This is the Place
One of the Best Meals I've Had In a Long Time
Restaurant: Himalayan Kitchen
During a discussion about good food that is not the same as everyone else out there, an acquaintance was just insistent that I go to the Himalayan Kitchen. Granted, she had ulterior motives, because she is an employee there, but I just couldn't say no. The question that arose was when. There are two locations of the Himalayan Kitchen, one in downtown Salt Lake City, the other in South Jordan. Since I don't get downtown much, that was a no-brainer. Outside, it is in a strip mall off Bangerter Highway, and you have to pull around to get to the front door (it's sort of an Easter egg in the center of an asphalt nest).
Inside, you are immediately greeted by beautiful, high-end décor. Rich woods, bright colors, immaculately clean and orderly. It was about half-full on a Saturday afternoon, which meant two things: I wouldn't be able to hit the lunch buffet they were promoting, but also that they are serving a pretty consisten wave of customers. I was greeted by an older man who was very well groomed and one of the most pleasant people I have met playing host. He seated me and asked if I had ever been there before. I said "no" and he walked me through the rather extensive menu, because different sections focus on different types of cuisine. He then made recommendations from each section.
At that point, it was clear that he was the owner or manager. He knew way too much about the menu and how things were prepared to be anyone else. Moreover, it was screamingly obvious that he loves his job. That makes all the difference when providing service.
Next, he asked if I like spicy, to which I replied "yes." He then said that "spicy" means something different to an Indian palate, so he recommended getting it mild for my first time and getting a side of hot sauce, if I wanted to spice it up. Grudgingly, I agreed, although I wondered if I was going to have to turn in my Man Card for doing it. I also asked if it was like Chinese food, where you order different dishes and eat family style (I was there with my wife and stepson). He said that it can be done either way, although doing so on a first visit allows for a broader array of the styles to be sampled in one sitting. He then left us to review the menu.
The menu included appetizers named things I had never heard of (other than naan), soups, tandoori specialities (meats cooked in a tandoor oven), a list of lamb dishes, a variety of chicken dishes (including the national dish of the UK, Chicken Tikka Masala), seafood and vegetarian specialties, Hamalyan specialties, different types of rice, beverages and even dessert. From his list of recommendations, I chose Malai Chicken and Stuffed Naan. The meal was accompanied by basmati rice.
I would have liked to ask about a lot of things on the menu like, "What's daal?" or "What's aloo?" or "What's thukpa?" or "What's saag?" but controlled myself. He was working the room, not just waiting on me, and I didn't want to delay getting fed. I was not disappointed (other than it took a little longer than I anticipated). When it arrived, however, my food was accompanied by the sound of sizzling meat on a metal plate, streaming a column of steam that not only had me chomping at the bit, but elicited a few "ooohs" from people at neighboring tables. The naan looked just like expected, a pretty flatbread with bits of color showing through where it was stuffed with cheese and garlic. The rice was white, longer and thinner grains than most Chinese restauranants, and a small, silver cup with my hot sauce and a tiny, metal spoon almost like you would use to get samples at an ice-cream parlor. My serving plate was very elegant, with a colorful design around the edge. All that said, I just couldn't take my eyes off that smoking, sizzling chicken. I cut off some of the chicken and a piece of onion and went to work.
First words out of my mouth on the first bite: "That is just amazing."
The chunks of chicken had the touch of smokiness that comes with grilling, with accompanying vegetables that includes onion cooked until transparent. The seasoning was perfect, not so spicy that it overpowered the taste of the grilling. The onion was a nice accompaniment, reminding me a bit of a Greek dish I like, Chicken Souvlaki.
I took a bit of rice and found that it was very light and fluffy. Again, the obvious comparison is the white rice at Chinese restaurants, but this was not clumpy in anyway, with a flavor that complimented the food, rather than smothering it. With that in mind, I found myself rolling my chicken in the rice with each bite, getting a nice ratio of flavors with what ended up sticking to it.
When I tried the hot sauce, I used the tiny spoon to put a dab on my chicken-wrapped-in-rice bite, and the intricate flavors filled my head. I could taste garlic and other seasonings that must have been Indian (I could not indentify them by taste alone), and that in itself was something. It was not hot just for the sake of being hot. It really tasted very good without overpowering even chicken. After about thirty seconds, the heat from the sauce hit me, eliciting a short "ooo!" from me. Not only was it amazingly flavorful but, unlike other restaurants, their hot sauce was actually hot. By the third bite, I broke a sweat. Halfway through my meal, there was enough heat to open my sinuses. Life was good.
The naan was also excellent. The cheese and garlic was a great combination. Being stuffed inside flatbread took it to a whole other place, nothing like garlic-cheese bread served at some Italian restaurants. My only complaint was that there was not enough of it — not because I hadn't achieved my life-is-good feeling, but because I just wanted more.
Last words out of my mouth: "I will definitely be coming back here."
On my second visit, I wanted to try something that was specifically Himalayan. So I went with the Himalayan Momos made with bison (something the man had said was "very rare" on my first visit). To go with it, I wanted something that was also different, so I chose the Chicken Coconut Curry. I have had curries before, but wanted to know if the Himalayan Kitchen could blow my socks off like it had on the first time around.
Like the first time, the restaurant was immaculate, the waiting staff well trained and groomed, as well as very knowledgeable and pleasant. My order was taken and I went with the mild heat and side of hot sauce, also like the first time. The place was about half-full, also consistent with my first visit, and again took a little longer than I would have thought. When it finally arrived, there was no sizzling fanfare to accompany it, so no one "ooohed," but I don't expect my meals to be greeted with gasps of pleasure every time.
First words out of my mouth: "Looks nice."
It's common knowledge that you first eat with your eyes, and the presentation was once again very professional and elegant. The Momos are dumplings, accompanied by a yellow-orange sauce that I could only guess was some kind of mustard. The curry was a thick, yellowish sauce with chunks of chicken in it. The smell of the coconut in the curry made it clear what I had ordered, but I wanted to hit those Momos. I cut one into thirds and used the same idea with the "mustard" as I had the hot sauce my first time around.
First words out of my mouth on the first bite: "That's not mustard."
It was somewhat fruity and, again, had a mixture of spices that I could not identify. All that I knew for sure was that it was good. Next bite I tried without sauce. The bison was good, a bit stronger in flavor than pork or chicken that come in a lot of potstickers at Chinese restaurants, but the seasoning was similar. All by itself, a Momo tastes like a potsticker on steroids. Third bite, I went with the yellow sauce and the hot sauce. The two sauces did not compete, just upped the ante on the heat. Excellent!
Next, I went for the curry. First of all, the curry was almost like a cream sauce, due to the coconut milk. The layers of flavor were good, although the coconut milk had a surprising potency, asking as a bit of a mask over the other flavors. There was heat (although I could have taken more), there was sweetness from the coconut milk, and it was also savory. I am not an expert on curry, but the strength of the coconut milk made me wishing that I could taste the other flavors more. When I tried it with the hot sauce, however, it was amazing. It just didn't stand up as much on its own.
I cleaned my plate and definitely achieved that life-is-good feeling, but I was not as impressed as the first time around. Yes, the two together still stood out as some of the best meals I have had in recent memory, but there definitely is something to be said for experimentation. The good stuff is really good … the rest varies. I will definitely go back, maybe wade my way through the menu and the different styles of cuisine ... but not everything on the menu sends your taste buds into orbit.
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