Monday, July 11, 2016

Base Camp Cafe, Hanover, NH

On my recent visit to New Hampshire to visit my family, my mom really wanted to go out to dinner. "This kitchen is closed", she said, indicating that she didn't want to cook anymore.
I honestly wasn't excited about the prospects.  I haven't found anywhere nearby that had been worth a return trip.  I had a few places on my list to check out eventually, but they were either fairly fancy or pub food, neither of which I was in the mood for.  We settled on Base Camp Cafe, in nearby Hanover, NH.  Yelp reviews were strong (although I worried this was a novelty thing), and my mother's co-workers had also recommended it to her.

Base Camp Cafe is ... not a cafe.  It is a Nepalese restaurant.  They serve fairly healthy food, with no fried items, and plentiful vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.

Nepalese cuisine was actually new to all of us.  My parents don't have much exposure to cuisine besides "American" and "Italian", so this isn't surprising (during this trip I taught them what samosas were, what empanadas were, what wontons are ...), but, it is a bit amazing that I haven't managed to have Nepalese cuisine yet.  I've had my eye on a place in San Francisco, but, just haven't made it yet.

Anyway, overall, it was a very lackluster meal.  Even if Nepalese food isn't inherently something I like (which, I really have no idea if it is or isn't), this food didn't seem very well prepared.

The Space

Downstairs Entrance.
The restaurant is located down in the basement level of a small mall, next to an oriental restaurant.
Interior.
The decor gave us something to talk about, as it was fairly unique.  Tile floors, brightly painted walls, colorful curtains.  Hanging on the wall were paintings, face masks, drums, and statues of buddha.

All tables were square tables set for 4, with fold down leaves to turn them into slightly bigger round tables.  The tables were shiny laminated wood, a bit tacky.  A single paper napkin and basic silverware was provided on the table.

A full far occupied a fairly large portion of the room.

The place certainly had atmosphere, but, it felt a bit tacky.

Drinks

The alcoholic drink selection included basic wine by the glass or bottle, beer (including non-alcoholic and gluten-free options), plus whiskey, liqueurs, and a couple special cocktails (mostly sake based).  Non-alcoholic choices were lassis, soda, lemonade, limeade, fresh crushed ginger soda, coffee, tea, chai, cucumber coolers, and virgin mojitos.
Base Camp Ginger Vodka. $9.
"Fresh ginger muddled with vodka lime, simple syrup, and soda."

For a drink, I selected the ginger vodka, thinking it would be light and refreshing.  Fresh ginger!  Lime and soda!  Plus, with so many custom cocktails (alcoholic and not), it seemed to be a focus of the restaurant.

But ... what I got was a glass of simple syrup.  I just can't describe how sweet this was.  I tried mixing it up.  I tried diluting it with water.  No matter what I did, it was just way, way, way too sweet.

It did have some bits of ginger floating in it, but I didn't taste any ginger.  I also didn't taste the lime.  I did sorta taste some vodka, but it was really harsh.

So, harsh and way too sweet.  I gave up after forcing down about half of it, as it was just really not enjoyable in any way.

My mom went for a mojito, available with rum or sake, plus the expected lime juice, simple syrup, and fresh mint.  She opted for rum, as she hasn't ever had sake.  She took one sip, and made a comment about how she'd never be able to finish it.  She took another, and made another comment about how she was going to be drunk with one more sip.  I assumed she was just being silly, and tried a sip.  Wow.  It was ... basically rum with some mint in it.  I guess it was sweet too, so, there was simple syrup in it, but, wow it was strong.  I thought perhaps it wasn't mixed up, and tried to mix it, or take a sip from a different level in the glass.  It didn't matter.  It was just crazy strong throughout.  I actually kinda liked it, but, wow, booze.  She didn't even come close to finishing, and tried watering it down with tap water.

Appetizers

The appetizer menu consists of momos and chhoila.  Since people rave about the momos, I was certainly planning to order them, and had 8 choices.  Base Camp Cafe allows you to mix and match, so, you can try more than one kind without needing to order a full order of 8.  I appreciated this, since we wanted just one order and I was hard pressed to pick just one.
Flat Herbed Bread. $3.
The bread is listed on the menu as a side dish, alongside steamed rice, pickles, and yogurt, so, I expected it to come alongside our meal.  Instead, it arrived first, before our appetizer even.

I ordered it thinking it might be a bit like naan, and, knowing I don't really like rice, I wanted it to dip into my curry.  Alas, it was served long before our entrees.

Anyway, the bread was fairly unremarkable.  It was topped with some herbs, served lukewarm.  The herb spread on the side was fine, cold, herby, but not particularly interesting.

Overall, just, uninteresting.
Vegetable Mo Mo (Left). Paneer & Spinach Mo Mo (Right). $9.
"Momos are popular anytime food in Nepal. These little delicately seasoned steamed dumplings  can be served in miss and match different varieties. Let’s start the Journey."

Since I knew my dad wouldn't eat buffalo, boar, or seafood, and neither of us wanted lamb, goat, or chicken, we had only two choices: paneer & spinach (vegetarian) or vegetable (vegan).  We got them both, since we could.

Momo are basically the Nepalize version of a dumpling, like steamed gyoza.  They were a bit slimy, and very doughy, lots of dough on top at the folds.  I don't think these were particularly well made.  I've never had momo before, but, assuming they are judged similar to Chinese dumplings or Italian pastas, these just weren't well done.

The paneer and spinach version was my favorite, it was filled with a decent amount of chopped spinach and some crumbled paneer.  They were ... fine.  My mother also preferred this one.

The vegetable ones just had a ball of rather dry mush inside.  I think it involved chickpea.  Sorta like the inside of a falafel.  I didn't like this one at all, but, my dad liked it more than the spinach and paneer.

The momo were served with a dipping sauce that I couldn't quite identify.  I sorta wanted it to be many things, like a peanut sauce (thinking more thai style), or a soy/vinegar base (Chinese), or coconut based ... just, anything other than it was.  It was really kinda boring, although it had a slight kick to it.

So, overall, fairly lackluster.  I don't think the momo were made very well, and, there just wasn't much flavor or interest here.

Entrees

Entrees came in 4 categories: stir fry noodles (tofu, veggie, mushroom, chicken, or shrimp), grilled meats and seafoods (wild boar ribs, lack of lamb, cashew coated haddock, salmon on asparagus, mustard coated tilapia), tarkari curries (15 varieties, half of them vegetarian, including things like jack fruit), and chilies (13 varieties, even more exciting protein options like duck and buffalo).

Since the tarkari and chilies seemed clearly the focus of the menu, we opted for one of each.  I found it interesting that some items, like buffalo, were only available in a chili.  Similarly, some items, like jackfruit or plaintains, only as tarkari.  I don't claim to know these dishes, but, it seemed a bit strange.

There is actually one more category of entree, where you can pick any of the mo mos, and turn it into an entree by adding tarkari ($9 more) or chili ($10 more).
Plantain Tarkari. Level 6. $15.
"All tarkari meals are cooked on our delicious tomato base curry sauce with different fresh vegetables, which is light and healthy with Basmati rice."

My mom and I had our eyes on several of the grill items, but decided on a tarkari instead, as it seemed more traditional, and is what I had read many reviews about.  Many of the 15 choices sounded good to me, but in the end, I narrowed it down to the Eggplant Basil Paneer, Jackfruit, or Plantain.  Since I had eggplant the night before, and had just purchased paneer at the grocery store to cook up the next day, I had to rule that out.  Jackfruit sounded too odd for my mom.  So, plantain it was.

Along with the plantain, our dish had chunks of onion, red and green peppers, zucchini, small pieces of eggplant, a couple carrot batons, and a single snap pea.  I found the ingredient distribution quite curious.  A single snap pea?  Only a few chunks of eggplant?  And more onion and peppers than the signature plantain?  The veggies were all cut to inconstant sizes and were cooked to varying levels of success.

Most of our onion was a bit raw still, quite harsh.  It kinda ruined your palette when you got a taste.  I didn't care for the way too plentiful bell peppers, since I don't really like bell peppers.  The squash was unremarkable, fairly large chunks.

The carrot batons were my second favorite item, they were undercooked and a bit crunchy, which I liked.  I did really like the soft eggplant bits, and wished there was more of it.

The plantain was soft and mushy, a bit sweet.  It was really, really strange with the tomato base.  Plantains and tomato just didn't quite work for me.  Think ... spaghetti sauce with mushy bananas in it.

Speaking of the tomato base, it really reminded me of spaghetti sauce, spicy spaghetti sauce.  Ojan makes a spaghetti sauce that is honestly near identical to this, even down to the veggies.  He puts carrots, onions, bell peppers, squash, and sometimes eggplant in his too.

And that is where I had my problem with the dish.  I didn't want spaghetti sauce with a side of rice.  I think I would have enjoyed it far more over pasta.  But, with rice as a side?  It just didn't work for me.

Speaking of the rice.   It was horrible!  And I'm really not a rice snob.  But it was just a ball of mush.  On top was a little of the green sauce like we had with the bread.  At first I thought there wasn't going to be nearly enough rice, as the ratio of veggies to rice looked totally off, but, since the rice was so bad, neither my mom nor I wanted it.

I'm sorry to all the Nepalese I have offended here, but, this wasn't a dish for me.  I love plantains, but, cooked down like this as just soft mushy banana, and mixed with spicy spaghetti sauce, is not how I want plantains.  And I don't want spaghetti sauce with rice.  That all said, the execution was also fairly poor in this case.  I imagine that good versions of this dish have more consistently cooked veggies and not mushy rice?  But I still wouldn't have liked it.

The portion was quite large, my mother and I split the entree (along with the apps and stealing a bit of my dad's) and didn't finish it.  It was also too spicy for her, but, I thought the level 6 spice was perfect, spicy enough to be a bit interesting, but not a problem in any way.

The website states that "on the every plate we serve sixty percent of fresh seasonal crunchy vegetables, thirty percent of freshly cooked protein and ten percent of carbohydrates."

That explains the small pile of rice compared to the veggies, but, I'm not sure how the 30% protein applies to our choice, or, really, to most of the vegetarian options, as potatoes, eggplant, and jackfruit have nearly as little protein as plantains, right?
Potato Chili.  Level 6. $14.
"Our chilies are not like typical chilies but the sautéed blend of different fresh chilies in sesame seed oil, olive oil, vinegar, red wine and varieties of spices. Very Traditional! Served with steamed basmati rice."

My dad opted to try a chili instead.  Since he doesn't like literally any of the 13 choices besides potatoes, well, potato it was.  For reference, his other choices were lamb, chicken, chicken mushroom, buffalo, wild boar, calamari, goat, duck, shrimp, mushroom, tofu, and sweet potato.

At first glance, the takari and chili dishes looked quite similar, but, on closer inspection, they were quite different.

Both were served with a little mound of the awful rice.  The portion of rice to chili also seemed off in this dish.  I think the rice portion was actually fine, as much as someone should eat in a sitting anyway, but everything else was a bit super-sized for an entree for one.

Along with the expected cubes of potato, his dish also had mushrooms (which he pushed aside), onions, bell peppers, and one single chunk of green onion.  It had no tomato based sauce like ours, but instead had lots of visible chili flakes.

We both opted for Level 6 spice, but, his was much spicier.  The spicing was fine, spicy, yes, but not too much at all.  It also wasn't the most interesting spice.

His veggies were all cooked fine.

Really, a quite unremarkable dish.  I have nothing more to say about it.  It was fine, but, totally boring.  My dad deemed it "eatable".

Dessert

As always, the dessert lineup called out to me, and, I was glad to see it on the main menu when we ordered our meal.  This allowed me to plan to not stuff myself full of food, so I could save room for dessert (although, ok, I always plan on getting dessert, don't I?).  There were several items I was interested in, all mostly unfamiliar.

The chia seed pudding was the only one I really didn't want, since I dislike chia.  I thought I probably didn't want the "Sikarani Dessert", described as homemade yogurt and spices, "Everbody's favorite".  It sounded potentially too savory, although, creamy and pudding-like, which I do like.  If others wanted it, I certainly would have tried the "Dudh Kurauni", homemade cottage cheese in a saffron spiced milk.  I probably wouldn't love it, but, it sounded different.  But, the one I really wanted to try was a seasonal special, "Blueberry Haluwa", described as a combination of semolina, blueberry, and coconut.  Served warm.  Normally for special occasions.  It sounded like warm semolina pudding.  Yum.  I love puddings.

Alas, my poor mother said her mouth was on fire and she needed ice cream to make up for it.  She didn't want to stay for dessert there.

So, what is a girl to do?  Well, obviously go get ice cream, but, first, order the rice pudding to go.  Regular rice pudding isn't as exciting as the other options, but, I knew it would keep fine until the next day.
Kheer. $5. [ Takeout ]
"A Simple pleasure. Uncomparable."

The rice pudding was delivered to our table within moments of my ordering it.  They clearly must have some already packaged for takeout orders.

And of course, I tried a bite right away.  Sure, we were going to go get ice cream, so I'd mostly keep it for the next day, but, I couldn't resist trying it.

It ... wasn't good.  The rice was short grain (and possibly cut?), really mushy.  There were sliced almonds and bits of perhaps pistachios (or maybe it was all almond?) throughout.  A little saffron on top.  It wasn't particularly creamy, but at least it wasn't watery.  The flavor wasn't remarkable in any way.  But the mushy texture was just horrible.

I tried it again the next morning for breakfast.  I felt the same way.  Too mushy, not creamy.

I tried it the next night for dessert, thinking perhaps I just wasn't in the mood before.  Still, no.  I tried warming it up.  If anything, it was worse.

My mom tried a bite and didn't like the spicing.  The spicing didn't bother me, but, wow, that texture sure did.  I tried to serve it to my sister the next day, thinking that maybe she'd like it (hey, we all have our different preferences!), but, my mom wouldn't let me.  She threw it out, saying I was mean to try to feed something gross to my sister.

The serving was rather small, a small size deli container, not even full.  For the same cost as dine-in, $5, which at least at the restaurant is a parfait glass full of pudding.  It seemed a bit cheap.

I obviously wouldn't get this again, and I guess I'm glad we didn't get it at the restaurant, as I would have felt compelled to finish it.
Base Camp Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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