New Nepalese eatery adds to Broadway’s ethnic flair

SPECIAL TO THE IDAHO STATESMANJanuary 10, 2014 

  • MOUNT EVEREST MOMO CAFE

    Address: 2144 S. Broadway Ave. (Broadway Park Plaza), Boise

    Phone: (208) 342-1268

    Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner: 5 to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

    Menu price range: appetizers, soups and flatbread $1.95-$7.99; entrées $8.95-$17.95 (mixed kabob grill)

    Libation situation: Imported bottled beers, such as Kingfisher (India) and San Miguel (Philippines/Nepal), and a short list of red and white wines.

    Kid friendly? Yes

    Wheelchair accessible? Yes

    Opened: September 2013

    Online: www.mounteverestmomocafe.com

It wasn’t long ago that Chinese-style pot stickers were the only dumplings served at ethnic joints in the Boise area. Momo-style dumplings weren’t even on the radar for most folks around here. But thanks to places such as Mount Everest Momo Cafe, a new Himalayan restaurant on Broadway Avenue in Boise, this high-country cuisine is starting to take hold around the Valley.

The idea of Nepalese food, at least for me, evokes images of Sherpas hanging out on a high steppe of the Himalayas, warming their bellies with thick stews and tea laced with water buffalo’s milk. Granted, it’s not a cuisine I know much about.

I do know the vibrant cuisine of Nepal gleans inspiration from India, its neighbor to the south, the starting point of the spice route that once worked its way through the trans-Himalayan highlands to points west. This might help to explain why the food of Nepal, Tibet and Kashmir is bright with curries and chutneys. Let’s not forget the charred and chewy flatbread, good for soaking up all those aromatic sauces.

The flavor profiles might be similar in this pinnacled part of the world, but these regions offer their own themes and variations on a shared cuisine. Momo dumplings, for example, are a common snack in both Nepal and Tibet, yet the filling and dipping sauce (achar) varies slightly throughout the mountainous stretch of Asia.

It remains to be seen whether momo dumplings will catch on as part of the culinary fabric of Boise. But they’re off to a good start. Mount Everest Momo Cafe — not affiliated with Meridian’s Momo Dumplings, which opened in 2012 — kind of gets lost in the blur of a busy strip mall, next to a string of other ethnic restaurants, namely Wok-King and The Shak Hawaiian Cafe. I walked right by the front door one evening looking for the place.

Once inside, I did a double take to make sure I was in the right spot. The interior doesn’t scream Katmandu, that’s for sure. Instead, an innocuous-looking dining room is sparsely decorated with a few reminders of Nepal, such as tiny wood carvings, a colorful tapestry and a framed photo of the Himalayas that’s entirely too small for the large white wall. Plus, the restaurant was so flooded with fluorescent light that I felt like I was dining inside a glowing terrarium.

I came for the food and not the décor, I reminded myself.

The menu focuses on specialties from Nepal and Tibet, accentuated by several recognizable Indian dishes. Owner Raj Shrestha, who hails from Nepal, works hard to bring people up to speed about the cuisine.

Right away, my dining partners and I took the chill off with cups of steamy and creamy chai tea ($1.95), spiked with cardamom, while perusing the menu.

Shrestha recommended a gamut of small bites, including some deliciously flaky samosas ($3), packed with smooth potato, chopped peas, cumin and other spices, served with mint-cilantro chutney and a bittersweet tamarind dipping sauce.

Not as successful were the vegetable pakodas ($3.95), mostly because these deep-fried knots of indiscernible vegetables were cotton ball-dry. They became much more palatable once dragged through the aforementioned dipping sauces.

Shrestha also pushed on us an order of chicken momo ($7.95), which turned out to be 10 crescent-shaped dumplings — incredibly juicy and tender, I might add — filled with ground chicken redolent of cilantro, ginger and curry-like spices. The dumplings came on a traditional metal platter (called a thal) that had small compartments topped off with verdant chutney and a nearly flavorless achar, a tomato-cilantro dipping sauce.

We then shifted our attention to the Tibetan side of the menu, with orders of chicken thukpa ($10.95) and lamb chau chau ($11.95), a jumble of ropy wheat noodles (actually Japanese udon noodles) stir-fried with fork-tender bites of lamb, cabbage, peas and chopped tomato — in a spicy, golden gravy.

Thukpa is seriously good chicken noodle soup. A bowl of aromatic chicken broth, seasoned with yellow curry, came brimming with thick noodles, toothsome pieces of chicken breast, peas, onion, cabbage and broccoli. I would gladly drive in a snowstorm for another bowl of this stuff.

We also ordered a basket of kulcha ($2.50), grilled flatbread pocked with red onion and cilantro, which came in handy for soaking up the delicious broth.

A few days later, I popped in for some vegetarian take-out at lunchtime. The restaurant offers several good lunch specials in the $7 range.

Shrestha greeted me at the door with a smile, as he does all his customers.

He suggested that I try the vegetable momo ($6.95) and the dal makhani ($9.95), a delectable creamed green lentil stew — spiced with ginger, fenugreek, cumin and an essence of clove — served with fragrant basmati rice.

Once again, the momo dumplings were moist and bursting with flavor, this time packed with a velvety mixture of cauliflower, peas, cabbage, garlic, coriander and other spices.

I tagged on an order of chewy garlic naan ($2.50), but the flatbread didn’t offer much in the way of flavor — no garlic punch!

Overall, the food is pretty good at Mount Everest Momo Cafe, but some of the seasonings tend to be flat at times.

And don’t even get me started again about the ambience.

Email James Patrick Kelly: scene@idahostatesman.com

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