Size Matters

I think I'm not alone when I say that there are an awful lot of people on the Internet who are concerned about the size of my penis. At least five times a day, I get an e-mail from a worried, helpful citizen informing me that I can increase the size of my penis without surgery or creams (what a relief!).

These offers would not be so disconcerting were it not for the fact that a) I do not actually have a penis, and b) even if I did, I'm not sure that having a larger one would improve the quality of my life. (Now, if I could swap "penis" for the words "house" or "bank account," maybe I wouldn't be so quick to hit "delete.")

Normally I wouldn't mention this phenomenon in such a public forum, except that in some strange way it coincides with a meal I had not long ago, in which I encountered a case of good things in small packages.

Little Nepal (925 Cortland, 643-3881) is the embodiment of the less-is-more philosophy: Everything about this charming, unassuming restaurant is small and well proportioned -- from the name, the country, and the size of the dining room to the dishes, the décor, the chef's ego, and the number of zeroes on the bill.

The only thing larger than life here, in fact, is the chef, Prem Tamang, a man of average height who's overcome gargantuan hurdles to realize his dream of living in America. One of nine children, Tamang hails from the remote village of Tekanpur, east of Katmandu. To help his family, Tamang became a trekking guide and cook, leading climbs in the Himalayas. In 1995 his trekker friends pooled their resources and sponsored a visit for him to San Francisco. In 1997 Tamang returned here and decided to stay, but it wasn't until last month that he was able to save enough money and get the necessary papers to bring over his wife and two young sons -- whom he hadn't seen in six years.

Tamang, along with his cousin Resham, the head (and only) waiter, imbue Little Nepal with a gentle, gracious spirit that begins with a bow and a greeting of "Namaste" when you enter, and carries over to the intimate and inviting menu -- a blend of Indian and traditional Nepalese dishes, with just a hint of Chinese thrown in for diplomacy.

The beneficial effects of moderation are apparent from the start. Each meal begins with a tiny dish of toasted pop-soybeans and beaten rice, which whets your appetite for appetizers. Several of the starters vied for my attention, including the Chhoila (melt-in-your-mouth-tender lamb cubes marinated in cilantro, ginger, garlic, mustard oil, masala, and chilies) and the Momos (a variation on the pot sticker).

But the dish to make a Sherpa weep is Tamang's tandoori, which is similar to, yet wholly distinct from, others I've had in this town. His blend of spices -- strong without being overpowering -- includes olive oil, mustard oil, garlic, ginger, cumin, and yogurt, but very little of the red chili powder that we've come to associate with tandoori dishes. The real secret, he says, is eight to 10 hours of marinating before the meat or fish is seared in the white-hot tandoori oven; the soaking renders the flesh incredibly soft. For the full experience, order the missmass poleko masu, a mixed grill that includes chicken, fish, lamb, and shrimp tossed with onions and bell peppers and delivered in an ample, but not excessive, portion. Those left feeling unsatisfied might consider enlarging their order -- a cheaper and considerably less painful way to enhance one's pleasure.

 
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