Gossiping Gourmet: High dining at the Himalayan

There is a charming little restaurant in Peter's Landing that draws us back with its unique blend of Tibetan and Indian cuisine. Last time we visited the Himalayan Grill, we focused more on the Tibetan food, so this time we went Indian.

As we perused the menu, once again we found ourselves relaxing into the cozy atmosphere filled with warm colors, murmuring sounds from the attractive glass waterfall and the subtle chanting of Tibetan monks from the audio system. Prayer flags strung from the rafters and photographs of Himalayan life complete the décor.

In the classic Indian manner, our appetite was immediately whetted by the arrival of a basket of crispy papadums (thin, big, round, spicy crackers, usually made from lentil or chickpea flour), served with a trio of condiments: sweet, slightly spicy mango chutney, pickled vegetables, and our favorite, the spicier bright-green cilantro mint chutney.

We particularly like their version of samosas (spicy mashed potatoes, onions and peas in a deep-fried pastry crust). We zipped through them in a flash. These large triangular pastries are often greasy, but not so here. We love them with the condiments, so don't let them take the tray away.

Although we wanted to stick with Indian food this time, we simply couldn't resist ordering a plate of momos (chicken meatball dumplings), a traditional delicacy in Nepal and Tibet and also a popular street food. They look like Chinese dumplings but are much spicier and meatier. These juicy packages of flavor are served with an interesting sauce based on tomato, sesame seed paste and chili and are delicious both with and without it.

Chicken tikka masala is Himalayan Grill's most popular dish. Legend has it that in India, one obstinate colonial Englishman demanded gravy on his tandoori chicken because he said it was too dry. A bemused chef responded by adding a pinch of spices to a tin of Campbell's tomato soup, unwittingly participating in an early example of fusion cookery, and Chicken tikka masala was born.

The dish consists of pieces of seasoned chicken, first cooked in a tandoori oven, then heated in a tomato/yogurt/cream sauce seasoned with honey and a spice mélange of ginger, cardamom, cloves and chilies. Of course, every cook has a version of his or her own. Here, we found the sauce to be extremely well balanced, with cream and tomato in equal measure and a delicious combination of seasonings. Unfortunately, the chicken itself was very bland and dry. It didn't seem to be seasoned at all. We used the accompanying basmati rice and our paratha (whole-wheat flatbread layered with butter) to sop up the delicious sauce.

From the Specials menu, we ordered the rack of lamb. There were six thin baby chops cooked medium rare as requested, which came on a sizzling cast-iron platter with broccoli, cauliflower, a few strips of red bells and a mountain of browned and charred sweet onions that were a mouth-watering accompaniment to the juicy, beautifully seasoned, tender lamb.

Kulfi is similar to ice cream but is denser and creamier because it is not whipped. Himalayan Grill offers a pistachio kulfi, flavored with cardamom and saffron, that gave it an intriguing complexity, making it unlike any Western-style ice cream. It was dotted with whole pistachios that had softened in the mixture, and the ice cream had a genuine pistachio taste.

This is a very pleasant spot to enjoy some authentic ethnic cuisine.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

Himalayan Grill

Where: 16400 Pacific Coast Highway, Peter's Landing, Huntington Beach

When: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday


Appetizers: $3.95 to $11.95

Entrées: $9.95 to $22.95

Desserts: $3.25 to $3.55

Wine: $6.95 to $8.95 by the glass; $24 to $34 by the bottle

Information: (562) 592-9080 or http://www.himalayangrill.com

Delivery in Huntington Beach with an order of $25 or more.

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