574 Main St., Middletown, (860) 343-3073, tibetankitchen.us, closed Sunday.
Anyone who's poked around Middletown's Main Street recently knows that it's a great restaurant destination. Lisa and I can think of very good Mexican, steamed cheeseburgers, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, boutique diner fare, Jamaican, bar food and more, all within walking distance of the center of town. Now you can add Tibetan food to the mix.
We ate at Tibetan Kitchen, a new Tibetan restaurant on Main Street last week.
Food isn't often the first thing that comes to mind when people mention Tibet — sand paintings, mandalas, tantric monks, yaks, that kind of thing. Tibet, after all, has an average elevation of 14,800 feet (take that, Denver!). It's called the "Roof of the World." But it's probably a challenge to find a good tomato. (And those yaks: well, kind of chewy.) Being sandwiched basically between China and India, Tibetan food tastes like some approximation of a mix of cooking from the two.
Tibetan cooking features dumplings, steamed breads, soups and stir fries. A meal at Tibetan Kitchen will strike fans of other Asian cuisine as both familiar and slightly exotic. An order of Himalayan Ne-zom — with tomato sauce, peas, boiled potatoes, cauliflower and tofu — was like a cross between a chilled pasta salad and alu gobi (an Indian cauliflower and potato dish). A bowl of dali (lentil soup with cilantro) could have passed for a slightly more mild and thin version of Indian daal.
The Tibetan steamed bread known as tingmo is dense and filling, with beautiful coils and ripples to its exterior, like a cross between a cabbage and a braided ball of wicker. A bowl of the thenthuk (hand-pulled Tibetan noodles) would be appreciated by those who enjoy pho and lard nar. The noodles were thick and rustic, and sticks of radish floated with leaves of spinach in a peppery broth. A bowl of house-made hot sauce added another layer of subtle fire. An order of shaptak (a beef stir-fry with peppers and onions) was simple and good.
The dining room is small and comfortable, with posters of movies on Tibetan culture on the walls, pictures of the Dalai Lama and a lovely (and slightly spooky) ornate reproduction of a teeming mandala that looks like a Buddhist painting by Hieronymus Bosch. Soothing (and slightly spooky) solo vocal music played on the stereo. Tibetan Kitchen is a nice find, with a calm atmosphere and a menu that is bound to be the first exposure to Tibetan cuisine for many.
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