Yak & Yeti Bistro adds a touch of Nepal to Kitsilano

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      Yaks we know, sort of. Big, bovine, shaggy animals, they’re the oxen of the Himalayas, providing transportation, clothing, meat, and milk for roof-of-the-world regions like Nepal, Tibet, and northern India.

      Yetis are a little more problematic. Like B.C.’s own Sasquatch, the yeti is very much alive in folktales told around mountain fire pits: sporadic sightings and mysterious footprints keep the legends smouldering, even though no credible evidence of either creature’s existence has ever been produced. Yeti relics, upon analysis, always turn out to be goat fur, bear bones, and/or yak hide stitched together to fool the credulous.

      In this regard, the Yak & Yeti Bistro is more yeti than yak: it’s a bit of this and a bit of that. Billed as offering “Himalayan street food”, it’s nominally Nepalese, yet the menu stretches to include the kind of calamari rings one might find in Goa, a Vietnamese-inspired papaya salad, and that everyday bistro staple, chocolate mousse.

      Purists beware: this is not the kind of “authentic” hole-in-the-wall eatery that would send Anthony Bourdain into an ecstatic transport. There are no grandmothers in the kitchen grinding spices, and the sound system plays bright pop-rock rather than chanting monks.

      Under Nepalese chef and co-owner Shiva Marahatta, who also runs the West End’s Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen, Yak & Yeti plays up its West 4th location with a sunny patio, a small but select assortment of craft beers, and cosmopolitan flavours that reflect Nepal’s historical role as a portal between western China and northern India but that also mirror Vancouver’s own mix-and-match cultural aesthetic.

      It’s a delicate balancing act, but on three recent visits Marahatta and his staff proved comfortably light on their feet.

      A quick pre-concert snack of jackfruit curry provided a somewhat misleading introduction to the menu, if only because the flavours here were Indian all the way, rather than distinctly Nepalese. In fact, this main dish tasted to me like a scaled-up version of Vikram Vij’s signature jackfruit appetizer—a dish the restaurateur introduced to Vancouver in the 1990s that hasn’t been off his namesake restaurant’s menu since. Marahatta’s version isn’t quite as much of a flavour explosion, but that’s an observation, not a complaint. It’s hard to top Vij’s spicing, and that Yak & Yeti is even in the same league should be considered praise.

      Visit number two took place on a broiling—and rather stressful—summer Monday. A plate of yak momos, washed down with a malty glass of Parallel 49 Old Boy Classic Ale, soon put me in a happier state.

      Momos, for the uninitiated, are an example of the Chinese influence on Himalayan cuisine. They’re steamed dumplings, with the Yak & Yeti version more delicate than the somewhat doughy renditions I’ve had in local Tibetan restaurants. The meaty filling was tender and slightly sweet, with more black-pepper heat than chili bite. (Yak is being raised locally, by the way, with Yak & Yeti sourcing its meat from a supplier in Merritt.) A circular pleat on top of each dumpling served as a handy landing pad for a dab of mild tomato or spicy coriander sauce, while an accompanying bowl of “bone soup” gave notice that the kitchen is devoted to freshness over dull consistency: one day the musky fragrance of coriander root pervaded the meat-and-lentil broth, while on our next visit cumin was the dominant flavour.

      After these exploratory forays, we returned with a party of four. More yak momos were definitely on the agenda, along with chatpate, a spicy chickpea finger food; duck fried with ginger; goat pickle, tofu chili, house-made yogurt; and tingmo, a kind of Tibetan steamed bread. I think we chose well.

      The only disappointment was the goat pickle, which was actually a reasonably good bone-in goat curry that carried little trace of the promised sour finish. (A spoonful of that tart, almost lemony yogurt helped here.) Tofu chili was the surprise hit: firm tofu and shredded vegetables simmered in an addictive, medium-hot, and rather butter-chicken-like sauce. The tingmo was yellow from turmeric and quite bland, but it came in handy when one of our group decided to scrape the tofu bowl clean; the rest of us watched rather jealously. The ginger and soy in the duck presentation indicated that it’s another Chinese-influenced creation, but a hint of vinegar in the marinade lifted it beyond an everyday stir-fry. And the chatpate starter, a close relative of Mumbai’s iconic street food sev puri, was a tamarind-soured blend of chickpeas, puffed rice, dry sev noodles, and potato chunks that’s kind of like spiced popcorn, only better. Way better.

      Small plates run about $8 to $12 each, main dishes $12 to $16. Dinner for four, with two glasses of Merlot for the lone drinker, totalled $74 before tax and tip. It was most definitely money well spent.