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by Anna Clayton
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Himal Chuli, one of State Street’s best-kept secrets, offers a dining experience worth talking about. Discreetly located on the 300 block of State Street, the authentic Nepali restaurant transports diners from a college town to a Himalayan kitchen. Adorned in Nepali tapestries, statues and photographs, and accompanied by Indian music, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant could easily be found in the Himalayas themselves.
Seating no more than 25 people, the tiny restaurant creates an intimate setting. While intimacy is nice, you don’t always want to feel like you’re part of the neighboring table’s conversation. Despite its discreet storefront, Himal Chuli is surprisingly busy, so the setup is great for those who enjoy eavesdropping.
The restaurant’s expansive menu offsets Himal Chuli’s small size. The six-page menu is filled with exotic dishes followed by a detailed description. These helpful descriptions provide relief to the stress often associated with trying unfamiliar ethnic cuisine. Although the wide selection made choosing an entree challenging, ordering a mango lassi and some samosas to start was a given. A lassi is a refreshing yogurt drink that comes in flavors like mango and cinnamon. The mango was not too sweet and the yogurt not too tart, making it just as refreshing as declared by the menu. A samosa is best described as a South Asian dumpling. The vegetable pastry is filled with peas, potatoes, onions and Nepali herbs and topped with a yogurt sauce.
As a vegetarian, finding options on a menu is often difficult, but this wasn’t the case at Himal Chuli. Luckily for me, Himal Chuli takes prides in its vegetarian and vegan options. My friend and I decided on the seitan buff and the rice, takari, and dal. Dal, a pea and bean soup, accompanied both our entrees. The soup was rich without being too heavy.
The seitan buff, consisting of organic seitan, or wheat gluten often used as a vegetarian substitute for meat, stir-fried with various vegetables and Mediterranean spices, was delicious to say the least. The seitan was a perfect consistency, and the whole dish was flavorful without being too spicy. The whole wheat roti, flat bread made with yogurt, served with my entree was warm and fresh. Although my dining partner enjoyed my meal more than her own, she was satisfied by the daily takari. The steamed long grain rice with peas, potatoes and an array of spices was enjoyable, but not impressive.
For dessert, we ordered the peda described on the menu as a “homemade sweet with ricotta cheese, pistachio nuts, coconut, honey and cardamom seed.” The peda’s sweet flavor but strange consistency did not win us over.When dining at Himal Chuli, you not only get a taste of delicious Nepali cuisine but a taste of Nepalese culture. The authentic homemade cooking and warm hospitality create a dining experience that strays from usual State Street dining. Himal Chuli is an asset to Madison that serves as a great escape from campus life.
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