Saturday night (Dec. 2001) we found ourselves in Berkeley, hungry and looking for a place to go. I had the Entertainment book with me so I thought we should try one of the restaurants for which we had coupons. Mike was partial to the Cambodianas, one of our favorite places, but I wanted to try something new so we decided on Café Tibet, on University Avenue between Shattuck and Milvia.
The small restaurant (it's no larger than a living room) is very quaint. It has high ceilings, with ornate copper-tone chandeliers, and walls decorated with Tibetan paper paintings. There is also a picture of the Dalai Lama as well as a crude picture of Dharamsala (I presume). Each table includes a candle lamp with a cute shade - very similar to those we encountered at Acquerello a couple of weeks ago. The waitress lights them after she gives you the menus. The waitress, dressed in traditional Tibetan custom, also adds to the ambience of the place. She's very nice and service is pretty good.
The chef-owner worked at the Shangri-La restaurant in Dharamsala, and was pastry chef at Star Restaurant in San Francisco, before opening Café Tibet. Neither Mike nor I had ever had Tibetan food before so we can't judge the quality of Café Tibet's fare compared to other Tibetan restaurants. We found the menu (available at http://www.themenupage.com/cafetibetmenu.html) to be reminiscent of both Indian and Asian food; it contained curries but also stir-fried (or rather, sauteed) and noodle dishes. The food, however, seemed both heartier and blander than that of Tibet's neighbors. All the dishes were made with obviously fresh ingredients but I thought most of them were rather insipid; Mike found their flavor subtle.
We started with an appetizer of sheril sheatok ($4). These were three small, deep-fried beef patties topped with a "special" yogurt-based sauce. They were delicious, crispy on the outside, very flavorful in the inside and they are highly recommended. We also had a side order of Tingmo, Tibetan bread. I don't know if I can describe it, but in some way it resembled a cinnamon roll sans the cinnamon. It was made of a thick layer of dough wrapped around itself in a bun. It tasted very doughy and a little bit underdone; some of it was flavored by a mild curry, but it didn't have much of a flavor. It might have been better with the curry we later had, but we were so hungry we finished it before our entrees arrived.
As an entry, we had the lamb and vegetable curry (which came with rice) ($10) and the pan-fried noodles with chicken ($8). I found the curry completely tasteless; the lamb was pretty flavorful in itself, and Mike thought the vegetables were very good (he ate them all), but I thought the curry had no taste at all. The noodles, mildly reminiscent of pad-thai, were a bit more flavorful but still pretty bland. The chicken slices, however, were very nice and thick, tender but not chewy. Indeed, all the ingredients in the dish seemed to be very fresh and high quality.
Mike thought that the food was subtle, good mountain food in the sense that it was hearty and would warm you up - I guess in the mountains that's a more important quality than flavor. He would go back to Café Tibet - I don't think I would.
We both skipped dessert, we were hoping to make it to Tango Gelato before it closed, but the European-inspired desserts (which included creme brulee and mousse cake as well as sorbets and gelato) looked very good. In all, it was a good experience and I'm glad we tried it. I think it's worth a try, even without a coupon, if only to experience a different cuisine.
2200 University Ave.