67-21 Woodside Avenue
Woodside, NY 11377
The thing about Queens, which you see bantered about every time a major publication talks about eating in Queens, is that whatever food you want, it's here. Literally. Every nation in the world has a restaurant here. Ema Datsi serves Bhutanese food. It's probably not the first thing you think of when you get an email from Seamless telling you that they'll give you 15% your next meal, but it probably should be.
Ema Datsi is the kind of place you'd walk past without giving a second glance to. It's nondescript and, looking inside, comes across as a low-rent joint. But here, looks can be deceiving. I picked up Mr. Dogz and Doc and we found our way to the corner table of this Woodside establishment. Above us, a television was playing untiss-untiss-untiss club scenes from a rave. Thousands of co-eds in tight t-shirts were dancing and screaming to the electronica. Behind us, a father of three stared in a trance while his kids scarfed down bowls of soup. By the window, a table of five received a plate of rice so big that you could carve a turkey on it. The menu all but topped out at $10 a plate.
Ema Datsi serves three kinds of food. Bhutanese, Indian, and Tibetan We came for the stuff we can't get on a thousand other streets, so we stuck with Bhutanese. You probably don't know where Bhutan is, so here's a Wikipedia link. It's basically right next to Nepal, north of India. If the entrees are cheap, the appetizers are all but free. We started with Cauliflower Dry (Ema Datsi isn't big on names), a plate of spiced, lightly fried cauliflower with sauteed scallions and onion, because Doc's a vegetarian. It was delicious. Each piece had a hint of crunch with a soft, smooth center. Dogz and I, wanting a bit of meat, ordered the Pepper Chicken Dry, diced chicken with onion, green pepper, and chili peppers in a very spiced (but not hot) sauce. Also very good, but somewhat lighter in flavor than the cauliflower. I never thought that cauliflower would have more taste than meat, even chicken, but there it is. Mind you, this changes once you load your fork with onion and pepper, which you should do.
The entrees began when the waiter brought us each a bowl of seaweed soup. Perhaps you like seaweed. I do not. I took a few sips to remind myself why I disliked seaweed soup, and that was it. Doc's entree was the Kewa Datsi, a potato and pepper dish in a cheese sauce. It was good, and I'm guessing it's authentic because literally, we were the only white people here. They weren't paying rent with Americanized versions of Bhutanese food. But it was like potatoes in a spicy Velveeta sauce. I'm not kidding. Throw in some macaroni and some breadcrumbs and we could see this on a hipster menu without thinking twice. My entree was the Nor Sha Paa Thali (Fresh Beef with String Beans). And that's what it was. Beef strips, with string beans, with some peppers. Along with the little bowl of protein came a bit of rice (the same rice that the other table ordered seven pounds of) a little dab of the herbal cheese, and a bowl of a second kind of soup, this one far far far superior to the seaweed one. A rich potato chowder. Fantastic. I inhaled it in maybe three sips. Sha Kam Datsi Thali (Dry Beef with Cheese) was Dogz's entree. The best way to describe it would be to combine my beef dish with the sauce from Doc's potato cheese dish, swapping out the string beans for green pepper. This was better than mine. The regular "fresh" beef was kind of plain (would yak meat be better? Hmmmm...), but take that meat and smother it in a rich cheese sauce, and there's a Wisconsinite tourist bus heading over the Queensboro Bridge faster than you can say "Scott Walker". None of these dishes were particularly hot, even though we were told that they were and I specifically requested hot, so that was disappointing. But I'd go back. Maybe next time, they'll toss in a few more peppers.
When I say that Ema Datsi is cheap, you might think, yeah but in NYC, a cheap studio will cost six figures. $18 a person, with tax and tip.