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Tashi Delek

Fine Tibetan cuisine — freed from Chinese influences
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  July 9, 2008
2.0 2.0 Stars

Tashi Delek | 617.232.4200 | 236 Washington Street, Brookline Village | Open Tues–Sun, 11:30 am–2:30 pm and 5–10 pm | AE, MC, VI | Beer and wine |  No valet parking | Access up three steps from sidewalk level
As I’ve written before, I am a fan of Chinese food, and I am also a fan of Tibetan spirituality. But not so much vice-versa. Let me put it this way: I would be quite willing to give up a trip to Beijing and any chance at an Olympic gold medal. (Admittedly a very slim chance for a fat restaurant critic. My shot at a medal depends on the temporary incapacitation of everyone under 80.) But give up the suan la chow show at Mary Chung’s? Well . . . maybe in a future life. Speaking of which, what are the reincarnation possibilities for a restaurant critic? Jackal? Vulture? Magpie?

Maybe I could move up the reincarnation ladder and become a woodpecker if I admit that Tibetan restaurants in Boston are getting better, and that Tashi Delek is such a nicely decorated room, with such reasonably priced food, that it makes a very good alternative, even in restaurant-saturated Brookline Village. In fact, there’s an item at Tashi Delek that I think all chefs should check out — the “Tng Mo” ($3/à la carte; also included with dinner entrées). The menu description is “steamed wheat bran buns,” which strongly understates the case. These are whole-wheat breads with the texture of Chinese steamed buns, folded in beautiful wave-like patterns like Parker House rolls. Someone is surely going to e-mail me that these Brookline tng mo are pale copies of the ones you get in a particular backstreet café in Lhasa, and that they don’t count without yak butter. But I have to tell you that a basket of these with unsalted cow butter is a very convincing illusion of earthly pleasure incarnate.

Like most Tibetan restaurants, Tashi Delek serves momos ($6.50/appetizer; $14–$15/entrée). You get a choice of four fillings, either steamed or fried. The classic filling is of course yak, for which beef and vegetables are the American substitutes. Momos are related to Peking ravioli via Genghis Khan, but beefier. Of the monkish versions (tofu, spinach and cheese, greens and mushrooms), go with the greens and mushrooms. As momos go, the ones here are somewhat starchy.

Tibetan food is a mountain cuisine, with meat and starch to keep you warm, and its soups are especially strong. Shan dal ($4), described as lentil soup, looks like yellow split peas and has a nice curry bite. It’s thinner than North American pea soup, but I find it refreshing this way.

Entrées bring steamed bread and salad, but they aren’t large portions. “Jha-sha Tsel Ne Zom, chicken with mixed vegetables in green curry sauce” ($14) sounds Thai, but is in fact a rather tame curry and not a lot of boneless chicken chunks and familiar vegetables. Lhasa Shapta ($15) is beef slices in a light tomato gravy. The menu has a group of shrimp dishes, but I tend to be wary of seafood cuisine from landlocked countries. (Maybe I am being unfair — Tibet could have crawfish.) No matter, there are a lot of vegetarian dishes, and they’re probably a better bet than seafood.

Now for the real deal: the $7.95 lunch buffet ($9.95 on weekends). As the first Phoenix restaurant critic, R.D. Rosen, once wrote, “Chinese food is already fast food.” It must be served fresh and hot, and it dies in a chafing dish. On the other hand, Indian food is mostly stew and actually improves as it sits waiting for you to decide between second helpings and a diet. So which way does Tashi Delek lean: toward accommodation with the stir-frying Chinese, or toward their stewish protectors from India?

For the most part, fortunately, the buffet our day was more Indian in style. The basmati rice (and papadum and poori) instead of the wheat buns was a letdown at first, but not once we covered it with stews: chicken in curry with potatoes, beef with fried cabbage and a kind of near-gravy, and a mild stew of mixed vegetables and what the card called “cottage cheese” but I would reckon is closer to paneer. A Chinese-flavored dish of string beans with sesame also came off well. The buffet lunch was bracketed with the same curried pea soup and salad, and with a simple dessert of mixed canned fruit in yogurt.

Drinks for this cuisine might start with Indian beer, and many will want to end with the famous buttered tea ($2). It’s better than hot buttered rum.

The room is relaxing despite the loud, clashing colors of the Tibetan flag and various Buddhist symbols and decorations, including a photo of the Dalai Lama. (Minimalists and Chinese occupiers, you’ve been warned.) Another wall has a photograph of Lhasa, in case you thought you were in Kansas. Incidentally, “Tashi Delek” now means “hello” in Tibetan, although it was originally a phrase of auspicious greeting attached to the end of sentences.

The total Tashi Delek experience is larger than the food or the room, or even the caring service from the lone mid-week waitress. The commitment to Tibetan culture as a whole is transporting here, and do we not dine out as a road to altering our consciousness?

Robert Nadeau can be reached

Related: Tashi Delek, Shabu-Zen, 2005 Boston Restaurant Awards, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Asian Food and Cooking, Buddhism, Chinese Food and Cooking,  More more >
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