By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
3:51 PM PST, February 2, 2011
The Himalayan Grill serves a wide variety of superior Indian food. Reviewers have raved about the tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala, but we were intrigued by the possibility of tasting Tibetan food, which, to our knowledge, is not available anywhere else in the OC.
This small, charming restaurant is located in an odd-shaped little space in Peter's Landing. The décor is warm and welcoming. A glass waterfall etched with a bamboo motif greets you as you enter. Soft lighting, candles on the tables, two-toned orange walls, photos of the mountains and their people and a variety of artifacts help prepare you for the interesting meal ahead.
As we walked to our seats, we couldn't help but notice delicious-looking food on every table we passed. The menu is primarily Indian food, including two thalis, one of which is vegetarian. A thali is like a buffet on a platter. The non-veg thali has a samosa, tandoori chicken, lamb or chicken curry, dal, rice, naan and dessert. However, we were drawn to the Tibetan/Nepali dishes. These are more rustic and hearty than many of the more refined Indian offerings.
Momos, thupkas and chau chaus are as close to Tibet as we are likely to get. The momo is a dumpling quite similar to Chinese steamed dumplings, but the filling is different. You may choose between chicken, vegetable or lamb. The momos we ordered were wrapped, plump chicken meatballs. The dumpling wrapper was particularly delicate and the meat mixture was absolutely delicious. It was served with a spicy tomato cilantro sauce called achar, which added a nice touch of tasty heat, although its tan color was a little off-putting.
Thupka is a lusty and satisfying cold-weather dish; a complexly seasoned tomato-based soup, chock full of thin noodles, red and white cabbage, peas, mushrooms, carrots and chicken. You can also get it with lamb or vegetarian-style.
Another noodle dish, this time pan-fried, is the chau chau. Again, you have a choice of chicken, vegetable, lamb or shrimp. This was the most ordinary entrée of the evening. The shrimp chau chau was mostly noodles, which were somewhat greasy, without any distinctive flavor, plus a mere four little shrimp and a few bits of chicken and vegetables.
All the menu items in the restaurant can be prepared to your liking: mild, medium or hot. We found medium to be a bit mild; next time, we will go for hot.
Moving south to India, we just had to order the samosas because they caught our eye on a waiter's tray and were gorgeous with their golden brown, blistered crust. These large triangular pastries were filled with soft shredded potatoes, onions and peas, seasoned to perfection. This staple of Indian cuisine is something we almost always order as an appetizer, but these stood out above the rest both in texture and flavor.
So did the chicken biryani, which the owner's charming son recommended. Biryani is a rice dish with lots of herbs and spices, mixed with meats and/or vegetables. At Himalayan Grill, the long-grained, saffron-scented basmati rice was sautéed with pieces of gingered chicken, onions, cumin, cardamom, cashews, raisins and other spices, then finished with a sprinkling of rosewater. We found the alchemy of flavors to be nothing short of addictive.
We've never swooned over eggplant before, but the Bengan bharta sent us to nirvana. We can only guess at all the spices that made this creamy eggplant dance on the palate. Onions, garlic chilies, cumin, ginger, coriander and garam masala (an Indian spice mixture with many variations of dark spices) all took their turn at center stage. It was the perfect dish for scooping up with garlic naan (flatbread).
There were only two desserts, and we tried them both. Gulab jamun are Indian donut holes served in sweet syrup...not as good as Krispy Kremes. The very creamy soft rice pudding was lightly sweetened, and Terry would have yummed it up if she hadn't been so utterly stuffed.
High quality and loving attention make Himalayan Grill worthy of your attention and certainly worth the drive.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: Peter's Landing, 16400 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Dinner: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 3 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Champagne brunch: noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Appetizers: $3.95 to $10.95
Entrées: $9.95 to $22.95
By the glass: $6.95 to $8.95
Corkage fee: $6.95
Information: (562) 592-9080 or http://www.himalayangrill.com