EATinton logo: Fred Kalil
Frederick Kalil reviews

Arlington has evidently proven itself a welcoming space for Nepalese restaurants, with at least three by my count situated on Mass. Ave. Most recent to open its doors is Zomsa, and, in case you’re curious, its name means a place to gather with friends. 

Nepalese and Tibetan menus are sometimes expanded to include South Asian cuisine, as here. Having stopped in earlier during the soft opening when just a limited selection was offered, I was impressed by the plethora of items listed now. One recommendation from the owner is for each diner to order a thalii platter that includes choice of entrée with assorted traditional accompaniments.

But I like to dive in at the deep end.

Fortunately, my chosen dining companions are equally game at extending their feelers. If arriving with reinforcements and faced with a panoply of choices, I say go long and go brave. Did I say brave? We all have a Rubicon, and mine is the prospect of Indo-Chinese dishes, even if seeing a plate of noodles en route to a neighboring table did provide food for thought.

I’ll have what they’re having

Chances are, if something looks tasty, it’s a good bet you’ll enjoy eating it. Who hasn’t occasionally darted a furtive glance at what others are eating and decided based on a fleeting visual impression? In this case it’s pretty much the best info you’ll get.

The printed descriptions of dishes are minimal, and queries about ingredients are likely to be retrieved from the kitchen by your server with mixed results. House cocktails are given fanciful titles without further detail; with some ferreting I was able to extract that they’re variations on traditional drinks like the sour, Mai Tai and old fashioned.

A momo and more for lamb lovers

One thing is for sure  -- this chef knows his momos. The dumplings are offered with different fillings and can be steamed, fried, sauced or served jhol-style in a cool soup. Based on trying several, I feel safe in saying you probably can’t go wrong in this area. The ones that are chicken-filled made a good pairing for the tangy jhol broth. Lamb momos ordered steamed came with a dipping sauce but were highly seasoned and could stand well on their own, satisfying our lamb lovers.

Do not forgo trying one of the breads. I can recommend the lachha paratha, almost pancake-like with thin layers and pan-fried to a toothsome crispness on the surface. For something sweeter, go for the peshwari naan. It’s characteristically breadier, baked in a tandoori oven as naan should be and spread inside with coconut. 

From the Indian side of the menu, we were impressed on one visit by a lamb tikka masala in a deep red, silky sauce characterized by tomato and cinnamon yet greater than the sum of its parts. The high-quality meat was tender, the presentation sporting a dollop of ghee at the center. Be advised that medium hot is decidedly more medium than hot and even when requested hot, what was delivered felt like the kitchen overexercised caution in ratcheting up the heat, so levels were virtually indistinguishable. 

Long menu means return visits

As for the rest, the onion chutney here is wonderful: fiery, earthy, fruity. Also deserving of mention is an aromatic, porridgey tomato coconut soup. The palak paneer was creamy, but, if you’re a connoisseur of classic Indian fare, you might find it ordinary. A deeply flavored sauce arriving with the tandoori shrimp won approval; next time I would give the chicken a chance. All felt our fish curry was lacking in liveliness and not differentiated enough from the aloo cauliflower for either to achieve distinction. It may be too early to aver that Zomsa’s strengths are on the Nepali side of the menu without additional tasting, and I’ll happily come back to try the noodles and more. I’ll admit to a quizzical response on seeing tres leches as one of the three desserts, but arguably it deserves to be taken for a spin as well.

On a practical note, the television monitor was running a Jerry Springer episode (“My Pimp Runs My Family” — volume mercifully muted), and the musician among us not unfairly characterized the night’s playlist as “autotune pablum,” so there’s still some work remaining in making adjustments to the environment.

While a certain degree of communications hurdles with the relatively inexperienced servers remain, folks here are friendly and eager to provide a positive experience and in time will gain confidence. One observation at our table was that with so many average restaurants around, the appreciation for “real food made by real people” can be underestimated. 

Zomsa Restaurant and Bar

434 Mass. Ave.

781-230-8456

Open seven days, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

zomsaboston.com


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This review by YourArlington freelancer Frederick Kalil was published Sunday, June 9, 2024.

A resident of Arlington, Kalil has been eating food since birth. Starting from a home in which family cuisine ranged from kibbeh to cretons, he has sought high standards and a world of flavor at his own table and when dining out. After years of writing about dining options for the neighboring Tufts community, he now explores local kitchens for his fellow Arlingtonians.