Mountain Minimalism

Even though my own luck was pretty good with the service--helped out by the way I always ordered appetizers--I did find a couple of Everest dishes I'd skip in the future: "Machhako Tarkari" ($10.95) is the fish curry, bite-size pieces of boneless fish coated in a lentil-flour batter and fried. The mustard-curry sauce was good, but the fish was dry and overcooked. Pushing it away, I took a good look at the pictures of snow-capped Himalayan mountains that decorate the place, and slapped myself on the forehead: No oceans. (For the same reason I skipped the shrimp curry, $10.95.) Chicken chou-chau ($6.95) could be called Nepali chicken lo mein, but I found it too spare for my taste; the plain wheat noodles and spiced chicken seemed in need of a sauce. I ordered a plain potato curry ($6.50) that came with two pieces of puri, but found that incredibly bland, too. Also, and maybe it's just cabin fever talking, I'm pretty sure that the tomato on the plate was mocking me. It was one of those tasteless winter tomatoes, lightly cooked, defiant in a starchy, joyless, sneering way.

Looking back, though, what I treasured most from the experience was thinking about the mountains. I mean, imagine what miracles could be worked at local restaurants by merely setting some ingredients a far way off, down a mountain, on some plains. Like winter tomatoes, stale rolls, watery beer, sugary salad dressings, or those other everyday plagues. Who would climb down to get them?

TABLEHOPPING:

TEJAS LUV: The last, last time I went to Tejas, I didn't feel the love: Awkwardly made dishes, clumsy service, woe is me. But I went again a few weeks ago for lunch, and the place was humming along like a springtime tryst. The signature tortilla soup ($5.95) had tasty pieces of grilled chicken, strips of tortilla, fresh avocado slices, and Monterey jack cheese united by a pleasantly concentrated chicken broth. Delicious. I had a special of grilled pork in a tomatillo sauce, and it was smoky, potent, tender: perfect in every way. Woo-hoo! The service was attentive but discreet, and my hot apple cider had a big, pretty dried apple slice floating in it. Swoon.

Actually, I was so impressed that I came home and poked around the Tejas Web site for a while, where they have actually posted the recipe for that lovely soup: www.tejasrestaurant.com/recipe4.htm.When I discovered that if you tell them you've read their online newsletter, The Whole Enchilada, you get a free bottle of Tejas salsa, well, I knew the love was true. A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but salsa is a girl's best friend. Tejas, 3910 W. 50th St., Edina; (952) 926-0800.

RUMORMONGERS: Will the La Belle Vie crew ever give up the dirt on where we can expect their much anticipated new downtown Minneapolis restaurant?

Not to me, they won't.

"As soon as we're ready, you'll be the first to know," lies Tim McKee, co-owner of Minnesota's most critically acclaimed (at least by me) restaurant. For the thousandth time. "We're still trying to pull it together. We don't want to talk about it and have it not happen. You food writers sure are a persistent bunch. It's like you have it on your calendar or something." Or something.

So I told McKee the latest rumor I've heard: upscale Spanish, in the Warehouse District. "That one's good," mused McKee. "I love hearing what I'm doing. The last one I heard was that I'm going into Milwaukee Depot, with the ice skating." So: Professor Plum in the library with the candlestick? Colonel Mustard in the music room with the pistol? No one can say for sure.

McKee will disclose that he and a whole host of local chefs are all going off to New York in April to cook for a Friends of James Beard event, where McKee is doing a fish course. So if your birthday is April 10, better celebrate early: Half the chefs in town will be wielding their knives in the Big Apple, not our rumor-filled Minne-one. Honorees include chefs from Goodfellow's, D'Amico Cucina, Zander, Café Brenda, and the Dakota. Then again, maybe that's the night to try to bribe my way into a certain restaurant's inner offices.

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