The moment you walk in the door of Monsoon Himalayan Cuisine, you can tell that this is a family business. The warmth and genuine connection between the people who greet, serve and cook is palpable, and it transmits to the guests.
We recently met three friends there for a midweek lunch. Even with business brisk, the noise level remained comfortable and convivial, and the staff welcomed us like we were visiting their home for Sunday dinner.
Some of us love spicy food, others not so much. Some eat meat, others don’t. This made ordering and sharing something of an adventure. Fortunately, the menu offers plenty of choices for everyone — and we chose a lot.
We started with an assortment of appetizers. The papadum, crispy lentil wafers (familiar from Indian cuisine), were warm, delicately baked and perfect for dipping in the sauces that came with our other dishes: the vegetable pakauda, delicious vegetables fritters, and the momos — unanimous favorites.
A unique Himalayan dish, momos are similar to Chinese pot stickers, but they’re much more flavorful and succulent. I loved the veggie ones, and I was grateful that my dining partners ordered the chicken, which happily translated into more momos for me.
For those not familiar with Nepalese/Himalayan cuisine, which included me, a little background might be helpful. While it’s similar to Indian food, we noticed unique flavors pervading every dish, but we couldn’t distinguish what made the tastes so special. I learned that Nepalese cooking has fewer added components, such as pastes, and more use of herbs and spices for extra flavor. It’s also less rich. The gravy is lighter than Indian sauces, which often include cream. Also, because Nepal’s geographic location historically made it difficult to import and export food from neighboring countries, Nepalese dishes have largely depended on local produce and home-grown seasoning. Chef and owner Ram Chandra carried these traditions with him to Half Moon Bay’s Monsoon, where he grinds his own spices and uses ingredients from local farmers markets whenever possible.
Before immigrating to the Bay Area with his family in 1995, Chef Ram owned a restaurant in his hometown of Pokhara, located at 1,700 meters in the Himalayas. More than 20 years later, he opened Monsoon to fulfill his dream of sharing his family’s recipes in America.
Lucky for us that he chose Half Moon Bay as the place to share! Each of us was happy with what we ordered and delighted in the exquisite flavors that infused every dish.
As our server helped us pick our main dishes, she was careful to make sure we honed in on the level of spiciness we liked best. After our first bites, we all agreed that the process was necessary and successful.
The fish coconut curry with salmon was perfect, and it was just mild enough to suit my fellow reviewer’s palate. I had the vegetarian combination meal, a fun bargain with rice, two curries, a dal soup, salad and a rice pudding dessert, which I found to be the only bland dish of the day. Another in our group liked it just fine, but thought the mango lassi drink was too sweet to be refreshing (I agreed). She ordered extra spicy Himalayan shrimp curry, which did not disappoint in terms of taste or heat. Another who prefers mild found the chicken mango curry “sweet and delicious,” and her husband enjoyed a spicy version of the Himalayan chicken curry.
All of us plan to go back again soon to order each other’s dishes — and more. Five thumbs up!
Review restaurant articles are done by two local residents who enjoy sampling Coastside restaurants — from taquerias and sandwich shops to upscale places with Michelin stars. They choose to remain anonymous so that they get the same treatment as you would get in these places. Use their insights to help guide you, but by all means check out these eateries yourself.