Shangrila
Tibetan thangka, an iconographic wall hanging.

The one-l lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-l llama,
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
Three-l lllama.
– Ogden Nash

I eat all this weird crap so you don’t have to.
– Steve Krodman

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I enjoy living in east Cobb County, an area vaguely north-northwest of Atlanta proper, but no place is perfect. When, in 1968, the various metro area counties held referenda to decide whether they would participate in the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, Cobb County voters soundly rejected any participation. Some people will try to tell you that it was a tax issue and that Cobb County residents wished to avoid the 1% sales tax that MARTA would necessitate, but that’s a load of crap. Simply put, the good people of Cobb wanted no part of a transit system that would make it easy for Atlanta city residents — translated loosely as “people of color” — to travel to their county.

Some forty-odd years later, the unintended consequence of this decision is a relative dearth of high-end restaurants in Cobb County. Oh, there are plenty of eateries, make no mistake… but the really good ones all seem to be in neighborhoods closer in to town. My suspicion is that the lower-paid service workers that are essential to a successful restaurant are thin on the ground in our part of Cobb, owing to the cost of real estate and the lack of cheap, easy transportation. If you’re a dishwasher, busboy, or line cook, you can’t afford to live here… and if you don’t have a car, it’s a pain in the ass to get here.

Lately, though, there have been plenty of Chinese and Mexican restaurants opening up hereabouts. It’s not obvious what sort of common ground the Chinese and Mexican culinary traditions share –aside from a love of rice — but it has got to be only a matter of time before they join forces and start selling Chinamex, a sort of joint-venture cuisine that involves soybeans and black beans, stir-fried enchiladas, and huevos foo young.

It seems like every new Chinese place is calling itself a “bistro.” Since almost none of them qualifies as a small place serving simple, inexpensive meals in a modest setting, it seems an odd choice of descriptor… but strange things can happen when East and West collide.

One of these new places — the Shangrila Bistro — is certainly small enough. It’s right behind a local Shell station in a spot formerly occupied by a schpritz-it-yourself car wash and adjacent to the emissions testing shop… probably the last place on the planet you’d think to look for an Asian restaurant. The small dining room, coupled with a dearth of parking, are clues that the main focus of Shangrila is on their take-out business. There’s no beer or wine — an unbistrolike omission — but one that I am prepared to forgive after having tried the food.

The name is a clue that this is not your garden variety Chinese place. It is — of all things — Tibetan. Which means that when your excessively punnophilic Better Half says, “Lhasa go out to dinner,” you now have a place to go.

The manager greeted us warmly when we arrived — the place just opened three days ago — and presented us with traditional Tibetan khatas, long silk scarves traditionally given to guests that appeared to be a Himalayan twist on our familiar tallit.

Tibetan cuisine draws on the traditions of both China and India; lamb dishes were prominently featured on the menu. But my eye was immediately drawn to another meat, one that is intimately associated with things Tibetan. Yak!

Yaksha Shaptak… the other Red Meat.

Yak meat is not easy to come by in the good old U. S. of A., but these boys have found a source. I figured it would be beefy enough, given that a yak is nothing so much as an extremely hirsute buffalo… and I was not disappointed. My Yaksha Shaptak — slices of yak meat stir-fried with potato, onion, bell peppers, tomato, garlic, and cilantro — was superb. The yak itself had a pleasantly substantial texture (tenderloin it ain’t) and an assertive, meaty flavor without a hint of gaminess, altogether reminiscent of bison or grass-fed beef. SWMBO even essayed a bite and pronounced it good.

Whoever thought that I could eat yak — the other Red Meat — right here in the heart of cornbread and collard country? What a world!

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Steve Krodman

Steve Krodman

Steve Krodman, AKA the Bard of Affliction, lives in the steaming suburbs of Atlanta with his wife and two cats. He is partial to good food, fine wine, tasteful literature, and Ridiculous Poetry. Most significantly, he has translated the Mr. Ed theme song into four languages.