"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tbilisi - Sometime in March, 2010

Whenever I meet someone from another country, or pretty much anyone who seems to have an opinion or two about food (instinct, it is called), I ask, "What is your favorite restaurant?" as in, "How do you do?" in the good old days. There is one type of people that I have had many occasions to converse on the issue of national cuisines: the taxi drivers. My driver that day seemed to be a stereo-typical Russian macho man (how could I tell? He made me wait while he finished his cigar in leisure). Being in a rare good humor, his act of insolence did not annoy me too much to ask my usual question when I found out that he was, in fact, from Georgia, "So, where can I get good Georgian food?" The driver gushed out his love for Tbilisi on Kings Highway in Brooklyn, while I was ever dutifully taking notes on my iPhone. A true patriot, he made sure that I took down each and every dish he had recommended, and also threw in a quick language course for free (yes, he corrected my pronunciation of khachapuri, Chaqapuli and Khinkali, for the next 40 blocks home). By the time I got out of the car, I had acquired a list of Georgian dishes that I just had to try and a enough vocabulary to survive in a Georgian restaurant.

After a full day in Brighton Beach (confined to those several blocks with Russian grocery stores; I had no idea where the beach was and did not care), I was finally making my way over to Tbilisi with two big bags full of Russian goodies (i.e. smoked fish, meats, sausages, rose hip jam). What appeared to be mere several blocks turned out to be 45 minutes of trekking in the dark. Why do they not have street lights out there? By the time, street lights appeared in my view, I felt like I was seeing a mirage: Please do not let it disappear.

Upon entering the restaurant, I found that we were the only customers on this particular Saturday night. There was a stage with miniature mirror ball on the ceiling. The place was deserted. (Later, a couple came in where the first words of greeting were: "Not much business, huh?" Nothing can discourage a true Au Gourmand, I sat down and proceeded to order exactly the dishes recommended by the taxi driver (he would have been proud of my pronunciation, too).

Eggplant with Walnut (No, he did not give me the Georgian name, unfortunately.)

These grilled (I think) eggplant slices with walnut paste were surprisingly flavorful. Had I spend another hour with my Georgian driver, I am sure we would have moved on to "Georgia 102: How to cook like a Georgian." However, since my home-bound trip that night were only 20 minutes, we did not have time to dive into the culinary arts discussion.

Khachapuri Imretian

Very simple: This is nan filled with mozzarella. Our waiter, a rather cute Georgian (I think) male, who later started singing Georgian (I think) karaoke as entertainment, accompanied by the mirror ball and at other times by a Georgian (I would imagine) female (who was the kind of people you want to avoid going to karaoke with), did explain that they used a combination of a few cheeses; of which, I only remember the mozzarella. Was it good? Of course! Why would a mozzarella filled nan by bad? But considering the calorie count and the remoteness of the restaurant (it may as well be in Georgia), will I ever eat this again? I doubt it.


Veal in tarragon sauce. This was delightfully done - tender cubes of veal (with bone-to-meat ratio of 1:1) stewed in a tarragon sauce.
Question: What do you think this is?
Answer: Not what you think (i.e. Chinese soup dumplings).
Khinkali is the name of these beef dumplings, which are boiled (not steamed like the soup dumplings). I suppose human creativity in terms containing minced meat in dough has reached a uniformity in different regions of the world. (When one Japanese monkey realized that washing sweet potatoes in ocean made his sweet potatoes much more enjoyable, other Japanese monkeys started to mimic the first monkey chef. When the number of monkeys reached a critical mass, or a tipping point, monkeys half a globe away, also spontaneously started washing their food in the ocean.)
OK, OK, you want to know whether it was good. I regret to report that these do not come even close to the soup dumplings (the good ones anyway). The dough is too hard (boiled - so it has to be tough to withstand it) and the meat is just meat. What else can I say about such dumplings? I can recommend a really good soup dumplings, if you will ask nicely.

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