One thing we love about NYC is that there is food from literally corner of the globe. However, even for us, finding a Bhutanese restaurant is something of a coup. Bhutan is a notoriously difficult country to enter and doesn’t have a very large population, but there is a small Bhutanese community in NYC, as evidenced by Bhutanese Ema Datsi (67-21 Woodside Ave., Woodside (Queens), NY 11377).
Though in a nondescript building, you will instantly recognize the Buddhist flags, and the inside of the restaurant is lovingly decorated with Bhutanese art and is and is very homey. The menu was quite extensive with sections for Bhutanese, Tibetan and Indian food, and we immediately turned to our server for guidance (though we knew we had to at least have some mango lassis). Luckily, we were visiting with a group so we got to sample a ton of food. We were seated at a big table with a lazy susan, so sharing with everyone was a breeze. We were a mixed group of omnivores and vegetarians so we tried both meat and veggie dishes, both amply represented on the menu. We were most keen on trying new-to-us Bhutanese dishes, but there were also some tempting Tibetan options like Momo dumplings ($5.99) and Thenthuk handmade noodle soup ($6.99).
We started with the Tibetan Momo and an order of Gyuma ($8.99), a dark Tibetan blood sausage, obviously for carnivores only, that was earthy and flavorful, and recommendable to even those who don’t like blood sausage. Our server also recommended we go with the classic Ema Datsi – pictured above- ($7.99), the name of the restaurant and the national dish of Bhutan – a mixture of cheese and chili over potatoes. The dish was gently spicy, which was a great complement to the cheese. As another vegetarian dish we tried Puta (pictured below), buckwheat noodles with scallion and egg, which reminded us of a deconstructed version of Chinese scallion pancake, but even better. As a nod to Indian influence we had the Palak paneer, ($8.99) with fresh homemade cheese, a favorite dish of one of those at the table who thought it really stood up .
Digging deeper into the menu for more Bhutanese carnivore options, we sampled the Phak sha paa thali, ($9.99) a beautifully assembled plate with fresh pork and assorted veggies and trimmings. The term “Thali” itself refers to the partitioned tray for the food, and is found in Nepalese cuisine as well. Finally, we had the dry beef curry Monpa style (main dish below), a beef dish flavored heavily with a garlicky curry paste and served over potatoes with cheese. This dish had a bit of a kick, and reminded us of Indian dry curries slathered with spice rubs.
We were so happy we finally got to try Bhutanese food, it was a,completely new experience, and Ema Datsi was the perfect place to go with a big group of adventurous eaters. The food was similar in some ways to Chinese but also had a strong Indian and Central Asian influence. And we were delighted and surprised at the unique ingredients – like cheese, especially unusual in Asian cuisine (though the cheese we got was not the yak cheese typical of Bhutan). Moreover, beyond just good food, it is one of the best (and most unique) bargains in NYC.