Friday, July 08, 2005

Restaurant 47: Himalayan Yak

RESTAURANT: Himalayan Yak Restaurant
LOCATION: 72-20 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens
DATE: July 6, 2005
FOOD: Split the following: Goat Sekuwa (Nepalese BBQ Goat); Chilli Chicken; Nepali Dal-Bhat (Dinner platter including Lentil Soup, Mustard Greens, Potato and Black Eye Peas, Cauliflower and Potato Curry, and Rice); Tingmo (Tibetan Steamed Roll).
PRICE: $15.00

I have a vision, a dream really. I imagine spending an entire year beneath the tracks of the 7 line in Queens, eating my way through one nationality to the next. I doubt I’d have many bad meals as I gulped down an authentic Mexican meal one night, a raging Thai meal the next. Beneath the 7 tracks lies a world of culinary possibility. Perhaps my dream will become reality sometime in the future. For now, I console myself with random excursions to this gastrointestinal melting pot.

Max and Mina's had been a debacle – two times over. Danny and I, both starved, refused to allow the night to end on such a Coldplay-esque, ear wrenching, down-note. So two food bloggers quickly became food explorers, a Columbus and Vasco de Gama set to eat rather than exploit, armed with cameras instead of smallpox, and Mario Battali inspired joviality in lieu of the “White Man’s Burden” world view of our “noble” forerunners. We decided to take the E train to Jackson Heights and then see where our stomachs directed us. We were both thinking Mexican. But we ended up saving (ourselves for) Tibet.

Nepali and Tibetan cuisine was as new to us as the virgin tracks of the American West to Lewis and Clark. Instead of Sacagawea, we had our waiter, ready to guide us through this novel experience. The menu was divided between Nepalese and Tibetan dishes and we tried to order some of both. We started with the goat sekuwa, which our waiter told us was like barbeque. I hope he meant Korean barbeque, because this was as close to Arthur Bryant’s as Rodney Dangerfield was to ever getting respect.

To goat was served on the bone and covered in a spice rub. Dry and hot, it tasted like a mix of Indian and Thai flavored jerky. Though the meat was overly tough, its unusual zest made it worthwhile.

Next, we moved onto entrees. From the Tibetan side, we selected the chilli chicken, from the Nepali, a platter of vegetable stews called Dal-Bhat. Subtract the saccharine taste of corn syrup from Chinese sweet and sour chicken and add a hint of jalapeno temperature and you’d have something close to Yak’s chilli chicken. The chicken was extravagantly moist and pleasantly stir-fried as opposed to dumped in a deep fryer. Yak did a wonderful job of incorporating enough sweetness into the sauce, but keeping it a savory dish and not bordering on a dessert.

The Dal-Bhat was exceptional. A sampling of various stewed and curried vegetables reminiscent of the Indian food I ate while in Berlin, this was literally a tasting menu in and of itself. Like my recent experience at Devi, I found my childhood holdover detestation of cauliflower was again unfounded and soon forgotten once I tasted Yak’s curry hinted white shrubs, which were combined with delectable potatoes. Smooth and packed with a quiet heat, the saucing of the cauliflower contrasted well with the moderate crunch of the vegetable. An accompanying lentil soup was indulgently salty but refined, Progresso gone Buddhist. The mustard greens were shockingly mild and light, avoiding the bitter tenacity of their relative collard greens. And a final dish even proved that black eyed peas as a vegetable are much more harmonious than Black Eyed Peas the “hip-hop” (I put the term in quotes so as not to insult real hip-hop artists like El-P, Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, etc.) group. Again in this dish, Yak used potatoes well, complimenting the heartiness of the beans with the buttery texture of cloud-like spuds.

Yak’s staff was inviting and casual and made sure the food wasn’t too spicy for us. While we assured them we could have done much hotter, their concern was legitimate, as the restaurant was peopled mostly by non-white faces, always a good sign in any ethnic restaurant. Thus, our exploration proved immensely successful. While we’ve yet to find the Fountain of Youth, our “discovery” of Himalayan Yak at least allowed us a bit of carpe diem assurance after an ice cream meltdown (the bad puns are back!). Hopefully I’ll be grabbed by the spirit of adventure again sometime soon. If I am, I know where my quest will lead - under the 7 tracks, exploring the cultural arcadia blossoming in the subway’s shadows.

RATING: 7.5/10

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