Lhasa Cafe, Northampton, MA

It isn't so much a dream of mine so much as a personal goal to eat at least one animal native or killed in a specific country. So far I've tackled boar bushmeat from Africa, though I'm not sure which country, alligator and elk from the US, rabbit from France, and now, the noble yak from Tibet.
Lhasa Cafe has always been on my culinary bucket list, though I haven't found any dining partners game enough to attend. When two friends suggested an outing to try yak dumplings, Keepitcoming and I were only too excited to go. Depending on whether you're a glass half full or glass half empty person, Lhasa can be seen as cozy or homey. Either way, it's tucked into Main Street with colorful peace flags outside and is home to many native Tibetan dishes.
All beverages were house made, so it was only natural that I order the strangest item on the menu- buttered and salted tea. It may have been reaching a little far, because what I received was the liquefied equivalent of brie cheese in a mug, according to Keepitcoming, with a strange buttery thickness and definite salinity. I would liken this to being the Asian equivalent of bouillon cocktails of the 1950's, where before dinner drinks were the dinner. After a sip of this, I had had about enough.Keepitcoming and I started with an appetizer of jasha alla, spring rolls with chicken, bean thread, carrots, onions, and celery. What attracted me to these was that the display photo resembled not typical spring rolls, but flat, square patties stuffed with colorful fillings and a thicker shell. They came out with two sauces and an onion slaw on top. The base roll was rather bland, with the earthiness of the bean threads primarily dominating the flavor. A quick dip of the sauces solved that, but it was a primarily acidic flavor overall, with the crispiness of the shells comprising the bulk of the texture as well.There are few phrases in the English language more tantalizing than "yak dumplings." These phrases include "basket of puppies," "Hunter green MGB," and "02 Clos Ste. Hune," but none were to be had at the cafe, save the aforementioned dumplings. Yak is supposedly healthier than beef, pork, or chicken, so I can eat twice the beast for the price of one. Ah, Asia. I went all out and ordered a selection of dumplings with vegetable, chicken, beef, potato, and yak. While the dumplings were mighty tantalizing and cooked to perfection, it was impossible to discern, flavorally, between yak and beef as they were both seasoned with the same quintet of spices and were all ground up in the dumpling.All the dumplings were juicy, but unfortunately underseasoned, and required my heavy handed saucing abilities to make them a little sweeter. The sugar in the orange sauce provided a nice counterbalance to the saltiness of each dumpling. Luckily, K also ordered yak, though in a less processed form, and was gracious enough to give me a taste. It was very tender and toothsome with a nice give and hardly any chew at all! With this new insight in mind, I'd liken it to thinly shaved beef, similar to that found on cheesesteaks. It's not fatty at all and has a distinct flavor, though not gamey. I could see myself making a stellar yakwich with that meat, given the opportunity.Keepitcoming ordered an eggplant special that came with a lentil soup and rice. Unlike my dish, she found hers to be oversalted and had to keep drinking water throughout the evening. The rice was seasoned like many Indian restaurants with cardamom and butter, and she enjoyed the texture of the soup. She thought the eggplant was perfectly crisped and sauteed on the edges with the correct mush to crunch ratio, but was again, too salty to properly enjoy.K and Fixie both ordered these gorgeous rolls, and I think that if I were to come here again, I'd be satisfied with one of these rolls and a pile of shaved yak meat, but then again, I'm a simple woman. A Tibetan schwarma, if you will. Being that I'm addicted to steamed rolls, this was a dream come true, with piles and folds of fluffy, yet chewy bread dough and a light crisp on top.Two more potato dishes entered the scene as well, but they were not mine so I don't feel ready to comment on them. However, I can vouch for their looking very appetizing and I'd probably take a chance on my next visit, as well as try their dessert pasta with brown sugar. Lhasa Cafe is definitely the kind of place I'd frequent repeatedly as I'm a sucker for hole-in-the-wall, foreign establishments, but I need to brush up on my exotic game and find my mojo before I take a chance on another strange dish.

Labels: , , ,