Day 27: Nepal
After a strangely hot late morning and early afternoon in the end of September which managed unfortunately to coincide with a lot of heavy lifting to help GirlfriendBites set up her office, we are tired, hungry and feeling lazy. Sounds like the perfect time to try out the Himalayan restaurant a few blocks from our house. Stepping into the air conditioned, welcoming and casual atmosphere of Tara’s Kitchen in Culver City is already a relief. Tara tells us to sit anywhere we’d like and brings us the menu with a pleasant and genuine smile. This is one of those times when I’m really hoping that I’ll like what I’m about to eat.
Tara recommends some traditional dishes and serves me hot Nepalese tea with milk that reminds me of the time in my youth with my often hippie-inspired father on the way to hikes in the Santa Monica mountains. The tea creates a calming warmth that glides its way down the inside of my chest and really puts me at ease. The Nepalese set lunch comes out on what looks like a metal prison food tray, with sectionals separating the spinach, steamed rice, lentils, salad, chutney and black eyed peas with bamboo shoots. Each dish is a little toned down on its own, but once mixed with the other flavors and scooped up with the crispy, fluffy nan it really comes together. The food is very similar to Indian, which is not at all surprising considering that the country is right next door.
Some not-too-exciting momos, dumplings stuffed with vegetables or chicken, are quickly overshadowed by a steaming hot plate of chicken sekuwa which lands itself on our table like some kind of bizarre Himalayan fajitas. Tender, marinated chicken breast with herbs, onions, tomatoes and topped with a fresh squeeze of lime is a simultaneously stimulating and very comforting dish. I’m not sure if it’s customary, but using the naan to turn it into a Nepalese version of the old Tex-Mex standby really gets me excited and almost makes me want to bring the Indian bread along with me to Mexican restaurants in the future. I wash it down with a slightly-too-salty salt lassi and lean back for a minute to take everything in. I don’t do yoga, but eating this food kind of makes me want to start. By the end, I’m combining all the flavors from every dish together on my plate and really having a good time.
An easy day of flavorful, vibrant cuisine, right by my house and served by a woman who seems happy to deliver it, is exactly what I was craving. It’s not a hidden restaurant in a dark corner of a strange Nepalese neighborhood out in somewhere like Yorba Linda, but maybe it doesn’t have to be. GirlfriendBites points out that, “As sad as it is that a lot of people from Los Angeles don’t go venturing out to interesting areas where the menu is all in a different language and you really get the feeling that you’re in another country, it’s almost just as sad that so many of the people who run those restaurants don’t really venture out to see what the rest of Los Angeles is like. It’s fun to go out to those crazy places, but there’s something to be said for a place like this where the cuisine and the culture are made accessible to the average angeleno. There’s this weird notion that an ethnic restaurant is crappy if it’s accessible to the average American Joe, but having a server who speaks English and wants you to learn about and try a piece of their culture doesn’t make the restaurant any less authentic.” While I certainly don’t want those hidden gems to suddenly turn into something less interesting and unique, I do appreciate the hard work and serious effort that goes into a restaurant like Tara’s Kitchen. Maybe I would have had a memorable, unique and fantastic experience after driving forty five minutes and struggling to understand what I’m ordering, but today, I just plain wasn’t in the mood to find out. The food was good, I left happy and that’s just fine with me.
Tara’s Kitchen – Indian, Himalayan and Nepali Cuisine
10855 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Food Breakdown: 3 non-alcoholic beverages, 1 appetizers, 2 entrees
Distance From My House: 1.3 miles