The Review Reviews: Base Camp

The Review reviews Base Camp Cafe.

The Review reviews Base Camp Cafe.

At 6:17pm, Pip Epiffany, Oral Stanfield, and Sheriff Rick Grimes greet Ignatius J. Reilly, who has arrived, characteristically, 17 minutes after the agreed-upon time. This evening the gang dines at Base Camp Café, a relatively new Nepalese restaurant situated next door to The Orient, in the spot where the unexceptional Salubre Trattoria once stood. The gang is excited–Nepalese cuisine is brand new to the lot of them, and no one has any idea what to expect. A visit to the Wikipedia page, “Nepalese cuisine,” reveals that traditional Nepali etiquette dictates that meals be eaten “seated or squatting on the floor.” The gang is therefore bewildered when the maître d’ eschews convention and leads them to an intimate corner table with four chairs.

This disappointing breach of custom notwithstanding, the ambiance is exceedingly pleasant. The lighting is mellow, but not quite dim. Hindu and Buddhist figurines and scrolls adorn the walls. The only slight blemish on the otherwise carefully constructed decor is a poster perched on the wall directly next to the gang’s table. It depicts Mount Dhaulagiri (height 8167 meters), and was produced by Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation. Its dubious quality is typical of Communist bureaucracy, but it gets the gang in the mountaineering mood.

Naturally, drinks are first priority for the gang. Sheriff Rick Grimes is on duty and thus unable to consume alcohol, but the rest of the gang peruses the decent beverage menu. Ignatius selects the Base Camp Mojito ($11), comprised of “sake, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and fresh mint.” Most of the Café’s adult beverages substitute sake for standard spirits; this might be a Nepalese thing, but management could also be abiding by the College’s new hard liquor policy. Ignatius deems the mojito “quite refreshing,” and notes the prominence of the lime juice. Oral foolishly opts for the Cucumber Cooler ($11), described on the menu as such: “pickle cucumbers pieces drenched in sake, mixed with freshlime juice, simple syrup & soda water.” Sickeningly sweet, with hints of cucumber, the cocktail seems to be ninety percent simple syrup. Finally, Pip gets the Base Camp Margarita ($10)–the beverage is not accompanied by a description on the menu, a mysterious and intriguing touch that attracts bright-eyed Pip. “My margarita is beautifully presented, and the taste is top notch,” Pip remarks. The gang’s three drinkers were all diligently carded by their jovial waiter.

The appetizers, quick to arrive, are truly a wondrous experience. First on the table is the Chicken Choila ($10), a delicious medley of spiced chicken and veggies alongside crispy rice. The snap, crackle, and pop in every bite contrasts perfectly with the succulent richness of the Choila. Ignatius is unfortunately sullied by the baby wailing in the background, which breaks his chi. Along with the perfectly seasoned bread, its crunchy crust and fluffy insides, dipped in a minty glaze, our appetites are well prepared for the meal to come. Oral feels as though he has already scaled Mount Everest; the rest of the gang agrees this feeling is perhaps a bit premature, especially as the Wild Boar Momos ($12) make their way to the table. The group consumes them like a shot of the finest vodka, which they’ve shared before at a feast with some Russian nobles that they encountered on the journey to Nepal. Dipped quickly in the sauce, the momos are consumed whole in two separate rounds. The advice to eat the dumplings in one bite is spot on; Oral remarks on the importance that the (dubiously) wild boar is not as gamey as expected. The momos rather consist of a dumpling of the perfect consistency concealing an explosion of wild porcine flavor; these might be the highlight of the night as the entrees are eagerly awaited.

Just as the impact of the meal on our digestive systems begins to rival a true Everest expedition in its peril, the main courses arrive. The Goat Tarkari ($19) and Buffalo Chili ($22) are indistinguishable upon arrival, initially raising a red flag, but as the previous courses have left the gang eager for more, the digging in commences. Oral is quick to note the leanness of the buffalo, before he is overcome by its tender, spicy, and generally delicious quality; he begins to sweat as the buffalo intensely pleasures him. Pip and the Sheriff begin with the goat, noting the roundness of the meat’s flavor in contrast to its rough texture. The Sheriff, generally privy to heavy meats, is pleased at the quality of the goat, though all agree that the dishes rely a bit too heavily on the vegetables in both dishes. Suddenly the Chicken Stir-Fry Noodles arrive, placed before Ignatius, who notes the sherpa-esque quality of Base Camp’s service. At this point, the quality of the food becomes too overwhelming, like the blinding blizzard as we near the summit of Everest; everything blurs together in blissful euphoria. The basmati rice accompanying all the dishes is deliciously fluffy, a staple to each dish, like the snow on the mountain. At one point, Ignatius even mistakes the goat for lamb, exposing his culinary ignorance; Oral and the Sheriff scoff, and pass him the salt. Oral doesn’t need any, as the salty sweat pours down his face, really messing with his zen; a sip from the Cucumber Cooler manages to even him out, however. Pip soon proposes that the Buffalo Chili is “better than sex;” Oral thinks Pip is probably only guessing.

The pain is good; it builds men. But not all men are built; many are broken by the mountain.

The Sheriff is spooked by the sudden image of a shade looking on over Oral’s shoulder; his hand drops to his holster before he realizes that it is none other than than Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer the Mountain, his ghost accompanied by his loyal Sherpa Tenzing. They nod in silent approval, sending shivers of motivation down this spines of the valiant crew. Together, the group concurs that the intensity of the pleasurable spice puts hair on one’s chest, prompting them to assume that sherpas are generally hairy. The fire burns deep within their hearts as well, further motivation to reach the summit. Pip adds to the profundity as he quips that “Whether ascending Everest or simply enjoying Nepalese fare, it is important to pace oneself.” The gang is quick to point out that Ignatius is certainly pacing himself on the mojito, which he reaches for in further embarrassment.

Appetizers demolished and entrees scraped clean, the meal’s summit lingers imminently on the horizon: dessert. The culminating course is an essential aspect of any meal, complementing the patron’s previous cuisines and filling whatever appetite remains. Oral, broken by the climb, did not partake in this pinnacle of courses, rushing out of the restaurant abruptly with mumbled claims that he must “change his shi–… hair.”

In contrast with the previous dishes, this course did not feature basmati rice as a side in each dish. Rather, one dessert alone boasted the Nepalese staple crop. Described as “incomparable,” Kheer ($5), a creamy rice pudding, was served in a glass topped sparsely with nuts. The menu goes on to describe the sweet treat as “a simple pleasure,” and we at The Review tend to agree. Perhaps the least exciting and enjoyable of the desserts on which we feasted, the crunchy rice granules brought our taste buds to a simpler time, when people appreciated the fundamental nature of a cuisine.

That time, however, is long past, and our more sophisticated taste buds longed for something daring and unique. Base Camp did not disappoint, offering us a brave fusion of traditional flavor and contemporary presentation in the form of the Dudh Kurauni ($6), a Nepalese delicacy. Described by our textual sherpa as “traditional homemade cottage cheese, drenched in saffron spiced milk,” the table was given little choice in the matter, as both the menu and waiter touted the dish as “must have.” Our hands tied on the matter, we happily–if helplessly–indulged in the sweet, cookie-like dessert. The milk softened the cottage cheese’s bold and savory taste, complemented by a drizzling of what the Sheriff discerned to be strawberry syrup. The chef’s bravery in this dish was well rewarded with approval from the table as we all agreed that this must certainly be the pinnacle of our culinary journey. Little did we know, this was far from the case.

The culminating treat Base Camp offered was an unexpected surprise. Once more, our textual sherpa guided the decision, advocating the “creamy medley of homemade yogurt and spices” as “everybody’s favorite.” And like a seasoned sherpa, the text did not lead us astray. This dish, while similar in appearance to Kheer, far surpasses its companion dish in both flavor and texture. Eloquently described by Ignatius as “a disturbing blend of childhood memories and sensual creaminess,” this dessert earned its superlative title of universal favorite. Sweet and sharp, the creamy yogurt delivered a boisterous explosion of flavor carried by the blended spices. Enjoying this Nepalese classic, we were figuratively- nay, literally- on top of the world.