Restaurants & Bars

Cafe Tibet, Berkeley - thumbs down

Melanie Wong | Jan 17, 200503:27 AM     6

Ex-Bay Area chowhound, "solly" flew in for the weekend and was craving Sultan's cooking. However, when I called to make a reservation for our group, I learned that the mother of the family, the cook, was traveling in India. We refocused on downtown Berkeley near where he was staying, and decided to check out Cafe Tibet.

With five of us, we got a good sampling of the kitchen's skills, ordering four appetizers, two soups, three entrees, and one dessert. From Cafe Tibet's menu -
http://www.themenupage.com/cafetibetm..., here's a description of what we tried.

1. Sheril Sheatok 3.95
Minced beef mixed with green onion, ginger, garlic and herbs - deep fried - served with special house sauce

The first dish to come out, this was three flat patties fried to a crusty brown with crackly edges. Definitely bland, but with some character and worth eating.

2. Sho-kho Kha-tsa 1.95
Curried potatoes fried and mildly seasoned with fresh ginger, garlic and coriander - served room temperature

These chunks of potato didn't seem fried at all, or maybe they were stewed in a bit of oil. The seasonings tasted like overly old canned madras curry powder. I've had this at another Tibetan restaurant where the potatoes are sauteed until they're crusty and then infused with the seasoning. I know that it can be tasty. This was not.

3. Dholooma Kamngoe 2.95
Eggplant chips served with special house sauce

4. Trama Cehura 2.95
Tofu chips served with special house sauce

These two dishes were "chips" in the British sense, deep-fried rectangular batons. The surrounding batter was dark brown and crusty looking, but looks were deceiving as they were soggy and not crisp at all. Spencer thought the eggplant ones were not quite as bad. The special house sauce was a sweet and mildly spices fruity dip.

8. Kyidrong Tenak 2.95
Assorted bean and lentil soup with cream and freshly ground ginger, garlic and coriander

The only dish that I might consider eating here again. The combination of legumes was dark and deep in color and flavor, spiked with a heavy ginger component. Shocker dubbed it "very Berkeley".

9. Cafe’ Tibet Soup 3.45
A hearty soup with oats, chicken, spinach, peas, carrots, mushroom and tofu with ginger, garlic and fresh herbs

It was amazing to me that something with this many ingredients could be so utterly devoid of flavor. I mean, I could see them all in the soup, but could not taste anything. I liked the gruel-ish texture. This was completely lacking in salt - I added a shake to each of the few spoonfuls I consumed trying to wake up some taste. It added a salty taste, but nothing else appeared. At one point I started to pass the salt shaker to El, until he said that he had been making heavy use of another on his end of the table.

Sha Momo
Steamed dumplings with minced beef, mixed with onion, coriander and ginger - served with special house sauce

Ngotsel Momo
Steamed dumplings with spinach and cheese, mixed with onion, coriander and garlic - served with mild mint sauce

Kar-sha Momo
Steamed dumplings with mushrooms and mascarpone, mixed with onion, coriander and garlic - served with special yogurt sauce

14. Combination Momo 8.45
Assortment of all three types of momos

The combo includes three each of the three kinds of momos. The spinach one had a slimy, mucoid texture to the filling. The mint sauce was flavorless, as was the yogurt sauce. Again, I've had much better momos.

15. Sha-bhak-leb 9.95
Savory beef pastries - fried and served with special house sauce

Maybe these were fried at one point in their lifetime, but they were served soggy. The beef filling was anything but savory, and again devoid of salt.

17. Luk-sha She-dre 9.95
Tibetan boneless lamb curry with mixed vegetables - served with basmati rice or Tingmo steamed Tibetan bread mildly seasoned with fresh garlic

This was pathetic. Watery vegetables - broccoli, carrot coins and cauliflower - with a few irregular slices of lamb in a weak gravy. Again unsalted. Then a little condiment pot of fiery chili sauce was brought to the table to season this. I titrated the two together but could not a find a ratio for combining the them that yielded a taste that was any more attractive than the original. The tingmo were interesting with the colorful confetti of embedded orange carrot bits, too bad there wasn't something delicious to dip them in.

Ginger Creme Brulee 4.00
Served with ginger lemon sorbet

I liked the spoonful of sorbet served on the side, though it doesn't connect to the creme brulee. Ginger was intense, but the creme brulee was curdled in texture. Ick.

Bod-Jha (Tibetan Tea---tea churned with milk, butter and salt) 1.25

This was served tepid. Shocker might have had the best observation summing up our meal, "hmmm, the tea is salted, but nothing else."

This experience set us back $16 per person. Hard to part with it for what we received.

Fortunately, we drank well with wines we'd brought from home. Corkage is $10/bottle. The NV A. Jaquart "Cuvee Speciale" Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru Mesnil-sur-Oger was wonderfully toasty and rich with lemony highlights. Purchased from Amphora/Absinthe. The 1992 Champalou Vouvray "Cuvée les Foudreaux" was surprisingly openknit and forward with pineappley aromas and softening acidity. Purchased from Kermit Lynch.

Luckily Ryowa Ramen is just a few doors away, and we headed over there for a second meal to find some delicious satisfaction after this disappointment. And, for dessert, we polished off with a stop at Naia for gelato.

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