Thursday, January 3, 2008

Himalayan Bistro

Himalayan Bistro
1735 Centre St,
West Roxbury, MA

West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain’s more conservative neighbor, has remained a stranger to hipsters, artists and the trendy bars and diverse eateries that usually follow the younger, cooler sect. But with the arrival of the Himalayan Bistro, the area’s first Nepalese restaurant, West Roxbury is beginning to shed its conventional skin. The bistro’s interior, reflective perhaps of the town’s character, is a bit too formal and could stand to be infused with a dash of cool. The sparse dining room feels like one vast box with booths lining the perimeter and tables methodically placed in the center. To one side of the front door, nestled in the corner, is a set of couches facing a round table. The mini sitting area is the only interruption from the restaurant’s extremely orderly set-up. Other decorative touches include pieces of Buddhist art on the walls and wooden ceiling beams painted in a pastel orange hue, but these do little to offset the empty feeling created by the room’s high ceilings and wood floors so well-polished they seem almost reflective. The slight decorative missteps can be forgiven when one hears that the space used to house a Brigham’s ice cream shop.

The Himalayan Bistro looks and acts much different than its predecessor, although there is still ice cream on the menu. Because of Nepal’s geography, the country’s cuisine is influenced by its Indian neighbors and therefore the Bistro’s menu features Indian as well as Nepalese dishes. Ice cream flavors include the traditional Indian flavor kulfi badam pista as well as mango, pistachio, ginger and coconut. There are the other usual suspects anyone familiar with Indian cuisine can expect such as samosas, biryani and vindaloo. Chef Dumbar Thapa has mastered tandoori cooking and any one of the tandoori specialties deserve a try. I would also recommend the cheese pakora; homemade cheese slices dipped in chick pea batter and fried. A spicy filling that tastes of cinnamon and nutmeg prevents any comparison of this appetizer to the omnipresent mozzarella stick found on American menus. My favorite curry on the Indian side of the menu is the shrimp curry from the coastal region of Goa. The sauce, made with freshly ground coconut, is a successful combination of savory and sweet. And as usual, the garlic naan is the perfect tool for scooping up leftover sauce.

Although Chef Dumbar Thapa proves his Indian cuisine rivals any other in the area, a more remarkable dining experience is had tasting the cuisine of Nepal. This side of the menu is more interesting mostly because of two ingredients native to Nepal, jimbu and timur. Jimbu is a herb that resembles grass, grows in the Himalayans, and is used to add savory flavor to some Nepalese dishes. Timur is a Himalayan peppercorn, and although it resembles the black peppercorns commonly ground in shakers to add spice, its taste is actually quite sweet and floral. Timur is used not only as a spice in some Nepalese dishes, but also as a remedy for altitude sickness. People suffering from the ailment chew on the peppercorns to elevate their nausea and dizziness.

Chef Dumbar Thapa has developed a love affair with the spices from his homeland. He speaks of them proudly, handles them gingerly and has learned of their distinct personality from his mother. As a child, he would hover in the kitchen watching her cook, and ask question after question. Each carefully prepared Nepalese dish reflects the answers he learned.
Any dish flavored with these unique and rare spices is a must. Another favorite dish from the Nepalese side of the menu is the steamed momos. Perhaps the most commonly known Nepalese dish (a version of them are served in restaurants around Boston and in their native country they are served as a snack in the streets of Kathamandu) at the Himalayan Bistro the steamed dumplings can be filled with chicken or lamb or they can remain vegetarian. Several come on a highly decorated plate, and our choice of chicken momos had a tender pasta shell and a juicy stuffing tinged with hints of ginger. No accouterment was needed to enhance the flavor of the dumplings, but the side of cilantro dipping sauce was too delicious to pass up.
Each dish ordered at the Himalayan Bistro, whether it be Indian or Nepalese, is cooked and served with the utmost of care. Each server that came to our table was friendly and informative and each dish was served in a decorative copper fondue pot and kept warm by a single lit candle. It is well worth the trip to skip the coolness of Jamaica Plain to enjoy the delicious food and warmth at the Himalayan Bistro.

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