Home & Garden Columns

Mount Everest Cooks Up Authentic Napalese Fare By B.J. CALURUS Special to the Planet

Friday March 10, 2006

Although the closest I’ve been to Nepal is the Himalayan Fair in Live Oak Park, I’ve come to like Nepalese food—at least as represented by Kathmandu on Solano Avenue and Little Nepal on Cortland Street in San Francisco. 

Nepal is a smallish country with a rich and varied culinary tradition, blending elements from North India, via the ruling Ranas, and Tibet, and big enough to have ethnic (like Sherpa and Gurkha) and regional specialties. The Nepalese appear to take their food seriously. One of the major temples, dedicated to the goddess Kali, has charcoal grills going all day so worshippers can turn their sacrificial chickens and goats into a picnic.  

So I had reasonable expectations for Mount Everest, a fairly new Nepalese restaurant at University and Shattuck. Otherwise, my dining partner and I encountered the place cold: no word of mouth, no reviews. As it turns out, the food at Mount Everest is really really good.  

I knew we were in reliable hands when the momos arrived. Momos, which entered Nepalese cuisine by way of Tibet, are the Tibetan avatar of the East/Central Asian stuffed dumpling family: shiu mai, har gow, and all the other dim sum variants; Japanese gyoza, Afghani mantwo, and so on. 

Watching the momo assembly line is one of the highlights of the Himalayan Fair. According to Rinjing Dorje’s Food in Tibetan Life, the over-talkative are reminded: “Keep your mouth like a momo”—that is, closed. Momos can be meat-filled or vegetarian; we had the veggie option, with a filling of minced cabbage, chiles, cilantro, and ginger. They came with a brick-orange dipping sauce, tart and moderately spiced and reminiscent of the sauce in the chicken dish I keep ordering at Little Nepal, which is a very good thing. 

What followed was equally satisfying. A lamb dish, beda ko choila from the Nepalese Specials section of the menu, consisted of little cubes of lamb, seared crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, which had been marinated in something interesting and cooked in a clay oven. Fresh ginger was also involved, and more of the orange sauce came with it. 

As if Nepalese wasn’t exotic enough, we also tried the Bhutanese chili chicken. It was only the second Bhutanese dish I’d ever run into, the first being something involving pork and cheese at a place in Seattle’s university district about five years ago, and my strongest memory of that meal is that I was hungry enough after a long drive back from the San Juans that I could have eaten curried styrofoam.  

In contrast to Nepal, which has been going through a bad patch lately—the palace massacre, the new king’s power grab, the Maoist insurgency—Bhutan is a small peaceful mostly-Buddhist kingdom with a thunder dragon on its flag and a government that has been trying to quantify the Gross National Happiness. Well, if the Bhutanese get to eat chili chicken a lot, I would think they would be reasonably happy. The marinated chicken appeared to have been stir-fried with chunks of red onion and fresh medium-hot chilis, a felicitous combination. 

But maybe they don’t. Copeland Marks, whose Indian & Chinese Cooking from the Himalayan Rim has a chapter on Bhutan, says chicken is mostly an elite dish there. Pork, with or without cheese, is more widely eaten, and so is yak. Marks says the cooking is big on onion, ginger, garlic, and chili, fresh or dried. (I’ve always wondered about Marks: is he a real person or just a front for a syndicate of globe-trotting cookbook writers? How could one guy be an authority on Indonesian, Malaysian, Burmese, Himalayan, Sephardic, Maghrebi, Guatemalan and Peruvian cooking? Good recipes, though.)  

On a second visit, at lunchtime, we experimented with fish and vegetable dishes, and both were winners. Macha ko sekuwa gets you two fat catfish steaks (in Nepal, this would have been carp) that had spent just enough time in the tandoori oven. Aloo baigun is a tasty combination of cooked-to-pieces eggplant and tender potatoes in a complicated spice mix.  

What else? Good garlic and onion-mint naans. Four Indian beers are available: we passed up Karma and the oddly Scandinavian-sounding Dansberg (brewed with Himalayan water, though) for the known-quantity Golden Eagle, a decent lager that goes well with the spicy stuff. There’s also the yogurt drink lassi, sweet or salty. No wine. 

Mount Everest is in a fairly large space (formerly a Burger King, then Curry in Hurry, then something else) sparsely decorated with Himalayan landscapes and prayer flags along with what look like the original BK booths. 

The rest of the menu includes tandoori dishes, basmati-rice biryanis, a respectable number of vegetarian choices, and Indian style desserts: kheer (rice pudding) and gulab jamun (doughballs in syrup). Service, friendly but not so attentive that it gets on your nerves, is a bit slower at lunchtime. Princes range from $4.99 for most of the vegetarian options to $8.99 for the fish and seafood dishes. 




Mount Everest 

2011 Shattuck Ave. 665-6035. 

Open 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon-10 p.m. Sunday. Credit cards accepted.