You don’t expect to find Shangri La wedged between a package store and a nail salon in a suburban strip mall. But then again, you don’t expect to find authentic Nepali Indian cuisine in Mobile, AL. Yep, life is full of surprises. And this was a really pleasant one. I must confess that I’ve never traveled to Nepal or hiked the Himalayas. Never been to India either. I did grow up just outside of Washington, DC — a truly international city. My culinary curiousity allowed me to explore many exotic flavors and I came to appreciate good Indian and Middle Eastern foods.
YAK’s All-You-Can-Eat Lunch Buffet is a steal at just $9.95
The interior at Yak is tidy and sun-drenched. They have only been open about 3 months, so it still has that new feel about it. I arrived right as they opened at 11 a.m. on a Friday — this explains the dining room being empty when the above image was captured on my phone. Apologies for the picture quality, friends. I often go in “stealth” when on assignment. This was one of those times.
The menu is extensive — the buffet makes for a fine introduction
One of the many stars of the buffet was the Chicken Tikka Masala, described as grilled chicken breast chunks in a tomato and onion cream sauce. This dish is extremely popular in the UK — dating back to India’s many years under British rule. Yak’s Tikka Masala is bright orange in color (as you can see above). The darker meat dish to the left is Lamb Roganjosh, which consists of boneless “cubes” of tender lamb simmered with yogurt and tomatoes. The Chicken Curry was equally delicious and its sauce was a perfect compliment for the famous Tandoori bread known as “Naan.” It is essentially a white flour bread cooked in a traditional Indian clay oven.
The brilliant red object in the center of the above photo is Chicken Tandoori. The dish itself has almost become a bit cliche — it appears on almost every Indian buffet on the planet. It is made with bone-in chicken parts marinated with yogurt, herbs, and spices … and then cooked in the aforementioned clay oven. Tandoori Chicken is eye-catching, no question. Yet it is often dry and less flavorful than it looks. That, thankfully, is not the case at Yak. Their version is suitably moist and practically singing with deep, smokey flavor. Yak was impressing me at every turn and a work day lunch was being transformed into a magical, mystical experience.
Even the vegetarian offerings (like the dish seen above) were mind-bending trips into an exotic land of flavors hereto unknown to Mobile, Alabama. Was this all a dream? Did they slip something into my iced water? Was the sitar-driven music filling the dining room somehow hynotizing me and/or my taste buds? It was all amazingly good. Almost too good to be true. My mind groped for a word that might describe my state of nirvana. Astonishing! That was it — I was astonished.
Even the desserts were first rate. This included the incredible warm Indian Carrot Pudding (aka Gajar Halwa) and a cool, pleasantly soupy Rice Pudding laced with shredded coconut. I had never enjoyed Gajar Halwa before. Yet I was immediately smitten. Call me weird, but have always loved Carrot Raisin Salad. It’s something of a Church Supper staple. So if you’re with me, then continue to follow along. Others may skip ahead to the next paragraph. OK. Imagine a good Carrot Raisin Salad — only served warm — without the raisins — and the mayo and shredded pineapple replaced with ground nuts, maybe a hint of cardamom, and sweetened condensed milk. Sounds a bit strange, I know. But it was really, really good – at least to me. Try it and let me know what you think.
Once again, I must apologize for the pictures. The muddled white mess seen above is the Coconut Rice Pudding we touted earlier. I had to share the picture to show just how soupy a consistency it presented. The long strands of coconut were a welcome surprise … as was the “just right” cool temperature of the dish. It was ideal for extinguishing some of the overall spiciness of my main course – or should I say courses. Yes, I did make several trips to the buffet line. Tried pretty much everything. It was all superb. Collectively, it was pretty much one of the finest meals I have enjoyed in my nearly 4 years in Lower Alabama. Go figure, right? High praise, for sure. But much deserved. You really must try this place. You can expect to see me here often. Yeah, I know it ain’t exactly your typical Dixie Dining joint. But I would call it Indian Comfort Food — pretty doggone healthy too — and medicine for the soul.
Had I finally reached the summit? It sure tasted like it, folks!
YAK The Kathmandu Kitchen – 3210 Dauphin Street, Mobile, AL 36606
(251) 287-0115; http://www.facebook.com/IndianNepaliRestaurant