Dancing Yak opened about a year ago. I purposely didn’t go before, because the location it sits in is one of those where everything before it had failed (Babu Ji, Another Monkey, Plin, Nostra… am I forgetting something?) So, cynically, I really didn’t think it would make it. But it has; so much so that Nepalese owner Suraksha Basnet is opening a new restaurant, also in the Mission. Base Camp will be a sort of Nepalese tapas place, drawing on different regions of Nepal, but in small-plate form.  In the meantime, Dancing Yak gets rave reviews, so I decided to try it.

I began with a decent cocktail, the Don’t Talk Yak (Bourbon, chai, Allspice Dram, and mint lemonade). Three of us split chicken momos to start.

Chicken momos.

Momos are Nepal’s gift to the dumpling world (or more accurately, originally Tibet’s gift), and what a gift. These were divine. Juicy and meaty, with a wonderful soybean and tomato sauce for dipping, and chubbily tender. As good as any I’ve had.

Next, we ordered a spicy cauliflower dish.

Spicy cauliflower.

Doused in chili paste, with a saggy, too-thick and tough crust made of rice flour, this was just a bad dish. One-note, gloopy, and sad. We didn’t finish it. Way to ruin perfectly good cauliflower.

Next, pani puri.

Pani puri

I love these little suckers. Delicate, crispy orbs, stuffed lightly with potato, chaat masala (spice mixture), with a drizzle of a sweet and sour liquid to pour in, they sang to me. My GFs didn’t love them, though. More for me!

Next, we got the dal bhat thali plate to share.

Daal bhat thali with salmon and shrimp curry.

This was mostly a disappointment. We got our choice of curries, and opted for the salmon/shrimp. While the curry was tasty, there was very little shrimp in it. The lentil daal was almost flavorless, except for a strangely horseradish-y sense to it (which I didn’t mind, I just found it odd). The mustard greens were great, however, and redolent of cardamom. The cauliflower was decent this time.

And we had goat. This is momentous only to me, as I volunteer with goats every weekend, and I felt guilty about enjoying EVERY. SINGLE. BITE.

Pakku.

Pakku, a goat dish that marinates overnight and cooks until meltingly tender in a clay pot, did honor to the goat. And yes, I’d get it again. Goat guilt can only have so much sway in the face of such deliciousness.

So overall, Dancing Yak is not bad, but I couldn’t really see why there was so much fuss about this place. Perhaps because there aren’t a ton of Nepalese options in the city, compared to the East Bay? The youngish crowd hasn’t had much exposure to this type of cuisine?  Further investigation was needed.

My second visit was with the BF, and I had to order the chicken momos again because he’d never had any. This time they weren’t quite as tender, as if they’d sat for a while, despite the fact the menu says they take 15 minutes to prepare, so presumably they’re made to order.  So, while the texture was off, they were still tasty.

Next we got the pork belly bhutwa – a dish that I believe is typically made with lamb.

Pork bhutwa.

The meat seemed to have been rubbed with chilies, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, etc., and then roasted. It came with a pickled tomato sauce that included peppers, ginger and, I believe, cardamom. Outstanding. Deeply flavorful, fatty and tender. So far, I’m thinking these particular chefs really know their way around roasted meats. This is a must-get.

We ordered garlic naan to scoop up the sauciness of the next dish.

Garlic naan.

And it was excellent. Puffy and chewy, slightly ghee-slicked, with golden flecks of garlic, this was a good sample of this staple. Perfect for sopping up the sauce of butter chicken curry (murgh makhani).

Butter chicken.

Incredibly creamy, and much brighter and spice-ier (not hot, just more spice-forward) than other versions of this dish I’ve had.

Service was warm and efficient, although a bit slow on our second visit as they were incredibly busy and missing a hostess.

I’m not sure if this is what I’d measure all other Nepalese restaurants by but, as often happens, I enjoyed this second visit better than the first. I’m now looking forward to trying Base Camp when it opens. I’d maybe start here, though, to get your introduction to this most varied and spice-filled cuisine.

Dancing Yak
280 Valencia St.