Hidden gems of Tibet

If you happen to take your date to a restaurant adjacent to a gas station in a far suburb of Atlanta, be prepared for a plesant surprise. This evening may be where you accept the expression “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” once and for all. Opened only a few months ago, Shangrila Bistro already has raving fans trekking from all over the city. It is a small establishment located in the East Cobb neighborhood and perhaps the only one to serve authentic Tibetan delicacies.

Influenced by neighbors India and China, authentic Tibetan cuisine shares their names, spices and cooking styles. Having eaten Indian, Chinese, Indo-Chinese and Eastern-Indian regional cuisines, I was utterly confused! There were masala, samose, vindaloo on the menu which were nothing like their Indian counterparts.

We started off with Butter tea, or po cha as it’s known in Tibet, is a tea made with butter derived from yak milk. It was smooth and sweet, like a “Tibetan hot chocolate” my dinner guest exclaimed. They don’t serve alcohol but you are free to bring your own.

For appetizers, the waiter recommended Momo’s (or dumplings). We ordered Amdo Momo, buns stuffed with ground lamb, herbs, onions, celery and ginger. These are a bit thicker than your traditional Chinese dumplings, yet soft and melt in your mouth. They were served with a sweet and tangy soy based sauce.

We also had the Samose (deep fried mixed vegetable balls), nothing like the Indian samosa or the African sambusa. The texture was similar to a falafal, but it was moist inside from the mixture of zucchini, onions, potatoes and carrots.

The entree selections carry a wide ranges of meats and a few vegetables. Although there are some Chinese dishes for the unadventurous diners, we decided to make the most of being in Tibetan heaven. We ordered yak, lamb, chicken and shrimp.

The yak served at Shagrila Bistro is shipped directly from Tibet. For those not familiar with this animal, it is generally found in mountainous terrains and used for milk, meat, etc. (similar to a cow). The meat is leaner than beef, chicken or pork. The Yaksha Phing was presented beautifully with soft yak meat adorned by crisp leeks and flavorful button mushrooms. The meat was tender and very rich in flavor.

My personal favorite was the Masala Shrimp. Jumbo shrimp, perfectly grilled with sliced assorted vegetables (never expected potatoes) in a spicy peppery seasoning with just enough sauce to soak it in. The chicken flat bread had pretty much the same flavors and was served with a roti (Malaysian style) which I will probably skip next time around.

We weren’t offered any desserts; probably not an option?

Overall, it was a great new experience dining at Shangrila Bistro. I do believe they have superior quality ingredients, make everything fresh (as can be derived from the long wait time to get the meal) and above-average presentation skills. It is only a matter for time, they will be looking to expand the space and serve the discerning foodies of Atlanta.

There is also a gift shop surrounding the restaurant where you can find Tibetan nick-knacks such as chopsticks, jewelry and lamp shades to take as souvenir from your meal. If you don’t like the cozy, nondescript ambiance, they even deliver within a few miles radius.