"The first sip is joy, the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy," wrote Jack Kerouac about a traditional tea ceremony in Dharma Bums, his rambling manuscript of meditation, mountain-climbing and Buddhism. From the multiple Buddhas adorning the room to the embroidered Tibetan endless knots on tablecloths to the background jazz to the uninterrupted panorama of the Foothills from the windows, Kerouac probably would have been comfortable at the Shangri-La Tea House and certainly would have enjoyed the tea.
Much like the fictional city, Shangri-La's location eludes would-be discoverers but this is part of its off-the-beaten-track appeal. Shangri-La offers a small bastion of serenity hidden away in a gray office complex at the headwaters of Overland. Look for the prayer flags.
For the vegetarian, dining options in Boise are slim. Non-meat entrees are frequently an afterthought for many Boise menus. Shangri-La breaks this norm and lays claim to Boise's only exclusively vegetarian menu. Additionally, Shangri-La features a wide selection of teas from across the world that are mixed on site and blended into custom concoctions. After debating on several around-the-world choices, my date and I decided on a pot of Egyptian Sunset ($4), a red herbal with just a hint of fruit, which was brought to the table and left to steep atop a hotplate of candles. Additionally, agave nectar was provided to sweeten our tea to taste.
The feeling of Shangri-La is one that takes different traditions, culinary and cultural, and finds common ground. The food menu features an assembly of soups, sandwiches and salads, which, like the teas, draw inspiration from around the globe—from the Mediterranean to the American Southwest. I settled on the curry wrap ($5.95)—a mix of tofu, potatoes and red peppers, cooked in a yellow curry sauce and wrapped in a tortilla. Initially, I had some skepticism as to whether the priority of this Indian/Mexican hybrid dish was eclecticism above flavor, but my doubts were assuaged and I was pleased to find that it delivered. The wrap had the familiar feel of munching on a burrito but with the lively bite of curry adding some flair. The curry had a strong, commanding flavor; however, next time, I'll request it a touch spicier.
My date ranked her falafel sandwich ($5.95) as among the best falafel she's tasted in Boise, and after stealing a bite, I agreed with her. The falafel was crisp and uncompromising with the savory flavor of fried fava waiting just beyond. Furthermore, Shangri-La tops it off with some first-rate homemade tzatziki sauce. I was first introduced to the falafel from vendors on the streets of Amsterdam and ever since, I've been seeking an equivalent on this side of the Atlantic that satisfies in the same way. I'm hopeful Shangri-La may step up to fill that niche. Even if Shangri-La is not an exclusively Middle-Eastern restaurant, their falafel can hold its own.
Unfortunately, we didn't stay for desert. However, green tea ice cream ($3.50) in particular caught my eye, so a return visit is already in the works. Whether for a cup of tea in a serene atmosphere, or to chow down on some food from across the world, Shangri-La is a place I left feeling as though I'd undoubtedly like to stop by again. Because it is still somewhat below the radar, so to speak, you probably won't have a waiting list for a table, but the regulars there may size you up as though you wandered into a small-town watering hole—albeit, Shangri-La is a much more welcoming establishment than any small-town watering hole I've ever wandered into.
—Mathias Morache eats everything with panache.