Traktir report -- very long!
Four of us enjoyed an interesting and delicious meal at Traktir the other night, thanks to the always-informative San Francisco Chowhounds. All the prepared dishes were flavorful and well-balanced, and I recommend Traktir for pretty much anyone who isn't allergic to nuts.
We had a reservation but probably didn't need it, as the restaurant was busy but never full throughout our meal. The room is fully lit and fairly spare, decorated with three monitors showing Russian television and posters from the old Washington Square Bar and Grill. There is a small, comfortable looking bar in the rear.
One of our party, John, speaks Russian and lived in Tbilisi for five years, so we left the choosing and ordering to him. The server brought bread right away, and it was fine but not as chewy and delicious as Russian bread can be. We started with five appetizers that John thought would be good examples of Georgian food: a bowl of shredded beets that were dressed with yogurt, garlic, a hint of lemon juice and garnished with flat-leaf parsley; a bowl of "red caviar" (a.k.a. salmon roe) that we enjoyed spread on buttered bread; sliced eggplant wrapped around a paste of ground walnuts (and probably yogurt or mayonnaise) and thin slices of red bell peppers; kidney bean Lobio that was beans in a thick, walnutty dressing; and finally a plate of tomatoes, red pepper slices, olives, cucumber and chunks of feta. The vegetable plate was hurt by the out-of-season vegetables and canned olives, but the other dishes were delicious, particularly the beets and Lobio. The beet dish was not on the English menu--thanks to John's ability to read Russian, we ordered it off the banquet menu printed in Russian. As it was a highlight, I recommend others ask for it.
We then shared two entrees, a Tabaka of game hen and a pork kebab. The Tabaka is a classic Georgian dish, made from a small chicken or other bird split and pressed flat to cook with lots of garlic. The skin was crisp and well-seasoned, and the meat was moist and flavorful. The plate also came with yellow rice pilaf and a peeled, roast tomato. John said this dish tasted just as it would in Georgia. The pork was skewered and grilled and came with thinly-sliced french fries and a tomato. We also remembered that we had ordered another appetizer, chicken Satsivi, that had not yet come to the table, and the server brought it right away. This was a bowl of shredded chicken in a thick, bright yellow dressing made from ground walnuts, garlic, egg yolk, dried marigold petals and some kind of curry spices, probably
coriander and fenugreek. This was also very good and quite rich.
Not too rich for us to order two blintzes for dessert, one cheese and one cherry, which we enjoyed with glasses of lemon tea. We also put away two bottles of Georgian red wine (Saperavi and Mukuzani), which were good, straightforward complements to the food. The two servers were very warm and competent, and I felt very much welcomed by them even though we were the only English speakers in the restaurant throughout our meal. The bill for four of us, before tax and tip, came to $96 and change, which seemed very reasonable.
All in all, a fun change of pace.