

 
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