When it rains, it pours, and right now, it's raining momos, a.k.a. Nepalese dumplings. In the past year, two Nepalese restaurants have opened in and around Pittsburgh, with another soon to follow. Our first Nepalese dining experience taught us about the cuisine's distinctive amalgam of Chinese and Indian traditions and whetted our appetite for momos, which are filled with assertive flavors and pursed in delicate wrappers. We sought a second momo-licious meal at Everest, in the South Hills.
Located in the same mini-strip mall as an established Nepalese grocery, Everest occupies a pretty spare space, with most of the decor provided by a bold swath of red paint and blown-glass pendant lights. An adjacent room with a pool table appeared to be a sort of clubhouse, not part of the public accommodation, supporting the idea of the restaurant as a hub for the nearby Nepalese immigrant community, as much as an entrepreneurial effort.
On the other hand, the fellow in charge on the night we were there — who acted as our host, server and the restaurant's seeming general manager — wore the many hats of the small businessman. He told us he'd just hired a new chef and apologetically handed us a handwritten menu of the kitchen's new Indian specialties, which hadn't made it onto the printed menu yet. He also warned us that our extensive order might take some time, but assured us he would bring things as they came ready.
We were amenable to this, but the 55 minutes that passed from submitting our order to receiving the first dish tested our patience, not to mention our kids' restaurant manners. Fortunately, the wait was — mostly — worth it.
Momos were available in chicken or vegetable — both the Nepalese and the Indian menus contain extensive vegetarian options — and we tried both, steamed. Most dumplings, whether East Asian or Eastern European, tend to rely on mild-tasting ingredients and, possibly, a more assertive dipping sauce, but what we love about momos are the big flavors of their fillings.
Everest's were excellent. Shreds of well-seasoned, slightly spicy chicken also offered remarkably true chicken flavor, while tender ribbons of cabbage carried the flavor in the vegetarian version. The wrappers were thin and tender, but ever-so-slightly dried at the edges, not at all slippery. Dipping sauces were the same for both: thick in texture, pale brown in color and with a flavor that doubled down on Indian-style spices, blended with what seemed to be nuts.
Samosas were pretty standard fritters of mashed potato and peas, but what stood out was a sort of sambar made with large, green lentil-like legumes. The broth was thin but deeply seasoned, the beans firm and hearty; we enjoyed it spooned on the samosa and eaten alongside, and like many a good sambar, it would have made a satisfying soup on its own.
The menu promised fried catfish in a batter that sounded like pakora, India's answer to tempura, with a light chickpea-flour-based batter. Instead, we were served four overcooked slices of salmon alongside a bowl of what looked like American-style hot sauce. The menu's chicken wings, supposedly marinated in spice and deep fried, similarly turned out to be indifferently roasted drumsticks with no seasoning at all. True, our daughter had requested zero spiciness, but what arrived was flavorless and a bit dried out. The dipping sauce was a thick honey chili that looked like nam prik, the Thai sauce, but had less fire. We employed it to upgrade a pair of hard-boiled eggs that we ordered based on a menu photo that made it appear they'd be served on a bed of sauce. Instead they came bare, with the aforementioned hot sauce alongside.
Somewhat mysteriously, the menu promised "mixed fruits" in the Kashmiri chicken pulav (a rice dish: think pilaf), but other than a currant or two, there was little but rice and small, deep-fried morsels of chicken. Fortunately, the rice was fantastic, its tender, individual grains infused with curry flavor. The chicken was not tender, but the little nuggets popped with surprising flavor and their jerky-like texture actually added a satisfying texture.
Goat biryani had a different flavor profile and texture from the pulav, with moister, softer rice and a hint of chili fire, but the goat was disproportionately bone. An Indian lamb curry was tender, though, in a rich, thick gravy that was deeply seasoned but not challengingly spicy.
Everest is ironing out some kinks as it adopts a new chef and Indian menu, but fellow momo fans will find it a worthy destination.