I’m about the least political person on the planet. I head for the hills when discussion starts to veer toward candidates, “anti” anything or involves sweaty, shouting people. Not that I don’t have the utmost admiration for the advocates among us. I’m just more of an eater than a fighter.
So while Richard Gere, Ani DiFranco, Bono and countless others among you fight the good fight, BiteClub chooses a quieter, more delicious way to make a stand. Like, how about I spend a thoughtful afternoon eating daal, saag paneer, momo, tikka masala and naan at Himalayan Tandoori and Curry House? It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make over and over (and over) again for the betterment of humanity…and in support of the cuisine of our friends from Tibet.
Want to join my crusade? Here’s the deal: Hidden in a Sebastopol strip mall, the year-old restaurant has flown way below the radar of most foodies. Relying mostly on word-of-mouth advertising, Tibetan owner Rajehh Moktan promptly won over local vegans with his brown rice, veggie tandoori, daal bhat (lentil soup) and meatless curries. No small feat in Sebastopol. But that’s only a small part of the equation.
Omnivores can sink their teeth into lamb or seafood tandoori; a rich, creamy chicken tikka masala (which is naked without a dab of mango chutney) or the ultra-rich saag paneer curry with homemade cubes of cheese, fresh spinach, onions, spices and tomato sauce. To sop up every last dribble of sauce–and believe me, you’ll want to–head straight for the garlic cilantro naan bread. Pace yourself as you dive into the half-moons with crisp edges and a soft middle studded with butter, herbs and garlic.
Manning the kitchen is Rajehh’s cousin (also from Tibet) who cut his teeth at Sonoma’s Taste of Himalaya and Rohnert Park’s Shangri-La after having owned his own restaurant back home. Having never trekked through the Himalayas, the food’s authenticity is better left to experts. I have however, watched Anthony Bourdain choke down yak meat in Nepal, and will venture to guess that Rajehh’s take is probably more suited to American tastes. Note: If you’re planning to be a hero, be warned that “spicy” can mean some serious heat. Mild or medium is a safe bet, though Raj says they strive to make chicken taste like, well, chicken no matter how hot you want it.
If you’re keeping to mostly Tibetan-influenced dishes, steer toward the meat (or veggie) momo–filled dumplings that have much in common with potstickers. The restaurant serves them up with a tomato and cumin sauce that packs a punch. Fill up on daal bhat curry with rice and vegetables and mixed pickle chutney.
The rest of the menu borrows heavily from the cuisine of Nepal’s Indian neighbors–not too surprising for a nation that survives mainly on lentil soup, rice, pickles and yak, uh, products (including butter and cheese). In Tibet, sustenance beats out complicated preparations and exotic spices. In India, not so much. Hindi influences show in kabobs, curries, masalas and vindaloos, as well as the desserts of gulab jamun (sweet, fried dough balls) and Kulfi (a sort of Indian ice cream).
Call it food inclusionism and make your own stand. Power to the Paneer.
Himalayan Tandoori and Curry House, 969 Gravenstein Hwy So, Sebastopol, 707.824.1800. Open for lunch from 11am to 2:30pm Monday through Saturday, Dinner from 5pm to 9pm Monday through Saturday. Closed on Sunday.