I had Tibetan food for the first time last week and I have to tell you, I enjoyed it immensely.
The Himalayan Yak is a quiet establishment just off the main hustle and bustle of Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights in Queens, New York. If it weren’t for the fairly large sign above it, you might not even realize that the restaurant is there. But once you notice the dark, ornately carved doors, you know something good must be behind them.
Stepping through those doors almost gives you a feeling of stepping into a Tibetan temple and that you should probably speak in hushed tones. More dark wood greets you inside, along with Tibetan artwork on the walls. A flat screen TV showing programs on Tibet is the one thing that seems out of place (well, that and the pop music coming through the speakers). But the atmosphere is not at all uncomfortable. Once settled into our seats, my lunch companion and I fell naturally into conversation.
On the table were copper water goblets, which we promptly filled from the cork-topped bottle of water that was brought to our table. That bit of exoticism was contrasted by the very modern, “clean” plating of our food. It was very difficult deciding what to order, since everything looked mouth-wateringly delicious.
We ordered tsel momo, vegetable-filled, pan-fried dumplings; tzel nezom, a sautéed vegetable dish with tofu; shoku khatsa (aloo dum), a dish of pan-fried potatoes in a spicy chili sauce, served with bhaleb, a flatbread similar to naan, only thicker; and a tingmo, a Tibetan steamed bun.
When we received the tsel momo, they looked absolutely scrumptious. I cut into one and immediately said to my friend, “I think they gave us meat.” Indeed, they had. What we got instead was sha bakleb, which are patties filled with beef. Since this was my first time eating in a Tibetan restaurant, I didn’t pick up the fact that tsel momo dumplings look different than the patties. (like Chinese dumplings).
The sautéed vegetables was a combination of peppers, mushrooms, baby corn, bok choy, carrots, and some kind of green in a light but very flavorful brown sauce. That came with a beautifully cooked bowl of rice. The one problem I had with this dish is that it was supposed to have tofu in it and it did not. The potato dish was excellent, although I find it odd that it would be a main entrée because that’s all there was to the dish—potatoes. The fact that it came with bread is also odd. Maybe you’re supposed to use it to mop up the leftover sauce at the end, but it was an awful lot of bread just to do that. But the bread itself was fluffy and addictive. I used it to pick up the sauces that came to the table with our food. There were three sauces, each one a different heat level: a mild green sauce that was almost like a Latin salsa verde (much more green than the picture shows); a medium, orange one that had a creamy consistency; and a spicy, fiery red one. All of them were rich and savory.
Besides the errors in our orders, my complaint comes in the timing. It took them about 45 minutes to serve us. In a way, that’s good because it means that they don’t have the food already prepared and waiting to just be warmed up. I suspect that the food was made fresh. And they probably don’t cater to the typical “lunch crowd” —i.e., people who only have an hour to get there, eat, and get back. However, the restaurant was hardly crowded. Other than us, there were only 2 other tables with customers, so I can’t help but feel that 45 minutes was a bit much. We had to call our supervisor and tell her what was happening and ask for more time.
Because our food came so late, one we did get it and I realized the errors (the wrong appetizer and missing tofu), there was just no time to send them back and wait for new dishes. We probably would have been there another half hour waiting. So, instead, we ate what we got and enjoyed it regardless.
The server was very nice, however, and we did not punish her for the wait time by undertipping. (You should never do that, by the way, because it is not the server’s fault if your food is not coming out of the kitchen. Now, if your server is standing around chatting while your dishes are waiting to be picked up, that’s another story. But chances are, if he/she is that lazy, you’re getting bad service right from the start.) I get the feeling that dinner is when they really get hopping, and I’ve heard they have live music.
Despite the missteps, we plan on going back, but on a day when we know we can linger a little longer. Either that, or we’ll order ahead. As far as the food goes, I highly recommend it. Just prepared to be there a while, and check your order when you get it.