Cheburechnaya: The vegetarian edition
- CitySpoonful Jul 8, 2011 03:21 AM
Here's City Spoonful's review of a recent all-vegetarian meal at Bukharian favorite, Cheburechnaya, in Rego Park. The gist: Yes you can go veg at Cheburechnaya (known for skewered meats and meaty dumplings/soups) and still get a pretty decent meal. (Do you buy it, El Jefe?)
Miss Masala, you were asking what a vegetarian might find to eat here -- I hope this helps to give some idea. Read on!
Cheburechnaya in Rego Park, Queens, serves the kosher foods eaten by Central Asia’s Bukharian Jewish communities. It’s not Russian–Middle Eastern fusion, as the restaurant’s website implies. Rather, it’s what fusion food aspires to be: the melding of disparate culinary traditions that can only occur over time, when different ethnic groups live side by side and, inevitably, share recipes.
The Eastern European influences on the menu are obvious (borscht), but the grilled meats, noodle soups, steamed dumplings, stuffed samosa-like pastries and flatbreads clearly invoke Asian cooking.
We started with several orders of chebureki, the deep-fried, empanada-like Russian snack from which Cheburechnaya takes its name. Eager to try something Bukharian, we also ordered some samcy, baked pastries stuffed with meat and vegetables.
The mushroom chebureki had a savory, flavorful filling, while the cabbage chebureki was stuffed with a piquant mixture of cabbage and pureed tomato that was still crunchy even after a thorough deep frying. Unfortunately, the chewy, oily crust hardly did justice to the excellent fillings.
The pumpkin and potato samcy were light and flaky, with none of the chebureki’s greasiness, though their fillings were less flavorful. The pumpkin-filled samcy was the more popular of the two—it disappeared almost immediately.
Next up: a quartet of vegetables—Israeli salad, assorted sour vegetables, marinated white mushrooms and a skewer of grilled vegetables—accompanied by half-loaves of plump, round flatbread.
The Israeli salad was a light, refreshing mix of delicately sliced vegetables tossed with olive oil and lemon juice. In contrast, the marinated white mushrooms, a typical Russian side dish, had an intensely acidic, vinegary taste.
The vegetable shish kebabs were grilled well—soft but firm, with crispy charred edges. A whole onion, still in its skin, was distinctly sweet. A single plum tomato with blackened skin revealed smoky-flavored, liquefied insides at the first cut of a knife. The soft, elastic flatbread came in handy for soaking up the tomato juices.
The sour vegetables would have been at home in any Jewish deli. A huge hunk of red cabbage was mildly sour and still crunchy, while shredded white cabbage tossed with carrots and parsley had a vinegary bite and spicy, fragrant undertones from coriander seeds. The whole pickled tomato—still firm and flavorful but endowed with a tangy, dill-infused kick—was the highlight of the platter.
After all those pickled vegetables, we needed something sweet. Our waitress recommended the chak chak (honey-coated fried noodles) and the baklava. The baklava was delicate, fresh and satisfyingly sweet, but the chak chak was a dental nightmare. The solidified honey holding the stale fried noodles together was almost impossible to chew, and we feared for our fillings.
By the time the bill arrived, all that food, especially the heavy chebureki, had caught up with us. Leaning back, hands cradling overly full bellies, we prepared to pay handsomely for our gluttony. But the total was very low: easily less than $20 per person, including the tip.
As vegetarians, we may have missed out on some of Cheburechnaya’s specialties—the huge selection of grilled meats, beef-stuffed dumplings and meaty soups—but we left satisfied.
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92-09 63rd Dr, Queens, NY 11374