Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Monday, September 13, 2010


The one-l lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-l llama,
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
Three-l lllama.
  - Ogden Nash

I eat all this weird crap so you don’t have to.
  - Elisson

Tibetan thangka, an iconographic wall hanging.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I enjoy living in east Cobb County, an area vaguely north-northwest of Atlanta proper, but no place is perfect. When, in 1968, the various metro area counties held referenda to decide whether they would participate in the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, Cobb County voters soundly rejected any participation. Some people will try to tell you that it was a tax issue and that Cobb County residents wished to avoid the 1% sales tax that MARTA would necessitate, but that’s a load of crap. Simply put, the good people of Cobb wanted no part of a transit system that would make it easy for Atlanta city residents - translated loosely as “people of color” - to travel to their county.

Some forty-odd years later, the unintended consequence of this decision is a relative dearth of high-end restaurants in Cobb County. Oh, there are plenty of eateries, make no mistake... but the really good ones all seem to be in neighborhoods closer in to town. My suspicion is that the lower-paid service workers that are essential to a successful restaurant are thin on the ground in our part of Cobb, owing to the cost of real estate and the lack of cheap, easy transportation. If you’re a dishwasher, busboy, or line cook, you can’t afford to live here... and if you don’t have a car, it’s a pain in the ass to get here.

Lately, though, there have been plenty of Chinese and Mexican restaurants opening up hereabouts. It’s not obvious what sort of common ground the Chinese and Mexican culinary traditions share - aside from a love of rice - but it has got to be only a matter of time before they join forces and start selling Chinamex, a sort of joint-venture cuisine that involves soybeans and black beans, stir-fried enchiladas, and huevos foo young.

It seems like every new Chinese place is calling itself a “bistro.” Since almost none of them qualifies as a small place serving simple, inexpensive meals in a modest setting, it seems an odd choice of descriptor... but strange things can happen when East and West collide.

One of these new places - the Shangrila Bistro - is certainly small enough. It’s right behind a local Shell station in a spot formerly occupied by a schpritz-it-yourself car wash and adjacent to the emissions testing shop... probably the last place on the planet you’d think to look for an Asian restaurant. The small dining room, coupled with a dearth of parking, are clues that the main focus of Shangrila is on their take-out business. There’s no beer or wine - an unbistrolike omission - but one that I am prepared to forgive after having tried the food.

The name is a clue that this is not your garden variety Chinese place. It is - of all things - Tibetan. Which means that when your excessively punnophilic Better Half says, “Lhasa go out to dinner,” you now have a place to go.

The manager greeted us warmly when we arrived - the place just opened three days ago - and presented us with traditional Tibetan khatas, long silk scarves traditionally given to guests that appeared to be a Himalayan twist on our familiar tallit.

Tibetan cuisine draws on the traditions of both China and India; lamb dishes were prominently featured on the menu. But my eye was immediately drawn to another meat, one that is intimately associated with things Tibetan. Yak!

Yaksha Shaptak... the other Red Meat.
Yak meat is not easy to come by in the good old U. S. of A., but these boys have found a source. I figured it would be beefy enough, given that a yak is nothing so much as an extremely hirsute buffalo... and I was not disappointed. My Yaksha Shaptak - slices of yak meat stir-fried with potato, onion, bell peppers, tomato, garlic, and cilantro - was superb. The yak itself had a pleasantly substantial texture (tenderloin it ain’t) and an assertive, meaty flavor without a hint of gaminess, altogether reminiscent of bison or grass-fed beef. SWMBO even essayed a bite and pronounced it good.

Whoever thought that I could eat yak - the other Red Meat - right here in the heart of cornbread and collard country? What a world!


Houston Steve said...

Given that it's dead, I s'pose that the particular Yakkety-Yak of which you imbibed don't talk back.

Elisson said...

From a digestive perspective, it's entirely possible for that yak to have talked back. Fortunately for me, it did not.

Ole Phat Stu said...

There is of course a four-L
llllama; it lives in Walllles ;-)

Slash said...

Your musing on Chinese-Mexican fusion dishes brought to mind another strange combination that we have experienced locally.

In this area of California, many Southeast Asian refugees settled after having escaped the communist regime in Vietnam. Several opened restaurants wtih their government subsidies and we began to see "Pho" kitchens pop up in various strip malls. Unusual for the time, but not very surprising. It was the second wave of asian eateries that made me smile.

Some enterprising soul got the bright idea of combining what appeared to be the three most popular take-out foods: Hamburgers, Chinese Food, and Doughnuts. Yes, for a while, there were several little mom-and-pop joints where one could order a combo-meal that consisted of a cheeseburger with chow mein on the side and a doughnut for dessert. The food was typically mediocre to awful, but the idea still makes me chuckle.

Unknown said...

Yak meat is now American grown right here in the Rocky Mountains!! It is available to be ordered online at www.yakmeat.us , and will be the best meat you will ever taste!! It is sweet, juicy, and never gamy! It is also the healthiest meat you can eat! Shipped anywhere in the continental USA. Yakkity Yak, you will come back!