Everest Sherpa Restaurant
by Lee Lawrence
From the February, 2018 issue
Walking across the barren expanse of parking lot at the northern end of Oak Valley Centre into Everest Sherpa Restaurant feels a bit like trudging up a windswept hillside toward an alpine retreat; happily for you, its owners, smiling a warm welcome, usher you into rooms trimmed with bold colors and gilded art, the air made fragrant by elusive spices. With that bleak vision outside curtained off, a cup of sweet, milky chai warming your hands, and a background hum of Tibetan-style chanting soothing jangled nerves, you would swear you had been transported far, far away.
Expecting a modest storefront restaurant, my husband and I were delighted by how stylish and attractive Everest is. The space is discretely segmented with open dividers and half walls into brightly painted rooms, with Buddhist and Hindu art and arresting photos of the Himalayas on the walls. The Nepali owners, Pem Sherpa and his wife Moni Mulepati, who also own the Himalayan Bazaar on Main St., took the photos on their own treks up and down those mountains. Beginning as the Everest Momo food cart at Mark's Carts, the couple and their family are now tackling a new adventure: a full-fledged restaurant that's replaced Lotus Thai in the mall.
Everest Sherpa's menu reflects the shared elements of Nepali, Tibetan, Bhutanese, and Indian cuisines. Of course momos, steamed (or optionally fried) dumplings, top the list of appetizers. Everest's are rather small and come filled with gingery ground chicken or mixed vegetables. They're served with Nepali achar, a dipping sauce of pureed sesame seeds and roasted tomatoes. We found the chicken version much more flavorful. Depending on what you order, however, an appetizer might not be necessary; entrees tend to be generous.
At lunch, for instance, my husband ordered the standing midday special, dal bhat, a traditional Nepali rice platter much like a south Indian thali meal. A mound of rice comes surrounded by small bowls of lentil soup, vegetable sides, a choice of
vegetarian or meat curry, and dessert, along with delicious soft, blistered naan bread. Though he kept swearing he'd have to take some home, my husband, amid groans of surrender, repeatedly returned to the bowls and the mound, finally leaving us only a triangle or two of naan to wrap up. We did take home half my Lhasa chow mein, a Tibetan-style stir-fry of wheat noodles coated with a light curry sauce and dotted with shredded vegetables and, optionally, substantial pieces of chicken. Rather bland at lunch, the leftovers developed greater flavor and zest when reheated the next day.
A Himalayan curry with shrimp and an Indian paneer tikka masala, both accompanied by cumin seed-scented rice, were our lunch choices a few weeks later. With a simple base of tomato and onion, the curry sauce was less rich than the creamy, buttery tikka masala enveloping the cubes of yogurt cheese, but we had no complaints about either.
The lunch business we saw at Everest--one day a Sunday, another a Wednesday--was encouraging given the restaurant's rather forlorn location, but I was really surprised when I met four friends for dinner on a Tuesday night. The place was hopping--and remained so as our party of five closed it down. Ample free parking is always a draw, especially as downtown Ann Arbor becomes more congested, and with so many other positive attributes--good food, friendly service, pleasant ambience--the restaurant seems to have become a destination.
And that night, for four of us at the table, Everest was a destination; only one friend lives near that edge of town. Aiming to try the less common dishes, we ordered the lamb Sherpa Stew, a warming, well-spiced, and well-stocked broth of toughish meat, potatoes, vegetables, and chewy, flat, triangular noodles or dumplings. Much less flavorful was the vegetable Base Camp Thukpa, a bland bowl of linguine-type noodles, assorted vegetables, and undistinguished broth. Chicken butayko was similar to an unremarkable Chinese stir-fry, heavy on peppers, onions, and tomatoes, with spices punting towards India. Shrimp makhani, the seafood perfectly poached in a creamy tomato sauce thickened with ground cashews, settled right in India. We also ordered onion naan and aalu paratha (potato-stuffed flatbread), both tasty but neither as compelling, to my mind, as the plain, butter-drizzled naan. The Tibetan bread, fried rather than griddled, was warm and puffy, the outside lightly crusty and sweet from sprinkled sugar. I could imagine how delicious it would be with honey and a cup of milky chai for breakfast.
Lulled by the food and the comfortable surroundings and engrossed in our conversation, my friends and I continued to nibble at the edges of our leftovers, getting up finally when Sherpa and Mulepati and their family sat down to eat their own late supper. Walking out the door to our cars, we were almost startled to realize how transported we'd been--surrounded, for a time, not by big boxes and suburban roads but by high peaks and Nepali homes.
Everest Sherpa Restaurant
2803 Oak Valley Dr.
(Oak Valley Centre)
Tues.-Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-9 p.m. Closed Mon.
Breads and appetizers $2-$9.99; entrees $9.99-$13.99
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