The pink electric sign said “Open,” but when we craned our necks and cupped our hands to peer through the window, we couldn’t make out anything. Persevering through a long entrance corridor with random potted plants, we passed a stairway barricaded with chairs, then found ourselves in a darkened restaurant, the only light provided by a neon bulb that ran along an empty bar and the eerie glow from an unattended sushi case. But once we’d propelled around the corner of the bar, we came upon a line of towering plywood booths stained deep mahogany—each one filled with a party of fellow explorers happily dining in the gloaming.
We’d decided to check out Yeti of Hieizan on Queens Boulevard not only because of the name, but because of the weird combo of cuisines it offered: Japanese and Nepalese, two nationalities that, as far as I can tell, have never before been culinarily conjoined. Yeti, of course, is another name for the Abominable Snowman, while Hie- izan is a sacred Japanese mountain northwest of Kyoto, home to Tendai Buddhism’s famous running monks. Perhaps as a result of the Buddhist theme, there is a wealth of vegetarian dishes on the menu, but also plenty of beef, pork, chicken, and—a favorite of mine—mutton.
The Japanese food looked prosaic as we gazed upon the other booths, so we gravitated toward the Himalayan half of the menu. Nepalese is a difficult cuisine to find in New York, limited to a handful of dishes at the long-running Tibetan Kitchen in Murray Hill, and at Himalayan Yak in Jackson Heights. There’s no better introduction than samaya bajee ($9.95), a cocktail-tray’s worth of bar snacks, including toasted soybeans tossed with chile and minced garlic; a moist spice-coated braise of pork tidbits; stir-fried tripe, liver, and chittlerlings; a pickle called achar; and a cryptic heap of white flakes, designated “beaten rice.” The helpful waitress instructed us to “mix it in with all the dishes except the soybeans.” Like MSG, beaten rice improves nearly everything. We all agreed that the second-best starter was kikhura tareko ($4.95), gaunt fragments of deep-fried chicken that proved finger-lickin’ good.
Most Nepalese food tends to be bland, which is why you must resort to the lazy Susan of vinegary hot sauces and pastes (four in all) that come the minute you order momos, a compulsory dish at Yeti. Eight to an order, momos are huge flopping dumplings that arrive in a Chinese steamer cradled in cabbage leaves. Of the four varieties available, I prefer pork ($7.95). The heart of Yeti’s Himalayan menu are thukpas and thinduks. Be assured that no ducks were harmed in the making of the thinduks ($8.95)—pale soups rife with thick wheat noodles vying with radishes and potatoes for supremacy in a blah broth. Once again, you need to deploy the soy sauce and pepper pastes, then—bang!—thinduk gets phat. Half of the thukpas are “chowmins,” betraying the Chinese origin of these noodle stir-fries. Of the interchangeable roster of meat mix-ins, I’d pick mutton any day, though the mutton is of the mildest sort—darn!
Other random items that shouldn’t be missed include beef sukuti ($6.95)—fibrous sun-dried cow stir-fried with tomatoes and caramelized onions, which partly brings it back to life. The same miraculous substance recurs in fingshaya (hey, not a bad name for a rock band!)—a fiery stew of sukuti with veggies and transparent mung-bean noodles. It comes sided with two steamed breads called ting mo, which look like white fists clenched next to the red stew.
How was the Japanese half of the menu? After eating our way extensively around the sushi list, we deemed it adequate but not distinguished. You can do better in the East Village. The menu’s emphasis is on maki rolls that are often way too goopy with alien substances like flavored mayo and cream cheese. On the positive side of the ledger, the prices are rock bottom: $11.95 for the deluxe sushi combo.
There are a handful of entrées on Yeti’s menu that don’t belong to either cuisine. One is ma po bean curd, a Sichuan dish. Another is Korean bul-gogi, barbecued strips of marinated beef. And when we ordered Nepalese aalu roti ($7.95)—which should have been a potato-stuffed flatbread, a cousin of Indian alu paratha—what they brought us was a pajun, a bouncy Korean pancake made of potato and rice flour. And maybe it also constituted a clue as to what strange forces are behind this mysterious Yeti.