Tara’s Himalayan cuisine

I read somewhere that people are genetically programmed to find mates outside their tribes to be more attractive than those within their own tribes. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I think that rule is true with respect to food. I grew up in a small town in Illinois where we ate traditional mid-western foods. Our dining fare consisted of fried chicken, T-bone steaks, local vegetables, salads, and since we were on the Wisconsin border, lots of cheese.  On moving to Los Angeles, however, I found my food preferences changed from those of my childhood to a variety of ethnic foods.  So, when I saw Tara’s Himalayan Cuisine had opened in Santa Monica, I was quick to take my family there.  The word must have spread for we weren’t the only customers lining up to eat that evening, as the restaurant was packed.  Since we had to wait a few minutes for a table, I quizzed the departing customers on how they liked the food, and received a thumbs up from everyone.

So, what is Himalayan food?  Tara’s menu is divided into three categories: Nepalese, Tibetan, and Indian.  One popular dish is the soup dumplings, called “Momo,” which is served on a plate of six — three chicken and three stuffed with vegetables.  Personally, I preferred the vegetable dumplings mainly because of the texture. Although it seems that the Himalayan diet does not feature as much sliced bread and baked products as offered in Indian food, a variety of Naan and other breads are on the menu.  The more traditional dishes I’ve read about were not prevalent, some of which include pungent stews with a sour taste and certain types of pickled vegetables. Also missing from the menu is a dish called Tsukuti, which is dried meat with spices and vegetables, and Samay Baji, which is a Nepalese traditional mixed plate consisting of beaten rice (Chyura,) bara, barbecued and marinated buffalo meat, (Chhwela,) fried boiled egg, black soybeans (Bhatmaas,) spicy  potato salad (Aalu-Wala,) finely cut ginger (Palu,) boiled beans mixed with spices,

(Bodi ko Achar,) green leaves, (Saag) and Ayla, an alcohol found in Nepal’s Newar community.  Although I didn’t see any of those dishes on the menu, it is possible they are listed under different names. 

It was difficult to distinguish the food from Indian dishes offered in restaurants all around Los Angeles.  That said, and forgetting for a moment whether the dishes are really representative of Nepal or more like traditional Indian dishes, we found the food surprisingly good. The lamb shank, hard to find in Los Angeles these days, was very good. The Chicken Tikka Masala, which is said to be the most common dish currently served in England, ranked way up there and was as good as any I’ve had. The Eggplant Curry was well seasoned and a number of people were eating curry dishes.  I asked if they liked their food, (I’m quite a nuisance at restaurants) and got a lot of thumbs up.  There were some dishes with yak meat, which we didn’t try, and many of the dishes were represented as having special Nepalese spices, but I personally didn’t find them to be very unique.  For me to become more knowledgeable about the differences between Himalayan cuisine vs. specific Indian, Tibetan, or Nepalese dishes is going to take some time. However, the food was so good that my continuing “research” is going to be a great pleasure.  As to my family’s dining experienced that evening, everyone enjoyed the dishes they ordered and found them to be excellent.  Accordingly, I strongly recommend this restaurant, but will probably wait until they can serve beer before I go back.

Tara’s Himalayan Cuisine is at 262 26th Street in Santa Monica. The telephone is (424) 744-8948.  They are open 7 days a week from 11 to 9 p.m.  (There’s one advantage to allowing open immigration, the immigrants tend to work harder and longer hours than locals.)

Openings: A new restaurant called “Mason,” located at 108 W. Channel Road in Santa Monica, has opened down the street from where I live in Santa Monica Canyon.  It occupies a space which has been the site of many restaurants over the years, including,

“Les Anges,” which specialized in a delicious lobster dish infused with an anisette based liquor, which was injected with a hypodermic needle. Unfortunately, the chef moved to Hawaii and the restaurant went out of business. More recently the “Hungry Cat” operated in that space and we loved going down there on Monday nights to enjoy the oysters, and we were disappointed when it closed. I’ll be writing about “Mason,” which lists itself as “A classic American chophouse with a modern upswing,” as soon as I have a chance to experience it.  Meanwhile, a few feet up the street is the revised “Golden Bull,” the original of which has been at that location for many years. The new iteration is wonderful and every time I’ve been there, the restaurant was crowded. There’s no question that the restaurants in Santa Monica Canyon are getting better and better. Let’s hope Mason can break the spell and hang in there.

(Merv Hecht, like many Harvard Law School graduates, went into the wine business after law.  In 1988, he began writing restaurant reviews and books. His latest book is “The Instant Wine Connoisseur” and it is available on Amazon.  Or you might like his attempt at humor in “Great Cases I Lost.” He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and beverages, including wines, internationally.  Please send your comments to: mervynhecht@yahoo.com.)

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