sherpa kitchen

Being completely new to the Burlington restaurant scene, I expected to make some poor choices here and there. Inexperience makes you vulnerable to misguided suggestions and hyperbolic reviews. It is simply inevitable. Lurking out there are the tourist traps, the establishments with the reputation but not the culinary imagination and the ones that simply look like dumps…because they are indeed dumps. Everyone is looking for that hidden gem, the unassuming hole in the wall that offers the tastiest of fares. Well, sometimes it’s just not to be found…Not even at the end of the rainbow.

Sunday was a rainy day like the ones I was hoping to enjoy in this part of the country. I love rain. Living in the desert, I have not had enough of it in the last fifteen years.  So I set out for lunch rather late at a very leisurely pace and soon into my walk I was desperate for food. That in itself, I realize now, is a bad combination.

I walked towards Church street and serendipitously ran into the Sherpa Kitchen, a Himalayan eatery. On paper, the prospect seemed encouraging and I decided to cut my pilgrimage short and enter the restaurant. The space is not too large, with some booths along the wall and some smaller tables by the front window. It seemed clean and cozy and adequate for this blustery day. After being shown to a small table in the back of the restaurant I explored the offerings in their buffet. There were a few cooper vessels with swiveling lids that at first glance reminded me of many Indian restaurants I had visited before. I knew the drill and grabbed myself a plate.

On closer inspection, already plate in hand, the options were rather dismal. It was quite obvious that the dishes had clearly been sitting there for quite a while since some of them were almost empty. I spooned some rice and chick peas onto my plate and waited for the food to be replenished.

The only meat based option was a chicken dish with a spicy yet cloyingly sweet, sticky red sauce. It had some yellow onions and peppers. I thought that the consistency of the translucent sauce made the dish resemble Chinese take out food. It was a bit surprising to find such a dish, yet admittedly, I know little about Himalayan/Nepalese food. Adding to my confusion, thick, doughy noodles with a few peas and an unremarkable yellow sauce sat right next to the chicken. I was once again transported to a Chinese eatery. Don’t get me wrong: I love good Chinese food. This just wasn’t it.

On the other hand, the onion pakoras were good once a new batch came out of the kitchen. Crisp and salty, with a very satisfying crunch. The white basmati rice at the very beginning of the buffet was a bit dry when I first arrived, but was later replaced by a steamy, soft batch that I really enjoyed…perhaps a bit too much since I felt I did not have that many things to choose from. The dal was watery and poorly spiced and remained so in the serving bowl until the end of the meal. That was too bad because I really enjoy some rich dal with my rice.

There were also cubed potatoes mixed with some very unfortunate canned green beans that lacked flavor. The chicken dumplings were slightly gummy, probably because they had been sitting there for a while, but the mo mo bread was better, with an interesting soft texture and a hint of sourdough flavor.

Dessert was practically non existent, with a little vat of rice pudding sitting next to two other identical containers that held some type of tamarind and chutney sauces. The unlikely highlight of the meal was the chai tea, served from a diner style vacuum pump. It was fragrant and unsweetened , which is a rarity these days. The milk was slightly on the heavy side (probably whole milk) but it made the meal as a whole much more palatable.

Despite what you might think I am not quite ready to cross Sherpa Kitchen completely off my list. Although it was a wholly disappointing first visit, I am willing to take a look at their menu in order to find a true specialty unique to this establishment. I regret that the Sunday buffet was misused as the vehicle for disposing of what looked like leftover ingredients from the previous week. In my opinion, such a buffet could be used to showcase perhaps a mere handful of signature dishes that really shine.  Some inexpensive yet  delicious highlights from their menu, would have the new patrons coming back for more. It was a lost opportunity to stir some curiosity for the cuisine rather than kill the appetite for further exploration.

In light of my first experience, I suggest you skip the Sunday buffet altogether, and try to order straight from the menu. I will certainly do that before I decide to completely circumvent the Sherpa Kitchen and try my luck elsewhere.