Everest Himalayan Cuisine
2518 Merrick Rd., Bellmore
AMBIENCE: Casual, with some charming exotic touches
SERVICE: Kitchen can slow down when restaurant is busy, but servers are unfailingly friendly and helpful
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; slight step at entrance can impede wheelchair.
Everest. Towering. Majestic. Wild. Is it any wonder that a restaurant named for the world’s tallest peak opened on Merrick Road in Bellmore?
I jest. Wherever Everest Himalayan Cuisine happened to land would be a welcome development for Long Island. This is, to my knowledge, the first local restaurant to focus on the cuisine of Nepal, although owners Tika Raj Dhakal, Ramesh Maharjan and Benoy Chhetri (the chef) have filled out the menu with dishes from the neighboring countries of India and Tibet.
Service here goes beyond pleasant to downright courtly. Customers are invariably greeted with a heartfelt “namaste,” and that sense of gratitude pervades the meal. The modest dining room, in shades of burgundy and chestnut, is brightened by ceiling lanterns hand-made from Nepali paper and dominated by a huge photograph of a village looking out at the Himalayas. A glassed-in vestibule protects diners from the cold wind whipping down Merrick Road.
Dhakal characterized Nepalese food as lighter than Indian, with “fewer condiments and less oil.” I found the flavors less complex but no less appealing. Even an Indian standard, chana masala (chickpeas in a tomato-based gravy), seemed lighter and clearer here, freshened with a garnish of chopped raw tomato and red onion.
Given that Long Island is experiencing a golden age of regional Indian restaurants, however, my strategy at Everest was to have as Nepali a meal as possible. That meant starting with momo, the hearty dumpling native to Nepal (as well as Tibet and northern India). Everest makes three types — lamb, chicken and vegetable. Each savory, meat-filled momo is round and exquisitely pleated into a central topknot; the vegetable momos, filled with greens, mushrooms, cashews, fresh paneer cheese and seasonings, are crimped into a more familiar crescent shape. All are served with a chili sauce with a sesame-tomato base that lends a mellowness to balance the spice.
I’m a momo lover from way back, but two other starters here were utter revelations to me. Sadae ko aloo ra kakara is a cold dish of cubed potatoes and cucumber, assisted by red onion, red pepper, scallions and a shower of fresh cilantro. Black fenugreek seeds added a haunting note, and a welcome crunch. Meat lovers should not miss a similar dish, lamb choila, wherein the potatoes and cucumber are swapped out for tender shreds of meat. (Stay with me here: A few weeks ago I would not have believed that I’d be raving about Nepali lamb salad, but these are extraordinary times.)
Tarkari is a name given to many of the menu’s Nepali curries. We were wowed by the tender lamb tarkari, its deep, rich gravy subtly flavored with cinnamon and other warming spices. The vegetarian tarkaris we tried were likable, but forgettable, especially the mismas (mixed vegetable) tarkari, a mild stew of carrots, peas, tomatoes, scallions, cabbage, zucchini and peppers that put me in mind of the first few editions of “The Moosewood Cookbook.”
I didn’t completely eschew Indian dishes, ordering a couple of crowd-pleasers for good measure. Chicken makhani, also known as butter chicken, did not disappoint, its sweet, creamy tomato-butter sauce hiding thick slices of tender white meat. Vegetarians seeking comparable comfort will enjoy malai kofta, fried balls of paneer and potato soaking in another sweet, creamy sauce. Everest also puts out an exemplary garlic-cilantro naan, as well as its exotic cousin, badami naan, a tandoori flatbread stuffed with nuts, cherries and fennel seed.
For dessert, neither the pistachio nor the mango kulfi (a sort of Indian semifreddo) was sweet enough for my taste, nor was the kheer (rice pudding), but the gulab jamum (deep-fried balls of super-evaporated milk covered in syrup) swung the pendulum perilously close to a hyperglycemic danger zone.
Many Nepali restaurants offer salted yak-butter tea, and I was relieved to learn that Everest does not, because salted yak-butter tea tastes exactly like you would expect it to. I capped my meal with a cup of sweet, milky chiya (Nepali for chai) and silently offered a namaste to my hosts and their decision to grace my beat.