Monday, November 28, 2011

Yak and Yeti: Tara's Himalayan / Big Foot West Adventure

One of the most amazing things about LA is that almost anything you want to do, is available to be done.  This is especially true of the dining arena - in the city, you can pretty much get any cuisine you want, (with few exceptions for specialized regional fare).  Even Nepalese /Tibetan. Last week, The Nomlog and I decided the best cure for a weekday is a culinary getaway - to the Himalayas via Palms by way of an unassuming restaurant on Venice Blvd, just downwind of Culver City.

Tara's Himalayan Cuisine is one of only two known Nepalese/Tibetan restaurants in LA (the other is in Pasadena, a city that to me represents a relative culinary wasteland offering  more trouble - especially with parking - than it's worth - so I wasn't about to go there even if the cuisine seemed to promise adventure). 

Tara's looked to offer authentic Nepalese / Tibetan dishes. Also, I was inspired by the story of owner Tara Gurung Black, who grew up in a tiny mountain village in Nepal (who we learned had escaped from an arranged marriage in her early teens) came to America on her own, assimilated, and eventually opened the restaurant to introduce a taste of her culture to LA, and later to raise funds to send home to a local school in her village that had fallen into disrepair.  She wanted kids from her village to be educated, empowering them as agents for positive change while not losing their heritage.
From the outside, on a fairly deserted stretch of Venice Blvd - the restaurant with its simple front patio doesn't look like much, but once inside, you can feel firsthand the pride Tara takes in her culture, through the small but cozy space adorned with colorful embroidery, lanterns, paintings and ornaments from Nepal.

We kicked off our meal with a cup of Himalayan Hot Tea ($3) made with cooked milk, ginger and Himalayan herbs.  It reminded me of chai but less in- your-face, spice that's got a calm presence - definitely hit the spot on that cold night (and cheers to free refills!)

Excited to try the food (Nepali cuisine has a lot of Indian and Chinese influence, so the menu had a lot of familiar terms like tandoori, masala, naan and their staple 'momo' are similar to Chinese dumplings/potstickers) - The Nomster and I decided to go with the two dishes that featured Yak meat, which neither of us had ever had (we're somehow always drawn to the unusual!).
The first was Sherpa Stew (with added Yak and noodles)This turned out to be more of the consistency of a noodle soup than stew - with a tomato based broth flavored with "Himalayan spices" and herbs.  Then the moment of truth - there were a few pieces of Yak meat mixed in - and they were tender, juicy, dark and flavorful.  It's sweeter than beef and in slices that were light in weight but dark, almost black, in color.  As for the noodles, I was joking with The Nomster that I didn't know Tibetans were into spaghetti, when Tara walked by and confirmed that those were in fact spaghetti noodles!  There just isn't time to do handpull noodles the traditional way, so they chose the next closest substitute. 
We were a bit disappointed not to get to try it the authentic way, but enjoyed the flavors and the hot soup on a cold night well enough.

Photo: Mahatma4711

So what are Yaks, and why Yak meat?

Yaks are cattle animals bred by ancient Himalayan tribes as a beast of burden as well as for their rich milk, wool, hides, horns, and of course, meat.
In looks, Yaks resemble bison / cattle - they have handlebar horns, large shoulder humps, horse-like tails and long hair that hang down close to the ground.

Yak meat is red, lighter than beef, juicier than buffalo and elk, and not greasy (it's apparently a lean, low fat and low cholesterol, high protein meat, for those who care about that stuff ;P).
Our second Yak dish was Tara's signature dish: Yak Chili  ($11.99) which is also not as you would expect - say the word 'chili' and you automatically think thick, meaty stew with spices for heat, and possibly beans and cheese.  In this case, chili refers to the peppers that are used when sauteeing the Yak meat,along with broccolli, onions, tomato.

We could taste the yak a lot better than the smaller pieces in the Sherpa Stew - they were juicy but a bit rougher in texture than beef and again has a naturally sweet taste.  The closest thing I can think of that would be familiar to most people would be Mongolian beef, but with a much rougher surface.  Not bad, not sure that I would crave it but glad we got to try!

For a token veggie dish, we had the Eggplant Curry with fresh sliced eggplant, ginger, garlic and fresh tomatoes. ($7.99).  I prefer my eggplant structured with skin that isn't tough, so this dish wasn't a favorite - the eggplant was cooked thoroughly and falls apart both on contact with your utensils and melts away in your mouth, yet the skin is still sort of stiff and not that chewable.

All in all, glad we got the Himalayan experience, on our little pretend-Travel Channel-episode without ever leaving town.  It was worth trying at least once - and you can feel good about 10% of the profits from your meal going to support the Nepali school.  And happy to have met Tara, an incredible, generous and positively beaming personality whose passion for her country and culture is clear and inspiring.

In keeping with the Nepalese theme, after dinner we walked overto Big Foot West, just a few doors down, for drinks.  So Big Foot is not exactly the Yeti, but pretty much the American equivalent (did Tara's and Big Foot West plan to be so close to each other?)

This is another hidden gem of a neighborhood bar (design-wise), on the same relatively deserted stretch of Venice Blvd.  The concept is sort of mountain cabin, complete with walls built of 'Lincoln logs' and a central bar topped by overhead display crafted from cross sections of small tree trunks.

Despite the cool design, it's a pretty laid back and scene-free bar where you can come as you are - and be just as comfortable in your smart casual work clothes or in the cliched flannel shirt and jeans.

My friend 'Designer' introduced me to this bar a while back, and they used to have a specialty drink called Horny Goat that is $25 and made of un-nameables, that sat in a giant biology class style jar at the bar, and is supposed to aid your libido.  We never got to try it, and now it's gone, like so many creatures of legend. 

So, I ordered a Flower of New Orleans ($12), made of gin, yellow chartreuse, elderflower liquer and lemon juice.  I think Matt Biancaniello ruined me for cocktails not made farm-to-glass with incredible creativity: I found the Flower of New Orleans way too sweet and syrupy, but one thing that is NOT subjective, is the size of the glass (I don't know my metric measurements, but it was only about 3 mouthfuls of liquid in a small cocktail glass for $12, when Matt's crazy creative drinks at Library Bar are full-sized, sometimes in margarita or pint glasses, at $16).  Also, service was pretty abominable (yes, pun intended) - it took 10 minutes for the bartender to take my order, then another half hour to get my drink (he said he couldn't find me, but um, it's a small bar and I just moved over to a barstool that freed up a few steps down).

So, would I recommend Big Foot West?  ONLY for Happy Hour (see deal alert below) AND only if you're already in the area, like within walking distance (would not be worth a drive, in my opinion), AND you're not in a rush.

[Deal alert: $5 Happy Hour daily 5pm-9pm. Also sighted at Big Foot West: Whisky lovers night Mondays $4 Buffalo Trace, $5 Russell's rye]

All in all, though we may not have had summit-like highs taste-wise with either venue, we had a fun time trying something new and different (and yes, yakking up a storm - I know, *groan*, had to do it). 

Chalking this Yak + Yeti trip up for another Nomster / 1MB adventure!  Can't wait to see what we come up with next...


Tara's Himalayan
10855 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90034
Ph: 310.836.9696

Big Foot West
10939 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064
Ph: 310.287.2200


1 comment:

  1. Whee! I know what's next. It's our special themed dinner involving pizza and Thai food.



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