Restaurant Review: Old Tbilisi Garden

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Red Alert! Greenwich Village is turning into a nest of Soviets! Only a few months after Ariana (the last restaurant I reviewed) set up shop on Houston Street, Old Tbilisi Garden opened its doors on Bleecker Street in the exact same block. (Not to mention the Langos Truck that’s been corrupting NYU youth, one greasy flat bread at a time…)

Old Tbilisi Garden has a pedigree that shouldn’t be totally new to my readers. Apparently, part of the team is comprised of none other than the former owners of Tbilisi in Brooklyn, which I reviewed here a few years ago. After selling their old restaurant and spending some time in the kitchen at Oda House, they moved to their new digs in July.

Georgian Cuisine - Old Tbilisi Garden Continue reading

Stuffed Vegetable Shashlyks, Eggplant and Zucchini Caviar

So you spent your summer preparing exotic shashlyks on the mangal. Making a döner kebab holds no secrets for you anymore. You’ve mastered the art of the lyulya-kebab, whether with meat or potatoes. And now you’re wondering: what else could you possibly put on a skewer to further defy gravity? How about stuffed vegetables, skewered transversely with their stuffing hanging dangerously over the hot coals?

This is more than just a dare, of course — it also makes for a delicious kebab! The idea again comes from Stalik Khankishiev, who briefly mentions it in Bazar, Kazan i Dastarkhan without giving an exact recipe. Thanks to yours truly, you’ll now have exact proportions and instructions, and you don’t even need to learn Russian.

Stuffed Vegetable Shashlyk

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Tashkent Adventures on MUNCHIES

Just published another article on MUNCHIES a couple days ago: “In Uzbekistan, A Bowl of Greasy Rice Will Make or Break Your Marriage”; or, “Where to eat in Tashkent, everything you need to know about plov, and what the hell is naryn?” (And so far, nobody has commented that if I’d bothered to learn two words of Russian or Uzbek, I wouldn’t mock the traditions of the good Uzbek peoples. Knock on wood.)

Some bonus material! Here is a picture of the plov in one of the giant kazans at the Central Asian Plov Center. Notice the puddle of aphrodisiac grease in the back of the kazan:

Tashkent - Central Asian Plov Centre - Wedding Plov

And for the anecdote…

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Tokaji Wine Review: Tokaji Sauska Aszú Essencia 2003

During numerous trips to the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, I’ve had the opportunity to taste hundreds of Tokaji dessert wines, and I’ve managed to build a small personal collection. With no great claim to being a sommelier, I will share with you my impressions about the wines, and stories about the people who make them.

It’s been too long since my last Tokaji post, but I’ve got a great wine for you. This is not a wine I tasted in Hungary, unlike the others in most of my past reviews, but one that I acquired elsewhere. I tried contacting the winery to ask for photos, but unfortunately they never responded, so you’re stuck with me taking pictures of my Tokaji bottle around my apartment (next time it will be with my favorite Etsy planks, I promise).

Tokaji Sauska Aszú Essencia 2003 Continue reading

Signature Sauce Base: Tomato Jus

When it comes to food photography, one thing you hear over and over is “natural light, natural light, natural light”. This is certainly true, but it doesn’t help me with shooting dinner in a Manhattan apartment. Maybe if I only cooked in July…

Anyway, I’m not alone, and I’ve found some useful, practical, and affordable tips from some bloggers like Pinch of Yum. So I recently acquired a Lowel Ego Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light and a piece of wood modestly called “Naturally Distressed Recycled Rustic Weathered Boards” on Etsy. To celebrate, I decided to do what a certain category of food blogs (usually the ones that swear only by natural light) seems to revel in ad nauseum: a pedestrian recipe with totally superfluous pretty pictures.

Well, not quite pedestrian. Even though you’ll find a few recipes elsewhere, tomato jus isn’t as hackneyed as cupcakes or cinnamon rolls yet. I’ve actually already blogged about it in my Russian pork shashlyk post, and I plan to use it some more. This version is extremely simple — no herbs, no garlic — but it tastes really good, partly because the jus isn’t mixed with stock or any other liquid.

Tomato Jus

Does the world need another picture of tomatoes on wooden planks? Of course it does!

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Bigos, Polish Hunter’s Stew

A national dish of Poland, bigos is a traditional meat-and-cabbage stew, often referred to as a hunter’s stew. The history of bigos stretches back to the 14th century: supposedly, Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila, who became king of Poland, served it to his hunting-party guests. The stew is also mentioned in Pan Tadeusz, an epic poem written by Adam Mickiewicz in the 19th century:

In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell
Of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
One can hear the words buzz, and the rhymes ebb and flow,
But its content no city digestion can know.
To appreciate the Lithuanian folksong and folk food,
You need health, live on land, and be back from the wood.

Without these, still a dish of no mediocre worth
Is bigos, made from legumes, best grown in the earth;
Pickled cabbage comes foremost, and properly chopped,
Which itself, is the saying, will in ones mouth hop;
In the boiler enclosed, with its moist bosom shields
Choicest morsels of meat raised on greenest of fields;
Then it simmers, till fire has extracted each drop
Of live juice, and the liquid boils over the top,
And the heady aroma wafts gently afar.

(You’ll notice that historically, bigos is actually more Lithuanian than Polish!)

Bigos, Polish Hunter's Stew

The recipe’s pretty flexible, but one requirement is that there should be lots of different meats — hence the figurative meaning of bigos in Polish, “big mess”. The more festive the occasion, the more varied the composition. Pork, beef, and lamb are all good, as well as game meats like venison or hare, on account of the hunting connection. Smoked meats are also welcome, whether sausages, bacon, or ham. As for the cabbage, sauerkraut and fresh cabbage, or a mix thereof, are all acceptable.

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Everything You Need to Know about Khachapuri on MUNCHIES

MUNCHIES just published my article on khachapuri: “Georgia’s Cheese Bread Might Be Better Than Pizza”. It covers all the various types of cheese breads you can find in Georgia, from the classic Imeretian khachapuri to the much rarer khabizgini.

To help you orient yourself, I’ve created a map of all the Georgian regions that claim their own local variations of the dish. As you can see, they are pretty much all located in Western Georgia, which makes me wonder if there’s a connection with the historical division between the kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia in antiquity. That is, I wonder if cheese breads descend only from the former.

Khachapuri - Georgian Regions

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Restaurant Review: Toné Café

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Do you remember Georgian Bread? At a time when Georgian restaurants in NYC were a rarity (no Pepela or Oda House back then), this Brighton Beach bakery turned out good khachapuri made from scratch. Fast forward a few years: the former owner has retired, and the bakery, under new ownership (“your new taste”, as the facade brags in approximate English), was extended to include a sit-down restaurant and garden next door. The place is now called Toné Café, after the tandoor (თონე / tone in Georgian) that takes pride of place in the middle of the kitchen.

With all the recent competition, does this forerunner of the New York khachapuri fad still top the podium of cheese bread goodness? Does the place still justify the trek to Brighton? Read on!

Toné Café Continue reading