A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Jul. 6.

Dinner -

Himalayan Yak - 72-20 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights
Goat Sekuwa, Nepali Dal-Bhat, Chili Chicken, a Tingmo

Now I know how de Gama felt as the waves of a new coast crashed against his hull. Now I know what raced through Magellan’s mind as he broached unknown territory. Okay, maybe not, but I did feel a rush of excitement as Vince and I stepped off the 7 train. We’d decided to have a random adventure, setting off for Jackson Heights to explore this culinary crossroads. A haven for cheap Mexican, Indian and Asian food, this Queens neighborhood offers an almost intimidating bounty of ethnic options. At first, we were thinking tacos, which became vindaloo as we walked away from the subway. Heading north on Roosevelt Avenue though, we saw a choice we’d never considered: Tibetan/Nepali. Named Himalayan Yak, we glimpsed at the restaurant’s menu, marveling at so many unfamiliar options like the Khasi Ko Giddi and Jibro Ko Bhutuwa (goat brain and ox tongue) entrée. Right then, our decision was clear.

Deciding on what to order became the next challenge though. Through the descriptions, the food seemed to resemble both Indian and Chinese cooking but there were also examples that clearly didn’t fit either influence. (Take the dessert Bhatsa Markhu, explained to be “[h]and made pasta lightly rolled in roasted barley, sugar, butter & grated cheese.”) Still, after some careful thought and consulting with our attentive waiter, we had put together what seemed like a formidable cross-section of tastes.

To kick off the meal, Vince and I split Goat Sekuwa, which was grilled and spicy. The soft level of heat was offbeat and original, and I had trouble identifying some of the spices being used. (I could definitely detect onions and chilis in the recipe though.) While I liked this appetizer, especially for the novelty of the spicing, the meat could've been better. Certain pieces were too tough or too fatty, a common misstep when it comes to goat.

Our next course, the Dal-Bhat, also came from the Nepali side of the menu. It was a sampler of some of Himalayan Yak’s vegetarian selections, a prime opportunity for the cooks to show off their scope. The plate came with lentil soup, mustard greens, a potato-cauliflower curry, and potato and black eyed pea stew. We also got two tingmos, steamed rolls from Tibet that were fist-sized and lacquered with egg yolk. Everything here was wonderful and remarkably different. The greens came in a very light clear sauce that gave them just a little extra moistness and flavor. The curry was heavier with more attention-grabbing elements though it too contributed a real complexity. The stew similar to the curry was hearty and warming, and though it lacked the curry’s spicing, it still packed a delicious taste. The lentil soup was perhaps the simplest component but it was a nice touch. Pouring a spoonful over the rice was yet another way to make ordinary ingredients feel new. I enjoyed so many of the flavors that I pulled off strips of dough from my tingmo to scoop up leftover sauces from the platter.

To finish, we went with the Chili Chicken, which the Yak lists as one of its specialties. It’s a distinction this entrée merits, with its standout preparation. For one, the generous serving of white meat chicken was tender and tasty. It became even better in its spicy sauce, which had a hint of sweetness. The dish also emphasized fresh vegetables, mixing in red onions, peppers, jalapenos, and scallions. It was here that I was reminded most of Chinese food, but the clean and subtle preparation here far overshadowed the contents of any takeout container.

At the end of the meal, the owner came out and introduced himself. (As the only white people in the restaurant for most of our meal, and clearly the only bloggers, we must’ve stood out.) He told us that Himalayan Yak had only been open for three months and that he hoped we’d enjoyed our meals. We assured him sincerely that we had. He said he hoped nothing had been too spicy, a thread our waiter had also doted on. Apparently, they were concerned we couldn’t have handled more heat, a common worry for non-Asian customers. This only intrigued me more, as I immediately wanted to see what our dishes would've tasted like at their natural intensity. Whatever the result would've been, our adventure that night proved quite a success. Inspired by this expedition, I'd love to keep exploring the wonders of the Himalayan Yak, Jackson Heights more generally, and New York even more broadly. With so many parts of the world so exhaustively mapped and analyzed, it’s heartening to find out there’s a universe of uncharted food for us still to explore. 8/10

This post was part of The Delicious Life's Dine and Dish 3: The Freshman. Check out all of the other entries in Sarah's Delicious writeup of the event.


Anonymous sarah said...

isn't it great? himalayan food, that is? i JUST tried it for the first time here in LA a few weeks ago - and found it so totally interesting - you're right. definitely east asian like chinese-ish, definitely indian, and definintely some other magical touches in there.

thanks for playing in dine and dish :) hope you can join in next month too!

3:40 AM  
Anonymous astrid said...

Did they have any yak on the menu? My experience with Tibetan food is that yak is a staple.

I just found your site through Slice and I love it!!! Your blog is what I thought mine would be when I started it... your commitment is much stronger!

12:45 PM  
Blogger Lonesome Hero said...

I looked over the menu and there's no sign of yak. Besides the goat brain and ox tongue, there's some beef tongue, but that's the extent of the unusual meats.

By the way, Astrid, I enjoy your blog and your Chowhound comments.

Sarah, I think I'm in!

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it's a good place and really the only restaurant in New York to serve Nepali food. Having recently spent 5 months or so in Nepal and Nepali-speaking India I find myself at the Yak a few times when the craving for daal-bhaat grabs me. The "lentil soup" mentioned above is in fact the daal, which in everyday Nepali cooking consists simply of one or more types of daal boiled with salt and turmeric (the Yak's version is a little fancier). Generally daal is poured over the bhaat (boiled rice), and this mixture is eaten with the right hand (traditionally! not in jackson heights :) ). The "vegetable stews" are called tarkari, and two types are often served with daal-bhaat, as they are at the restaurant. The cauliflower-potato combination is typical, though there are lots of varieties. Achar, or chutney, is more of a wild-card, and to my mind one of the most distinctive features of Nepali food: it can be anything from toasted black sesame seeds ground up with lime juice, salt, and spices to unripe mango with salt and chili pepper or a cooked tomato-ginger sauce.
In Nepal, of course, the amount of bhaat eaten is enormous with just enough daal to moisten it, comparatively little tarkari, and a couple spoonfuls of achar. So enjoy the excess!
Gundruk is a typical dish well-worth trying: mustard or other greens that have been fermented until sour (somewhat like sourkraut or kimchee in that this is a means of preserving them), then dried until use. It's made into a deliciously tart broth.
For dessert consider khir, if you have room for it (or even if you don't, since any loving Nepali mother would pile it on your plate anyway)--delicious, rich milky rice pudding with raisins, cardamom, coconut, cloves, etc.
Hope you find this reason enough to make it out to Jackson Heights. Never been to Tibet, but I know the Yak's momos (steamed dumplings) are good since that seems to be what most of the displaced Nepali folks in the restaurant order.

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try chicken momo green sause next time.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

one of the best nepali restaurant..........

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

definitely the best nepali restaurant ever...love the food...highly recommend it to everyone who loves to try new cuisiness....and yak is not on the menu...rare meat i would say haha

5:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

its coming soon again...on same location

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its better than my mom's food. LOL. I go here every week.

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