Everest on Grand (St. Paul, MN)
Nepali cooking is similar to Indian, but milder. The story we heard is that because spices grow in the valleys and the Nepalese live high in the mountains, they use them sparingly. That explanation sounds a little too pat for us, but who knows? We can tell you that the dishes at Everest on Grand are more subtle than you'd get in an Indian restaurant. If you want powerful Indian spices, this food will seem bland. But if you're interested in trying something simple, subtle, and new, you're likely to be very pleased. Even if you just eat the momos.
Some years ago, Bruce visited Nepal. Among the random culinary adventures he had -- remember to ask if the vegetables are washed in iodine -- was a search for the perfect momo. Momos are Tibetan dumplings, similar to Japan's gyoza, Poland's pirogi, or Italy's ravioli. They come boiled or pan-fried, and filled with various meats and vegetables. In Nepal they were a staple, served with assorted condiments. Bruce traveled the country looking for momos, eating them in tourist restaurants in Katmandu and in local dives where everyone ate with their right hand. Best fifty-cent meal he ever ate.
Good momos are delicious.
Everest on Grand has good momos. The meat momos are filled with a turkey and pork mixture; the vegetarian momos with cabbage and onion. Both are subtly spiced with ginger and garlic. You can order them steamed or pan-fried, and we suggest ordering them fried. Yes, we know that steamed is lower in fat. But the fried momos taste better, and a few dumplings won't topple anyone's diet. The rest of the meal will be healthier, we promise.
The momos come on a plate -- six in a half order, ten in a full -- glistening and begging to be eaten. Dip them in the chutney. It's a tomato-based sauce, packed with cilantro and other spices. Feel how they fill your mouth with flavor. Watch how quickly they disappear. Maybe you want another order?
Just like they made 'em back in Katmandu.
The main courses are good, too. We liked the bhedako maasu best. This is a lamb curry, slow cooked in a tomato sauce with a variety of vegetables and herbs. Served over rice, it's subtle and delicious. You can also order chicken or fish in the same preparation, both good.
Unfortunately, a lot of the dishes have the same background preparation: the potato curry, the mixed vegetable curry, and probably others. It's very difficult not to order several dishes that are all very similar. It's all tasty, but we would have liked more variety.
Much of Nepalese cooking is vegetarian, and Everest on Grand has a large selection of interesting vegetarian dishes. We recommend the eggplant curry; it was the most flavorful dish they offered. We also liked the mustard leaves sautéed with ginger -- called saag -- that is much better than the similar dish at Indian restaurants. Avoid the cauliflower curry and the cabbage and potato curry; both are boring.
Actually, it's probably smarter to approach the meal as a long series of appetizers. Aside from the momos, you can order vegetable samosas and pakoras. The samosas are what you'd expect at an Indian restaurant, and very good. Pakoras are deep-fried vegetable fritters. The batter is deliciously seasoned, and they taste great with achar -- pickled and salted relishes. We can also recommend the chili chicken appetizer: pieces of chicken sautéed with onions and peppers.
If you're alone, order one of the daal-bhaat dishes. These are full meals: two curries, rice, lentil soup, and chutney. And it even comes with dessert.
Everest on Grand is a pretty restaurant. It's clean, bright, and freshly painted. The wooden tables and floor are inviting. There are pictures of Nepal on the walls, postcards under the glass on the table, and a map of Nepal inside the menu. (Clearly there's a lot of national pride here.) Prices are very reasonable: $7 for ten momos, $11 for meat curries, $8 for vegetable curries, and $15 or so for the daal-bhaat meals.
If we had one wish, it would be for more tables. Everest on Grand can fill up -- that's the price of being popular -- and a reservation is no guarantee that you won't have to wait. But the food arrives quickly once you order, and we think that the inconvenience is worth it for the momos alone.