Andrew Tonry
Tibet Kitchen
103 NW 21st

Tibetan fare developed from a necessity for warmth and survival in the high mountains, and its contemporary forms continue to highlight the natural taste of each food. Though a departure from other Asian cuisine, the earthy simplicity of Tibet Kitchen brought me back to my senses and left them all aglow. Plus, they serve yak!

The Kitchen's dinner menu offers a stunning range of traditional Tibetan dishes, many vegetarian, some not. For an appetizer we ordered Phing Alla, a hand-rolled Tibetan crepe filled with bean thread, vegetables, and shitake mushrooms, served with a mild soy-cilantro dipping sauce. A delicate, enticing treat, the vegetables were fresh, and the sauce provided a perfect, savory-sweet compliment to the lightness of the crepe.

Soon after, my drink arrived: a concoction called bocha that caught my eye, described simply as "salted butter tea." Our host informed me that Tibetans in the high mountains drink this robust tea to maintain their stamina. A sucker for stamina, I took the salted butter tea dive and was duly rewarded. It was rich, creamy, and buttery like a soup broth, and produced a warming, energizing result. I really felt like I could get to laboring, but there was still yak to be eaten.

That's right, I ordered the restaurant's specialty: Yak Sha Curry. You may be wondering: Where the hell did the Tibet Kitchen find yak meat? However, inquiry revealed that it comes from a nearby yak farm in Washington. The thrilling, exotic meat arrived diced and in a shallow dish, drenched in juices and flavored with herbs and aromatic spices. The taste summoned up the fullness of roast beef crossed with the buttery delicacy of lamb. Cooked to perfection, the tender meat provided an altogether delectable flavor. Served along with the yak was Tingmo, a fluffy traditional Tibetan bread that couples sweetness with subtle strains of fenugreek herbs, flavors which are only enhanced when the bread is used to soak up leftover juices of the yak curry.

My dining partner opted to test the vegetarian waters with Tsel Gyathook Ngopa, a plate of noodles sautéed with assorted vegetables and tofu. The preparation lent these unremarkable sounding ingredients a Tibetan distinction--the chef briefly sautéed the vegetables with the noodles, giving them a delicate crispiness, enhanced by the garlic/scallion flavor of the tofu, and a spicy red pepper sauce to drizzle on top. Another specialty bound to please are the Momos, Tibet's most popular dumpling dish. Available with either beef, minced yak meat, or tofu, they're stuffed with a medley of cilantro, ginger, garlic, onions, succulent shitake mushrooms, and surrounded by a spongy dough shell.

For dessert we devoured the chumi, a mound of sticky rice flavored with brown sugar, raisins, and dates. A warm, syrupy lake of brown sugar brought the rice to life, and the dates and raisins created an alluring texture.

Some of the foods at Tibet Kitchen may sound scary, but each dish expertly celebrates the subtlety of its flavors to an awe-inducing degree. So get over there, order up a plate of yak, and show your taste buds what they didn't know they were missing.