I hate to throw around cliches and overused terms like "hidden gem" and "delicious" - and since I used "delicious" in my previous post I'll avoid it today - but Rangzen, a tiny Tibetan place in Central Square, qualifies for "hidden gem" status as far as I'm concerned. First of all, it actually is kind of hidden in a literal sense, tucked away on a side street with an unassuming exterior. Joel had been there before - a friend used to live right above it - but it took a bit of wandering for us to find it. (I'm not sure how his friend survived living there. I think I'd have to eat there every day...and there's a lunch buffet. Very dangerous.) Joel's band was scheduled to play later that night downstairs at the Cantab, so we were looking for something light enough to not weigh us down but heavy enough to soak up the beer that would be consumed later. We were also still suffering the effects of a late gig we both played the previous night - our folk band, The Bowties, played a house party in Cambridge. It was our first gig, so there was much partying and whiskey-drinking afterward. Rangzen cured our tiredness, hunger, and pretty much everything else that ailed us. (Ok, I had a little help from 5-hour energy.)
Upon walking into Rangzen, we were immediately hit with a comforting wave of smells; the scents of Tibetan spices seem to have almost magical aromatherapy powers. The restaurant is very cozy, and not in the real estate way of describing a tiny, cramped apartment. Yes, it's small, but not uncomfortable unless you're waiting for a table. Shivering from the unseasonable cold, we warmed up with some darjeeling tea. It was prepared with milk and tasted like a less-sweet chai. It came in a mug with a little cap on it, I guess to keep it warm. For some reason, I found it adorable. They also have a traditional Tibetan tea called Poecha, which is made with butter, milk, and salt (not sugar). I wasn't in a very adventurous mood last time, but I'll definitely give it a try next time I go.
We split an order of Sha Phaley to start: Tibetan-style whole wheat bread stuffed with minced beef, cilantro, and garlic. (Speaking of cilantro, did you see this April 2010 article in the New York Times? Apparently there's a possible genetic predisposition for hatred of cilantro. Until recently, it never occurred to me that there was such a love/hate divide. I enjoy it, but I never realized that the flavor was strong enough to evoke such a response. If you're on the hate side, don't wander into Somerville's Tacos Lupita. I was there last week and there was a large table quite literally covered with a mountain of cilantro.) Anyway, back to Rangzen. The bread was good! Maybe it was a bit heavy for an appetizer, but I ended up getting a vegetarian entree, so I wasn't completely overwhelmed.
Joel ordered the Langsha Chow: noodles sauteed with beef, shredded cabbage, carrot, red onion, cilantro (there it is again!), tomato, scallion, spinach, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic, sprinkled with cilantro (yes, more). It had some similarities to a Chinese lo mein dish but with less grease and more flavor. I got Bok Tsel: baby bok choy and shogo (potato) sauteed with ginger, garlic, tomato, onion & spices. The flavors were nice and light, and it was more substantial than I imagined a vegetarian dish would be (in a good way).
The menu is full of other dishes I'd like to try. A few potential highlights: pan-fried momo (dumplings) with chicken or beef, spinach, celery, ginger, garlic, and cilantro; spinach soup with tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger, and lime juice; and tomato mango salad with red onion, green apple, cilantro, and lime juice. The menu does seem to lean heavily on the ginger/garlic/cilantro/onion combo of flavors, but fortunately, it tastes good!
Bonus recommendation: Joel says the mango lassi is great.