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Jun 29, 2007 08:35 PM

Uzbekistan: Lunch with Borat's Neighbors

After every office lunch, the question seems to be, "What's the next place?" The first place was 25 Degrees, then came Lucky Devils - both close to the office, both places my coworkers had never gone - then Mozza, then Palms Thai. So after Palms, the question came up, and my reply was, "Have you guys been to Uzbekistan?" (I already knew the answer: "What's Uzbekistan?")

I hadn't been to Uzbekistan in seven years, but I remembered it fondly. It's been on my I-really-should-go-back-there list. Working so close to it gave me the perfect impetus to return. We loaded the table up family-style, as is probably best at Uzbekistan. The prices can be a little eye-popping, but the portions are generous, and this is food for sharing, anyway. The Asiatic Delight salad was as good as I remembered it from years ago, with roasted red peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and mounds of shredded carrot dressed with a vinaigrette heavy on the fresh dill. The samsa was flaky pastry filled with chunks of lamb and onions and nicely spiced with what might have been a touch of cumin. The seasoning wasn't exactly South Asian or Persian, but it wasn't Russian, either. It was definitely right there between the European and Middle Eastern traditions. The parmuda were baked dumplings with sesame seeds, looking more like a trio of buns, filled with the same lamb filling as the samsa. (I was hoping to get a steamed dumpling I'd had the last time I was there, but I'd misordered. Oops.) The last starter we had were the blini with caviar and sour cream. The blini were actually large thin French-style crêpes, not like the smaller Russian-style blini, and the caviar was salmon caviar, not sturgeon. (At nine dollars, did anyone expect beluga?)

The salad and lamb appetizers were devoured with glee. The blini were more of, well, let's call it a cultural experience. The popping of the salmon eggs in the mouth was quite a topic of conversation, but it was fun to try, and each blin was eaten. The real hit, though, was the Uzbek bread, a round of dense bread, something like a hybrid between yeast bread and a biscuit, that comes with a container of herbed cream cheese placed in a depression made in the dough. A fine meal could be had from one of Uzbekistan's big salads and a round of that marvelous hearty bread.

We were already completely sated, but we still had our two entrees to eat. One of them was the lamb shashlik, four skewers of marinated lamb. Kabobs are nothing original in L.A. given all the Armenians, Lebanese, and Iranians in this city (not to mention the variations made by other ethnicities), but Uzbekistan's shashlik is quality meat, well-flavored, cooked medium and perfectly tender. It's definitely well above what one finds in the food court kabob stand. The shashlik came with roasted zucchini, but the real surprise was the potato, which just looked to be a skinned roasted spud. It was addictive, as if they had found a way to make giant French fries out of a whole potato.

And the second dish was, of course, plov. Anyone who reads any review of this place will almost certainly come across a mention of plov. When I came all those years ago, I got the plov, and my recollection was that it was the one letdown. But it's the iconic dish, the thing to eat. Well, the plov seemed much better this time. I don't know if it's that it was better, or that I was just more disposed to eating it, but I really liked it. We all did. The stewed lamb was sweet, piled atop rice loaded with more shredded carrots studded with whole peppercorns and the occasional chickpea. It's served with a side of a vinegary, slightly sweet carrot-and-cabbage slaw that reminded me of a non-spicy version of Salvadorian curtido.

As full as we were from the all the food that came before the shashlik and plov, we managed to pack away all that food, too. With tax and tip, for five people, it came out to around twenty bucks per person. (Too bad we were at work. Vodka really goes well with plov.)

One drawback about going to Uzbekistan for lunch is that to place really doesn't put its best, garishly overwrought face forward during the daytime. I remember that great, blaring Uzbek disco music, the loud diners shouting over it, the shifty-eyed men with five-o' clock (A.M.) shadows in trenchcoats, chain smoking over a shot of vodka on the patio, giving it a "my dinner with the KGB" vibe. Uzbekistan isn't as opaque as some of the Russian places further west down Sunset - those places that just beam out "if you can't read Cyrillic, don't even think about it" - but there was still a lot of great expatriate energy there. You know a place comes alive at night when there's a disco ball hanging from the middle of the ceiling, the tables are set with shotglasses instead of water goblets, and the advertised closing time is "until the last spoon of plov."

I'm glad I got back to Uzbekistan today, and I'm going to make it a point not to make it seven years before my next return.

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  1. You're right about the blini and the salmon eggs. I wouldn't mind having the blini again minus the salmon eggs. The shashlik and that potato, the plov, Uzbek bread, and salad...yum yum and more yum. Great recomendation. Only question I have is, "where to next?"

    1. i also really enjoyed this restaurant. i drove by recently and was happy to see its still there! i also need to go as it has been over a year since i've been!

      1. I was at Uzbekistan last night and had a great meal. It was a little quiet when we arrived, and we were seated in the seat of honor - the sofa in the back of the room, which made me a little self-conscious, but it was fun.

        Another great dish not to be missed is the Assorted Pickled Vegetables, with pickled cucumbers, red cabbage, tomatoes, among others. It goes great with the bread and a cold beer.

        Love this place!

        12 Replies
        1. re: Henry2054

          If you were with a crowd of Russians and mentioned "Uzbekistan Restaurant" they would laugh and say thats the worst of Los Angeles. I will admit back in the early "90's I enjoyed this spot yet the owner is so rude how would you want to go back. Trust me and try some of the other more traditional spots in the area, for example, right down the street on La Brea in between Hollywood & Sunset in a little mini-mall strip section opposite side of Uzbekistan is a much favored Russian spot, to bad I cant recall the name.

          My two cents,


          1. re: Hypnotic23

            sorry. i am 100% russian. i have not been to uzbekistan, but quite a few of my friends (also russians), think that it's very good if you can't have homemade.

            the problem is actually the homemade versus the restaurant version. i have chinese friends that would never even consider eating in a chinese restaurant, mexican friends that never go out for mexican, and lebanese relatives that NEVER go to arabic restaurants. once you are used to the homemade, especially if you grew up with it (like i did), it is very hard to "like" something that is similar but not the same.

            1. re: justanotherpenguin

              I would not be surprised if there are better Russian restaurants to be found in town. But first off, Uzbekistan is not a Russian restaurant; it's an UZBEK restaurant. Uzbeks aren't Russians. And second, as I mentioned, most of those Russian restaurants - places like Troika and St. Petersburg - just give off a very unwelcoming vibe to non-Russians. I've thought of going to them, but they just don't seem like places that cater to Americanskis. (I had a Polish friend who had a double date with a Russian couple at one such West Hollywood Russian establishments, and she pretty much confirmed my suspicion.)

              If there is a good Russian place that's well-suited for folks outside the West Hollywood Russian expatriate community to dip their toes into Russian cuisine, I'd love to know about it.

              1. re: Woolsey

                >>If there is a good Russian place that well-suited for folks outside the West Hollywood Russian expatriate community to dip their toes into Russian cuisine . . .

                --Traktir. They've always been friendly and helpful. Order a flight of assorted vodkas and a bunch of appetizers and you can't help but walk (or stumble) out of there happy.

              2. re: justanotherpenguin

                good point. but most of us are not uzbek and have not ever been to uzbekistan. lol and i happened to like most of the food we were served! now that i think more about what we ordered, i remembered being unimpressed with the plov though. but the salads, bread, and the sturgeon were good!

              3. re: Hypnotic23

                If you were with a crowd of Asians and said El Torito has the best Asian food, they would laugh at you. Not because, El Torita isn't the best of the best, but because El Torito is not an Asian restaurant. Uzbekistan is an Uzbek restaurant.

                1. re: jocey

                  sorry, but you are wrong. you have to keep in mind that uzbekistan was a part of russia (and later the soviet union) for hundreds of years. during this time (especially during the intense "russification" by stalin during the first half of the 20th century) diversity was discouraged, and homogeniety was promoted (often with the alternative being death). as a result, many of the foods that originally came from various diverse and far-flung regions (remember that old russia occupied 1/6 of the earth's land surface) became common to russia as a whole.

                  if you compare the menu of uzbekistan with the menu of any "russian" restaurant, you will find tremendous commonality. usually there will be no differences. in this last may 10th la times calendar section, there is a large article on "russian" restaurants and nightlife. among the nine specifically "russian" restaurants listed are: "versai" (probably not french food); "odessa" probably not ukrainian food; "traktir" probably not just for farmers; and, yes, uzbekistan.

                  thus the example of asians to el torito to asian food is completely inacurate. a more apt comparison might be americans to kentucky fried chicken. while fried chicken has been touted to come from the south, an "american" from new york may still identify with it. and after another couple of hundred years of assimilation, we probably won't even remember that it came from the south.

                  1. re: justanotherpenguin

                    well, since I don't see any Uzbeks leaping in to comment, I'll just pass along that my ex, who was half Uzbek (he was from Kazakhstan, very close to the border), went to Uzbekistan with an Uzbek friend and they both thought it sucked. I went once, ages before that, and found it mostly unappealing. But I have to admit, I've thought of going back just because it's unique in L.A.

                    1. re: Cicely

                      I`d like to add something, i`m form Uzbekistan and food tastes so much different back there than here, and your ex and hes friend they both suck, Uzbekistan is the one of the most friendly country in the world, and there is no way someone can say that Uzbekistan sucked, that Country has the people from all over the world who live there, Uzbeks, Kazak, Tadjik, Armenian, Russians, Korean, damn i can keep going and going and even form USA, my neibor upstairs lived and still lives there for more than a 11 years now, he lives with hes family and hes from USA, by now he can speak a Uzbek Russian and Uzbek kitchen is the most yam yam kitchens in the world. Hey i have to say just go back there now, and you will see how nice that country looks. you will be surprised.

                  1. re: Hypnotic23

                    Wow looks like you are a sales person for them or something, i would never even compare Uzbekistans food to a Russian food, comon man what do you know about there culture, and about there kitchen, i was there last week it was perfect everything was so good that i will go back to them again and again and again, i`m from Chicago and been in a lot`s of Russian and Uzbek restaurants, and i dont think i would pick a Russian restaurant over Uzbek, Russian restaurants are more of a night club type of restaurants and if you have a family of 5 or 6 and if its your day off and you want to have nice dinner or lunch Uzbek restaurant is the best, i wouldt go to the russian restaurant with my family, they are not that reach with food options. Thanks

                2. Folks, we've removed some off topic posts. If you have opinions to share on the food at Uzbekistan or other local restaurants, please do chime in here. If you'd like to discuss the variations in tese regional cuisines, please start a new thread on the General Chowhounding Topics board, as that discussion would be of interest to many more hounds outside of the LA area. This also helps us keep this board focused on our mission of sharing great local chow tips.

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