Outer Borough Chow Hounds!
I'm planning an expedition to NYC outer boroughs in the next month to find authentic Khachopouri (Georgian Cheese Bread) in Queens/Brooklyn. I'm looking for the real deal - a georgian cafe experience with khachopouri and all the fixin's (lobio, shashlik, etc etc).
Any and all information will be most appreciated.
Not to play hide-the-ball, but if were a subscriber to Jim Leff's weekly Chow Alert -- which you should already be -- you'd have read this morning about Brooklyn khachapuri (his spelling) so good, he calls it "the magical vanising Georgian cheesebread of Avenue U." A hint -- it's on Avenue U.
Here's the article from Chow Alert. This issue also included rundowns on what Jim suspects may be the best Vietnamese in NYC, a promising Turkish, a report on Cambodian Cuisine, and extended information about a really interesting web project. Chow Alert is both entertaining and informative. Subscribe via link below. Proceeds pay our server bill.
Ludmila's Home Made Food, aka Russian Style Ravioli (813 Avenue U, between East 8th & 9th Sts, Brooklyn NY; 718-787-0120) is my latest infatuation, highly craveable. You must go.
They do all manner of Russian (or, more accurately, Soviet block) dumplings and savory pastries, as well as more serious fare like fish dishes and veal meatballs (served with fascinating looking ultra luxurious mashed potatoes I'm dying to try).
But so far I've only tried snackier items like khachapuri, a cheesy quesadilla-like Georgian specialty. The ones here strike an exact midpoint between buttery and cheesey, so precisely balanced between the two that it's neither one nor the other but a unique sensation of cosmically integrated buttery cheesiness. In spite of its formidability (it's a big undainty slab), the khachapuri is amazingly light and oh-so-consumable - the sort of thing one inhales in an instant. Our khachapuri literally disappeared. The magical vanishing Georgian cheesebread of Avenue U.
Samsa, from Central Asian Republic (i.e. the -stans), are linguistically and culinarily related to samosa, being crumbly pastry stuffed with ground meat and such. Here, the stuffing is an evocative triad of chopped meat, onion, and black pepper that irresistibly transports you to the old world. The filling by itself is a wonder (and makes you realize that you must order pelmeny, which thrive on such filling), but the wondrously crumbly pastry seals it. You are smitten. I've had a number of samsa in Rego Parkistan, and hit nary a dud, but these are a whole other level. They're classy and deft, yet soulful and haimish.
The restaurant's eponymous ravioli are, of course, pelmeny. I had Siberian pelmeny, which contain a variety of meats (my understanding is that Russians say "Siberian" when pelmeny contain at least some pork). Like other offerings here, they're staunchly unrevisonist but of uncommon quality. They're served in a big bowl, and the kitchen uses a very restrained hand with the butter and dill (sour cream comes on the side). They don't need much, being amazing on their own.
Vareniki (larger dumplings, like pierogi), too, are terrific. Tender. Flavorful. Addictive. I tried potato and an interesting one stuffed with fried cabbage. Both came with a few tossed-in curls of carmelized onion.
Chebureks are miraculous. This was the sole item I've not tried before, so I can't say with confidence where the chef's brilliance ends and intrinsic cheburek brilliance begins. Anyway, this item from the Caucasus is a large half-circle fried empanada/turnover, stuffed with meat and vegetables and drenched in buttery/garlicky gravy. I feared a heavy, squalid burden. The cheburek itself looks unappealing, flatly brown and unflaky. It's mammothly heavy looking, and drenched to the point of almost total sog. But though it is indeed heavy and sodden, it's good enough to induce moaning. Like a steak, it's substantial but deeply rewarding. The butter sauce is not merely a sloppy cholesterol bomb, it's a lovely well-balanced counterpart to the pastry. The garlic is more aromatic than fierce. And I can't say what the cheburek itself tasted like because the gestalt made it unanalyzable. One is hypnotized into consumption, and cannot pause to consider until long after the last bite is gone. My mind was not part of the process. Cheburek is mystery.
They also make Khinkali, large Georgian soup dumplings. They look perfect, with their doughy buttons built in for hoisting and soup-sucking, but had ran out just before we ordered.
The chicken Kiev looked ***AMAZING***.
Food critics, who'll almost surely descend, will probably try to pin Uzbek or Georgian labels on this place, because they offer a few things from those regions. But just as American coffee shops might offer gumbo, New England clam chowder, or barbecued spare ribs, these are all regional dishes that have become part of the modern Russia repertoire. And Ludmila's is a modern place, hip to far-flung foodways and the latest cross-pollinations.
The room itself is utterly unlike any other Russian eatery - bright, cheerful and informal, it's the sort of place one could comfortably eat at alone with a newspaper. But it's also crowded, and bristles with an energetic buzz and fast-hustling waiters - the sort of electricity that signals a great meal. The crowd's all Russian, ranging from groups of teens to scary looking dudes with gorgeous blonde dates. It's definitely a youthful spot, though. No babushkas or Soviet languor. Waiters are friendly and speak decent English (and there are English menus) but the pace is too brisk to ask them too many questions. But on the basis of my meal (plus spying of dishes being brought around), I doubt there are any duds here. Experimentation comes easily, as prices are amazingly cheap.
Russian Style Ravioli has a takeout shop a couple of doors down, selling everything on the menu plus some fancy cakes and nice looking sweet pastries. Hours: Sun-Thurs: 11 am - 10 pm; Fri-Sat: 11 am - 10 pm.