A Valencia Street restaurant space that’s been dark since the sudden closure of hip Indian eatery Babu Ji in December will come back to life as Nepalese restaurant and bar Dancing Yak. The new family-run business will open at 280 Valencia within the next few weeks, co-owner Suraksha Basnet tells Eater SF, promising momos and cocktails modeled after the world’s highest mountain peaks.
When the lights went out last year, Babu Ji chef Jessi Singh framed the closure as partial, a move toward a delivery-only restaurant model. But Babu Ji soon quit SF altogether as Jessi Singh and partner Jennifer Singh took their efforts to Santa Barbara, where they opened Indian wine bar Bibi Ji earlier this year with longtime Michael Mina sommelier Rajat Parr. Babu Ji still operates a New York City location, where it grew to prominence, though that branch is now owned by mega-restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow.
Babu Ji’s replacement, Dancing Yak, comes from Basnet, her mother Tara, father Saroj, and brother Satish, who purchased the 280 Valencia business from the Singhs. “If you go into a restaurant in Kathmandu, this is what you’ll see there,” Basnet, who brings restaurant experience from The House in North Beach, says of their new business.
It was easy to convince her family to open a restaurant — her dad had always been interested in the business, Basnet says — but harder to sell them on serving authentic Nepalese food. “A lot of Nepalese restaurants that also serve Indian food are holding onto the Indian aspect of Nepalese food,” says Basnet. “They don’t want to take the risk.”
But for her part, Basnet thinks diners are more than ready to embrace Dancing Yak’s momos (popular Nepalese dumplings) and traditional platters of items like rice, mustard greens, and potatoes, plus appetizers like pork chili, sautéed pork belly, and vegetarian options like mushrooms and peanuts. At the sizable bar area, Dancing Yak will serve drinks including eight cocktails named for Nepal’s highest mountains, including one, Everest, with an avalanche of crushed ice.
Dancing Yak will also move past once-requisite aspects of Nepalese decor. “It’s going to be Nepali food in a very Californian environment,” Basnet says. Don’t expect prayer flags, for example, but do look out for exciting decor from local artists. Music will be modern with some Nepalese hits. And a nook of the restaurant will be given over to books on Nepal and trekking maps: Basnet says she’s happy to “serve as a basecamp” for non-Nepalese diners to learn all about Nepal.