Nasty week - let's eat out
Given the tough week, H decided to take me out to dinner. He had two stipulations a) it had to be outside of our neighbourhood and, because are pretty close to exceeding our restaurant budget this month, b) it had to be inexpensive. He dug around on Yelp and Menupages and found the highly recommended Himalaya Cafe - a BYOB Nepalese restaurant on 1st and 1st in the East Village.
Having never had Nepalese food before, it is difficult for me to say whether this restaurant replicates it well. I can say the food is damn fine. I'll likely get reamed out for this description - but the cuisine really appears to be a hybrid of Northern Indian Food (read, little to no cream) mixed with Chinese and touches of SouthEast Asian influences. The menu at Himalaya consists of a lot of dumplings, light, yogurt-based curries and similar dishes served with either basmati rice or egg noddles. Many people come to this restaurant for the dumplings which, as I understand it, are better pan fried than steamed.
The proteins on the menu are mainly beef, pork and chicken. The menu is heavy with veggie friendly options. The restaurant has a very visible list of recommended dishes on a blackboard above the kitchen. The dishes are large, designed to be shared and run about $7 a plate. While a little oily, the dishes are generally light and spicy - perfect for an overwhelmingly hot day.
We had the
Tsel Gyathuk Ngopa
sauteed noodles mixed with fresh green vegetables & tofu ($6.75)
a himalayan style chicken curry marinated in homemade yogurt & spices with served basmati rice ($7.50)
The actually location isn't much to look at, but the interior hardly matters. The overall appearance is really one of a neighbourhood dumpling house. It is a small,clean cafe with a chalkboard menu, visible kitchen and relatively unadorned wooden interior. The restaurant has intimate seating. The staff lets the clientele sit for as long as they please. In combination those two factors make for a friendly, upbeat and even romantic atmosphere. We were surrounded by couples and groups of friends who had come in with their own bottles of beer and wine to enjoy company and food on a hot day.
The Himalaya Cafe is very close to a number of liquor stores and markets. We didn't realize that at the time and stopped by Trader Joe's wine shop in Union Square. I realize Trader Joe's wine shop probably brings two-buck-chuck to mind. For anyone who hasn't been there in the last 5 years, the T.J. wine shop stocks some really fantastic wines at very low prices. At some point, I'll get around to posting my favourites on this site. For the time being, I'll tell you that we picked up a bottle of Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 - a wine that I have seen retail for $20+ - for $7.99
In retrospect the food could have handled a wine that was a little bit more floral, however Sauvignon Blanc is a great pairing for Nepalese curries.
Oyster Bay 2010 Sauvignon Blanc is crisp, low acid and has citrus (mainly lemon) and grass clipping notes. As many Sauvignon Blancs warm they can taste more and more barnyard-like. This is a quality that I like, even when the wine is perfectly chilled. However, I knew I really wanted a wine that was smooth and low on the front lawn taste. Oyster Bay was perfect. Given the heat outside, it did warm a little and held up very well and maintained a very clean finish. I cannot recommend it enough.
We walked home. The total cost of a night out $24 (+tip), which represents a 1/4 of our monthly restaurant budget ($100).
Is it a night at the Mandarin Orient? No - but my ventures into highly-budgeted-ville are teaching me that fun and romance are really more about the company and adventure, than views and sparkling sakes (though, the M.O. view of Central Park is pretty amazing). Our dinner at the Cafe Himalaya was damn tasty, a lot of fun and a nice break in an otherwise taxing week.