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Thursday, January 7,2010

Momo like mama makes

By Clay Fong

Less familiar Asian cuisines sometimes come off as lessthan-satisfactory knockoffs of their Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai or Indian counterparts. With this thought in mind, I wasn’t sure what to expect at Boulder’s Tibet Kitchen, and I feared the experience was going to consist of poorly interpreted Northern Indian fare. Fortunately, my phobia was unfounded, as this compact restaurant features unique Tibetan items such as momo dumplings and a full range of meatless dishes prepared in a manner that’s both tasty and healthy.

The airy interior can’t entirely disguise that this venue was likely a fastfood joint of some sort in a previous incarnation. Nevertheless, the Tibet Kitchen features a cheerful orange paint scheme, as well as portraits of the Dalai Lama. Regarding this last detail, to paraphrase greenskeeper Carl Spackler, this restaurant’s got that going for it. The only atmospheric downside was that the dining experience was dogged by chilly drafts, as the front doors were open throughout the meal.

For our lunch appetizer, colleague Diane and I shared an order of the $5.95 vegetable momo. These were eight housemade steamed dumplings bursting with finely sliced cabbage, celery, carrots, peas, mushrooms and zucchini. The menu admonishes diners to watch out for the juice, and this is a justified warning, as each bite produced a noticeable squirt of broth. Despite the inherent light qualities of the vegetable filling, these dumplings were surprisingly hefty. They also possessed a clean, balanced taste sometimes absent from other dumplings suffering from a sodium surplus. Aesthetically, they possessed an asymmetrical, handmade look that you won’t find in something that comes out of a bag of frozen pot stickers.

Diane’s main selection was the $6.95 three-entrée lunch special.

Feeling virtuous, she requested an Boulder, 303-440-0882 endearingly al dente portion of steamed brown rice with a trio of vegetarian choices. The first was Tsel Shamu, consisting of sautéed mushrooms and an array of other vegetables, including broccoli and zucchini.

Unfortunately, the zucchini’s bitterness marred an otherwise fine preparation.

More consistent was the Ngo Tsel tofu, pairing bean curd with a creamy but firm sampling of baby bok choi. The final course was Tsel Shogok, a dense blend of potato slices, spinach and red pepper. This was the heartiest of the choices and was sufficient to stand independently as a one-dish meal when paired with rice. Diane remarked how each of these courses was cooked to a fine state of crisp tenderness. Additionally, each dish relied on the freshness and flavors of the ingredients, which had little in the way of unnecessary adornment or added oils or salt.

My main course was the $8.75 mothok, beef dumpling soup. The broth was a welcome departure from that of other Asian restaurants that would make one suspect that Swanson’s chicken soup was a classic kitchen staple. Herbal tones and white pepper added unexpected complexity. Strips of organic spinach contributed color, although not much flavor.

Scallion and ginger-scented dumplings were a worthy addition, and the filling reminiscent of a denser version of the meatballs found in pho, Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

It’s more accurate to characterize the Tibet Kitchen’s offerings as pure and simple rather than heavy-handed or exotic. The food here may not blow your mind, but it will be fairly priced and satisfying without being overly heavy or unhealthy.



Clay’s Obscurity Corner:
Yak butter tea

Yak butter tea is a menu item at Tibet Kitchen that wasn’t available when I visited. Traditional preparations contain salt and milk or cream, making this drink resemble a savory broth rather than a sweet tea. It can also be paired with another Tibetan staple, tsampa, roasted barley flour. The diner blends tsampa with tea until the mix can be shaped into a doughy ball. Then, one can simply pop the ball into his or her mouth.

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