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Mountain High

Rohnert Park's Shangri-La scales peaks of Nepalese flavor

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THE MOMO WE'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR Those are some flavorful nuggets of minced lamb, pops!
  • THE MOMO WE'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR Those are some flavorful nuggets of minced lamb, pops!

One of the great things about universities are the college towns that spring up around them with all the cool movie theaters, music clubs, bars, record stores and restaurants. I especially like the food.

College town restaurant scenes in places like Berkeley, Austin, Eugene, Ore., and Chapel Hill, N.C., are great because not only is the food affordable for those on a student budget but the restaurants reflect the international diversity of the student body. The food expands your horizons, just like college is supposed to.

Sadly, Rohnert Park's Sonoma State University has not given rise to a great college-town food scene. But there are a few standout restaurants, and Shangri-La Café & Grill is one of them. Located across from SSU in the Wolf Den shopping center, the restaurant offers a refreshing point of departure. The 11-year-old Shangri-La is run by the Nepalese-born brother and sister team of Paramesh Adhikari and Meenakshi Sharma. The dishes are cooked from scratch with mostly organic produce from Sharma's garden.

Nepalese food leans more toward northern India than China but has elements of Chinese, as well as dishes unique to itself. To the extent people are familiar with Nepalese food, it's the momo, a savory steamed dumpling filled with meat and vegetables that borrows much from China and Tibet. It's Nepal's national fast food, and they are delicious at Shangri-La. The beautifully fluted flour buns are made with housemade dough and stuffed with flavorful nuggets of minced lamb mixed with red onion, shallots, green onions and aromatic spices. It's served with a silky tomato sauce for dipping. You get six for $9.99. I could eat a few plates of these. There is also a vegetarian version ($9.99) made with tofu, cauliflower, onion, cabbage and spinach.

Another good starter is the samosa chaat ($6.99), a crushed samosa filled with cumin-seasoned garbanzo beans and mashed potatoes topped with chopped onions and apple. Dal is another staple in Nepal, and it's well represented at Shangri-La. The dal bhat lamb ($16.99) is made with tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger and classic spices of cumin, coriander and turmeric is great. It comes with a bowl of yellow dal.

The creamy lentil soup ($4.99) is lighter and thinner than versions I've had at Indian restaurants. It's a good side dish, but not hearty enough to stand on its own.

I'm not sure where to place the creamy masala pumpkin curry ($11.99), but it's a good vegetarian option. Butter chicken is right up there with tikka masala in popularity, and Shangri-La's version ($12.99) is as silky and luxurious as any I've had. It's great over steamed brown rice.

In what is perhaps a nod to the college kids across the way, Shangri-La serves a version of saag made with trendy kale instead of the traditional spinach. It's a flavorful and hearty vegetarian dish.

What else? Service is friendly and quick. Naan options ($2.99–$4.99) range from plain butter to garlic-basil, garlic-cheese and even sweet cinnamon. Desserts are basic: gulab jamun and rice pudding ($4.99).

For students, ex-students, faculty or just fans of good food, Shangri-La is worth the trip.

Shangri-La Café & Grill, 1706 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. 707.793.0300.

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