Momo Cha (Detroit, MI)

With my yearly trips to Detroit, it’s been interesting to see that the Detroit dining scene is anything but stagnant; every trip seems to have a fresh set of new dining and drinking options opening up (and the occasional closures as well). Two relatively recently-opened venues (from different owners) have been trying variations on the “food court” model: Fort Street Galley and Detroit Shipping Company in which they construct a shared dining area with a lot of smaller kitchens and a cocktail bar, trying to appeal to the younger professional crowd while making some opportunities for new restaurateurs. In the former case, a converted Federal Reserve Bank hosts 4 restaurants. It’s been a bit shaky: in my three visits to Fort Street Galley, I’ve seen complete turnover of the food businesses, and the beer bar converted to a craft cocktail bar, but it does seem to continue to offer good food and drink.

In the latter case, it’s been a bit more successful: the Detroit Shipping Company set up shop on Peterboro street, which in pre-Interstate Detroit was the center of the city’s Chinatown (there are a few subtle references to Chinatown remaining architecturally, and one restaurant, the Peterboro, is new but also recognizes the heritage). Detroit Shipping Company is named such because the venue is created from shipping containers, stacked up to make two multi-level dining areas, one inside, and one outside. “Shipping containers” sounds pretty industrial, but the overall ambiance is actually quite nice, and the dining areas nicely appointed. In the indoor food dining area, the periphery is surrounded by four dining counters (and one more upstairs); on my visit Brujo (a taco joint), Bangkok 96 (Thai), Coop Caribbean (Caribbean Fusion), -320 degrees (Coffee and pastries), and Momo Cha. While members of my party partook of all of these, I primarily focused on Momo Cha.

I picked Momo Cha because I’ve always rather liked Nepalese food, and in one of the odder demographic quirks of my home in New Hampshire, we’ve got two Nepalese places that I regularly visit (Hanover’s Base Camp, and Manchester’s Cafe Momo), and I always adore the flavors of their food (Nepalese gundruk soup is one of my favorite soups ever). Detroit Shipping Company’s Momo Cha primarily focuses on momos: Nepal’s version of the dumpling: delicate little pockets of meat or vegetable served up steamed or fried with a chutney on the side. Momo Cha is particularly flexible in their ordering of these, allowing you to order 4 or 8 momos, mixing and matching with protein (chicken, pork, or vegetarian), preparation (fried or steamed), and chutney (mint-cilantro, tomato-cilantro, or tomato-sesame, the last having a vibrant yellow character). I opted for four chicken and four pork, both fried, with the green mint and yellow sesame chutneys. Both momos were very nicely done: the pork and chicken both having moist interiors, a nice masala-spice tang, and a bit of herb (ginger for the pork, cilantro for the chicken). The wrappers were nicely pan-fried; they’ve got the basic “potsticker” cooking down pat. And the chutneys? The mint reminded me of a typical Indian green chutney, but the yellow was a nice, bold, turmeric-and-sesame forward sauce that I rather enjoyed. I’d happily come back for more of these.

I also did a side of their “chaat fries”: french fries served up chaat-style with house-made chutneys, tart yogurt, onions, tomatoes and herbs. I actually enjoyed these a fair bit, but to be honest, the fries themselves were a bit underwhelming. Honestly, I think I would have just preferred more straightforward samosa-style chaat. If you’re searching out fries, hop over two booths to the Co-op Caribbean Fusion place for their loaded fries, which had much nicer fries underneath; I’ve love their fries with the chaat toppings…. Hmmm.

Finally, we ordered a snack of chicken choila, roasted chicken shredded and flavored with chili, ginger-garlic, green onion and turmeric, served up cold with crunchy rice and fresh veggies. I’ve had a choila before with buffalo, and rather enjoyed it, but this was a mixed bag. The chicken was definitely flavorful and nicely roasted, but being served cold, it was a bit off texture-wise; I think I’d like to have something a bit moisture to round out the texture. I wouldn’t hesitate to try this again, however; the flavors were definitely spot-on.

Overall, Momo Cha was quite enjoyable. The basic concept of the Detroit Shipping Company makes for a nice venue, and the relatively simple menu of Momo Cha allows them to focus on something they do really well: momos. I’d certainly love to come back, and do a bit of mix-and-matching with some of the other food vendors to make a nice fusion meal.

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