There are few places that I trust to consistently provide warm service, a welcoming atmosphere and delicious food.
The Himalayan is one of them.
Based on geographical information alone, Nepali cooking is a blend of Indian and Chinese cuisines. Rice plays a large part, serving as the primary starchy staple, with flours and other grains becoming more common as you enter the Himalayas (you try growing rice on a mountain).
Common dishes include momo (Tibetan style dumplings with Nepali spices) and Dal-bhat (lentil soup with rice). Traditionally, buffalo meat is used for many dishes, however, due to the scarcity of water buffalo in Alberta, we’ll settle for pork and lamb.
We arrive around 6 on a Wednesday night and find a bustling restaurant. Most of the tables are filled and quiet conversations float through the small room. Tables are placed quite close to each other, but the noise is kept to a minimum. The decoration is dark and the lighting is dim, which doesn’t quite mesh with the Nepali home-cooking theme, but I can’t bring myself to complain. Quite a few tables were occupied by hopeful couples so the darkness was appreciated by some.
Service was something else.
I’ve talked before about the perfect balance of service (a trifecta comprised of non-intrusiveness, speed and warmth), but have yet to experience such balance…until now.
The staff are genuinely friendly and seem happy to answer questions about the food (also knowledgeable and didn’t need to run to the chef). My pet peeve of having servers constantly pour water in the middle of conversations was allayed through the usage of tall glass beakers at your table. However, what impressed me most was the feeling that the front end actually cared about whether you enjoyed your food.
We ordered multiple starters, a few entrees and shared everything.
Beautifully tender and fragrant pork dumplings. Liberal usage of spices compared to similar Chinese/Japanese/Korean dishes. Quite oily due to the usage of pork, but the meat remained tender and paired well with the lightly acidic sauce.
Marinated basa filets, spicy chick-pea batter, served with cilantro and hot sauce. Personally this was my favourite dish. The fish itself was very mild, and served as a canvas for the spices and sauce. Quite hot if you’re not a fan of spicy foods. Crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. They managed to keep the batter very light and avoided separation between fish and flour.
Personally, after tasting this dish, I doubt I’ll ever fry anything in a plain batter again. You can capture so much depth of flavor in the batter, it seems like a waste to just use salt and pepper.
We ordered the lamb grill. Thematically identical to various other dishes served on a hot slab of metal. The spices used in the dish were similar to the other curries/meats that we ordered, but this doesn’t take away from the taste at all. The lamb was close to well done, yet remained juicy.
Grilled lamb, served with an herb and mustard oil ‘curry’ sauce. In my opinion, this was tastier and a bit more original than the dish above. The strength of the spices and oils used served to counter the slightly gamey taste of the lamb. The side salad served no purpose but to fill up the plate, but the rice flakes and soy beans were an interesting addition.
Typical butter chicken. A bit more acidic and less sweet compared to that of other restaurants, which points towards actual tomatoes as opposed to cheap tinned sauce. Nothing to write home about. You’re probably better off going to an Indian restaurant for butter chicken.
Fried noodles! Thinner than udon, thicker than normal stir-fry egg noodles. Filling and a bit greasy, but contains the same spice mix as many of the dishes. Distinct cumin kick.
Mango Rice Pudding/Tapioca Cake
If the Himalayan had a weakness, it would be the limited (and mediocre) dessert menu. The mango pudding was decent enough and (big surprise) tasted like both mangoes and rice. It had a bit of an artificial tinge, but that may be due to how sweet it was.
The ‘cake’ was more interesting but tasted worse. It’s a cake in the sense that Chinese New Year’s cake is cake. We got a glutinous mass of tapioca flour with shaved coconut. While not unpleasant, it didn’t really taste like anything and the texture was like that of a compressed patty of slightly dry sticky rice.
If you couldn’t tell, I really like this place. The quality is consistent, food is great and service is impeccable.
Skip the desserts, order something with a Nepali sounding name and I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself.