Category Archives: Eastern European

Russian Tea Room

My wife and I popped in here with a deal we got on Groupon for a six vodka- and four blini- tasting.

Here are the vodkas we tried, in order of how I liked them:

Imperia
Zyr
Jewel of Russia
Karlssons Gold
Khortytsa

We also had Jewel of Russia Wild Berry as our sixth, but I don’t really count that as a true vodka since it is heavily flavored. It tasted more like a port.

We did two salmon and two trout blinis. The blini was buckwheat, and soft, with a generous amount of sour cream, some chopped boiled eggs, onions and the caviar. We both liked the salmon better.

White fish was also available on the Groupon but we passed on that one.

Overall this was a nice snack. Glad we did it. Just hanging out for a while in the dining room itself is worth the price of admission. So opulent and nice inside.

RUSSIAN TEA ROOM
150 W 57th St
New York, NY 10019

Petrossian

NOTE: THIS JOINT IS NOW CLOSED (for renovations)

Occasionally you come across a meal that changes the way you view particular food items. I’m a steak man. Clearly, this is known. I’ve eaten hundreds of cuts in my endeavor to find the best that NYC has to offer. I thought I’d pretty much seen it all in the world of steak. What else could there be, aside from some aged wagyu, or something completely ridiculous and rare? But just when I was starting to get a little bored and comfortable with my favorite food, Petrossian Chef Richard Farnabe came through with a completely unique and utterly genius steak offering.

Photo from www.therestaurantfairy.com
Photo from www.therestaurantfairy.com

The cut itself is something with which we steak aficionados are familiar; a 28-day, dry-aged strip loin (NY Strip). This lean cut hails from Four Story Hill Farm in PA. But Chef Richard’s preparation is what sets it apart from the panoply of great meats in the city of this cut’s namesake; it’s cooked to a perfect medium rare all the way through, and topped with bone marrow and caviar.

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Caviar? Why would someone do that, you ask? Well, having eaten it, I have a hypothesis: The natural brine and salt content in the caviar compliments the aged taste of the meat in a tremendous way. Aged beef has a certain flavor profile to it – earthy, funky, and highly concentrated. The caviar, being naturally salty and funky in its own right, is the perfect pairing with this kind of meat. It helps bring out those aged characteristics while also providing a juicy pop and briny burst to each bite.

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And, as you might expect, the marrow adds some nice fat flavor and texture back into the lean cut of beef. It really is a brilliant conception. In my opinion this is probably one of the best strip steaks you can find in town. 10/10.

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It’s accompanied by a semi-raw, ice cold asparagus salad. This adds some acidity and fresh green flavors to the meal, deftly balancing the punch you’re getting from the steak.

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And that’s not the only beef I tried. On the appetizer menu, they offer A4 wagyu topped with grilled sturgeon.

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This comes with a pickled quail egg and some caviar as well, along with a little crispy potato cube. When eaten together (beef and fish), you are experiencing that same beautiful pairing of earth and sea, one enhancing the other. The sturgeon had a flavor that was reminiscent of a good, Japanese style grilled eel. The slightly candied or caramelized, almost sweet top coating on the sturgeon pulled out a lot of those rich beef fat flavors from the steak. Another 10/10. For the record I believe this was sliced strip loin, but since it’s A4 wagyu, I will include it in my “other cuts” section for catalog purposes.

Now that I’ve gotten the most important things out of the way, let me briefly discuss the remainder of the meal. After all, the rest was just as impressive as the meats reviewed above. Even the table bread and drinks were nice.

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Petrossian explores elements of both classic French cuisine and Russian/Eastern European cuisine, and there is a healthy presence of caviar and smoked fish in the dishes, aside from having a robust stand-alone caviar menu. The starting amuse, for example, features both French technique and Russian cuisine, along with both caviar and smoked fish.

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What exactly are you looking at here? Three items.

(1) The lollipops are smoked salmon with cream cheese foam dipped in beet foam to make a shell;

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(2) The cubes are savory caviar marshmallows;

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(3) The spheres are chocolate foie gras truffles with gold leaf.

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These concise, decadent and dynamic bites set the tone for the entire meal. Petrossian is truly one of the few great places to indulge and splurge with a high quality meal where it’s actually worth the money, and where there is no pretense, no elitism and no unnecessary vegetable worship.

The next item that came out was a terrine-like foie gras brulee with smoked sturgeon and a pomegranate Guinness drop. It came with a little bread puff but I really enjoyed this by itself.

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The Guinness drop was spun sugar and candy-like in flavor and texture, and the foie brulee was rich, creamy and deeply flavorful.

My wife’s starter was the Petrossian sampler, which contained various smoked fish items and caviar. Everything I tasted on this plate was delicious in addition to being beautifully presented.

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Her entree was a special: baby pig, which consisted of an assortment of meats from the animal, including kidney, ear, rib, and crispy skin. There was also a croquette and crispy hash made from the meat as well. I tasted a bit of everything, thankfully, because I definitely would have ordered this if the steak wasn’t on the menu.

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In particular, I really liked the kidney, which was skewered on a sprig of rosemary. That little touch of presentation/technique added a great roasted herb flavor to the meat. Absolutely outstanding. It almost reminded us of Japanese yakitori.

Our sides were sumac pomme souffle, which were like little puffed potato chips, and a bowl of sauteed wild mushrooms with herbs.

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These items went perfectly with our meat courses.

Dessert was a lot of fun as well. We had beignets with a multitude of injectable sauce bulbs, and a smoked wood ice cream chocolate ball, which was covered in chocolate sauce at table side.

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The beignets were very light and crisp, and my favorite sauce was the pistachio. The chocolate ball was rich, creamy and decadent. Really smooth and tasty.

And then these little guys came out with the check: chocolate truffles and marshmallow cubes, both plated on a bed of dark chocolate morsels.

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With Chef Richard at the helm, Petrossian has skyrocketed back into NYC’s short list of high end restaurants that discerning diners simply must experience at least once. I was extremely impressed.

PETROSSIAN
182 West 58th St
New York, NY 10019

Duran Sandwiches

Mouth is alive
With juices like wine,
And I’m hungry like the wolf.
-Duran Duran

New York City and its surrounding ‘burbs are well known havens for killer sandwiches and all things tasty that get slapped on or between some kind of bread item. The subs of Long Island, the American heroes of the city proper, and the wedges, hoagies and grinders of Westchester and New Jersey… we have it all here.

In fact, over the centuries this glorious city has taken very kindly to the sandwiches of our rich and diverse immigrant communities, whether it’s Italian sausage and pepper sandwiches, Grecian lamb gyros, near-eastern falafel-stuffed pita, Vietnamese banh mi (with a touch of French colonial influence, of course), or tomato-, cream cheese- and lox-crammed bagels from the Jewish community. We truly are a melting pot that embraces different food cultures. Shit, even just a few weeks ago I had some nice Brazilian sandwiches and burgers in Astoria. The international sandwich community here just keeps expanding.

So what’s left? Which other cultures’ sandwiches are missing from the NYC foodscape? Enter Eastern Europe: Austria, to be precise. At least at first.

Duran Sandwiches was started by the Duran brothers, Tomas and Vladimir, in Vienna, 1969. From there, the family began operating bakeries and restaurants in the city. They later expanded to Hungary, Turkey and the Czech Republic in the 90’s.  This joint on 27th and Madison is the first franchise to hit the USA. It’s operated by Hungarian-turned-American Tom Szebeni, who was a TV producer in Hungary, where he used to eat sandwiches at Duran during breaks from work.

It’s been open since October, and in my opinion the timing couldn’t have been better. “Elevated Toast” has been crushing the food world lately, trending hard, and the concept of Duran Sandwiches is to deliver light, open-faced, cold sandwiches that are clean and easy to eat, don’t fall apart or drip, and focus on high quality, delicious, natural ingredients that happen to be presented beautifully.

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There are three different styles of bread: rye, pumpernickel and whole wheat. Vegan options are available, but the bulk of the menu showcases classic Austrian fare like sausages, salamis, sliced meats, cheeses and cream-based salads.

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The sandwiches range from about $2.50 to $3.50 each, and there are nearly 40 different sandwiches you can choose from.

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I was invited in for a press tasting by my friend Jay at The Dishelin Guide and Duran’s PR folks, Benvenuti. You guys know I’m brutally honest in my reviews. If something bugs me, I say it! And that’s regardless of whether it was free or for the press. I must say: I was really happy with this place. My first instinct was “I’m not going to get full, these sandwiches are too small.” But after about five I was stuffed. That’s only about $13-$15. Not bad at all! But then Tom kept feeding us more and more, and since they were so good we couldn’t stop! I think we ended up trying eight or nine in the store, and then Tom packed up a box of nine for each of us to go.

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All in, I tried about 15 different sandwiches. They break down into three categories: meat, fish and vegetarian.

My favorite vegetarian sandwich was probably the the sun dried tomato and date sandwich. The fresh tomato and sun dried tomato had just the right amount of sweetness added in from the dates, and that struck a perfect balance. Pretty funny: The steak guy ended up loving the vegan option!

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Sun Dried Tomato & Date: fresh tomato, sun dried tomato and dates.

As for the fish, I liked the salmon sandwich. Resting beneath the smoked salmon was a scoop of celery root salad that was really unique and flavorful. To me, this made for a much better cream element for the smoked salmon than the more familiar cream cheese. And, in fact, you can get just that celery root cream salad by itself, on its on sandwich, if you want.

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Salmon: smoked salmon with celery cream, lettuce and dill.

My favorite of the meat sandwiches was the spicy Hungarian salami. It had great fat flavor content, it was super soft and tender, and had a really nice spice level to it. In fact I might have to find out where Tom gets the salami, so I can keep some stocked in my fridge at all times. If not I’ll just have to keep coming back here! I even got to sample the slices of salami by themselves back in the kitchen.

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Spicy Hungarian Salami (left): spicy salami with Duran spread, boiled egg, cucumber and carrot.

Here are the others I tried:

Turkey Breast: carved turkey breast with horseradish cream, Duran spread, carrot and cucumber.

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Roast Beef: carved roast beef with Duran spread, onion and chives.

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Traditional Hungarian Salami (center): salami with Duran spread, boiled egg, cucumber, and carrot.

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A salami sample from the kitchen:

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Traditional Hungarian Sausage: paprika sausage with Duran spread, pickles, carrot, boiled egg and cucumber.

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Salmon Caviar: salmon caviar with Duran spread, lettuce, boiled egg, tomato, cucumber and lemon.

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Tuna Salad (right): tuna in water mixed with tuna in oil (makes for a very creamy tuna salad), with tomato, onion and lemon.

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Lobster Salad (left): lobster salad, tomato and lemon.

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Sheep Cheese: sheep cheese, farmer’s cheese, tomato, cucumber, onion and olive.

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Egg Salad (left): egg salad with parsley and boiled egg.

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Hot Pepper & Egg Salad (right): egg salad with Hungarian hot pepper, tomato and jalapeño.

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Egg Salad with Curry: egg salad with boiled egg, curry and cucumber.

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Curd Farmer’s Cheese (center): farmer’s cheese, sheep cheese, paprika, and caraway.

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Asparagus: pickled asparagus with farmer’s cheese, cucumber, boiled egg and tomato.

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This place is a lot of fun, and it’s perfect for summer eating, since it’s cold, not messy, and easy to eat. In fact, if my wife and I ever throw another scotch party at our place, I’m going to cater it with Duran Sandwiches instead of busting my ass cooking for it! A large chunk of their business, both here and overseas, revolves around external catering, providing food for corporate functions, private parties, etc. The full-sized sandwiches lend themselves well to hors d’oeuvres or tapas, but Duran also caters bite-sized, circular versions of every sandwich for even easier, mess-free eating.

DURAN SANDWICHES
62 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10016

Olma Caviar Boutique & Lounge

NOTE: THIS PLACE IS NOW CLOSED

My buddy Jay, from The Dishelin Guide, invited me to this pretty cool caviar tasting press meal at Olma Caviar Boutique & Lounge on the upper west side. This joint has a small bar counter in the Plaza Hotel, so this location is a spot where you can stretch out and relax with some champagne at the bar or in the spacious, bright dining room before the lounge atmosphere kicks in.

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This place offers an eight blini tasting of caviar for $55, which covers every type of caviar they offer.

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That’s a pretty sweet deal, considering that just one blini of the Beluga will run you $32, and one blini of the Karat is $22. Those two bites alone cover the cost of the eight, so the other six are essentially free. Crazy bargain!

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My favorite of the eight was the Karat, which was a bit more briny and salty than the others without going too far.  My next favorite was Beluga, which was so freaking smooth and creamy. I now understand why people go crazy over this shit. Save for the salmon, I didn’t really pick out too many differences in flavor, aside from the fact that I did like the Siberian and White Sturgeon better than the others.

We also put down a smoked salmon lox sandwich with tomato, arugula and cream cheese. It was served on a nice toasty and warm piece of French baguette. Absolutely delicious.

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I’d definitely hit this place again, and it’s a perfect place for a date.

OLMA CAVIAR & BOUTIQUE LOUNGE
420 Amsterdam Ave
New York, NY 10024

Gotan

My friend Matt and his Eaters Drinkers crew invited me and a bunch of other food bloggers to Gotan to sample some shakshuka, along with some other tasty egg dishes and health-conscious bowls.

I’ll start with the healthy bowls. There were two: acai and chia. Unfortunately I didn’t get to try the chia, but the acai was very fulfilling and tasty.

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With this kind of flavor depth and satisfaction after eating, I can totally see how it can be quite easy to eat more healthy. Here’s the chia bowl:

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Some smaller cups of the two, by the window.

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Shakshuka, if you’re wondering, is a poor mans salad-like dish that hails from both Northern Africa and the Balkans and means “mixture” in Berber. Typically it is made with tomatoes (usually slow-cooked), herbs, spices and egg as the basis of the dish. The Balkan versions often have cheese (feta).

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Avi did a great job explaining this to all of us, as I had never tasted the dish before. Here he is, with co-owner Melissa.

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They also have a Gotan location in Tribeca, but this place on 46th is the newer addition. When renovating, they preserved some beautiful original details when chipping away to reach the original brick walls.

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So we tried two shakshukas. Red and green. The red is the North African version, and the green is the Balkan style with feta cheese and tomatillo instead of tomato. My favorite was the green, as it had a bit more zip and zing to it in terms of flavor.

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These dishes were all beautifully executed and plated by Chef Vicki:

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The gang also sampled a bunch of other egg dishes as well:

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This was a mushroom toast with root veggies and egg:

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This one had chorizo, kale, butternut squash and cauliflower mascarpone:

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Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste any of the egg dishes, but I did sample a ton of really unique drinks from the coffee bar (non-alcoholic): espresso spritzer with tonic water and orange zest; watermelon juice with mint; lavender water; blueberry hibiscus tea; and shakerato with candied ginger – another espresso drink.

This joint also slings a bunch of salads and sandwiches as well.

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I will definitely be back here, and it’s close to my office, so may be grabbing lunch here pretty often.

GOTAN
20 W. 46th Street
New York, NY 10036

Balzem

I was recently invited to a press dinner at Balzem, a little Mediterranean spot near the corner of Mott and Spring in Nolita that opened in the Spring of 2014.

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The dining room is rustic, with an airy 12-foot beamed ceiling, old mirrors, iron hanging light fixtures, and lots of reclaimed wood.

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The surprisingly roomy bar offers a wide selection of Mediterranean wines (40 different wines!), imported beer, and even some wine cocktails like the Hot Cab Manhattan, the Balzem Fizz, and the Ginger Ride. I tried the Efes beer (Turkish pilsner), which was nice, light and refreshing.

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The bar crowd definitely picked up at around 8:30pm, and it was actually getting pretty crowded by time we left at 9:30pm. Also worth mentioning here is the fact they they offer happy hour specials EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK from 5:00pm-7:00pm, where they have $6 Mediterranean wines, $5 beers, $1 oysters and $5 tapas/mezzes. That’s freaking amazing! I’ll definitely be back on weekends, for sure.

Here’s a quick shot of Mehdi (left), wine director and general manager, and Balahan (right), owner and executive chef.

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The menu features lots of tapas and mezzes, even some pizza, in addition to a smaller selection of entrees. Here’s the tasting menu we had for the press dinner, along with the wines that were paired with each course:

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The table bread was a nice crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, country style loaf, sliced and served with olive oil (with a variety of olives swimming in the dish):

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The chicken breast and orzo soup was really tasty. Made from a light tomato broth with Turkish red pepper paste, it packs a great flavor that you can accent with a squeeze of lemon. This dish was based on a family recipe that Balahan’s mother used to make.

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That red pepper paste, by the way, is not made from bell peppers, but a different kind – more like a Cubanelle – that’s red instead of green. It’s something that Balahan made as a kid growing up in Turkey, when his family would retreat to the mountains to cool off during the hot months. There, they made red pepper paste, pastries and breads. Sounds like a great way to spend the Summer – sign me the fuck up!

Next were the prosciutto wraps, which was my favorite item of the night. The meat was thin and perfectly cured. It was soft, and not too salty. The burrata cheese was perfection as well. High quality ingredients presented in a very un-fucked-with manner so that they shine.

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Basil leaf, balsamic reduction drizzle and some roasted red peppers is all they added. The green you see beneath the wraps are actually flattened pieces of pepper. Very nice, especially when paired with the clean rose we were served.

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We jumped out of order here to try the other cold dish; the branzini ceviche. This was really mild, despite being cured in lemon vinegar. This is the first time I’ve seen branzino prepared in a ceviche. I really liked how it wasn’t a soupy bowl of tart citrus, like you get in most joints. It was cleanly presented with some arugula and dill.

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Next up was the grilled shrimp dish. These were beautifully presented on a slice of grilled zucchini with parsley and garlic dressing, and accompanied by an arugula salad with tomato and lemon vinaigrette. There was a swipe of chipotle sauce too, so this dish was spicy. The sweet white wine we had with it was the perfect compliment to balance out the spice levels.

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The shrimp were cooked just right.

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My next favorite dish, after the prosciutto, was this octopus fucker. It was braised for 45-50 minutes in white wine that was spiced with lemon, bay leaf and black pepper. Then blasted on the grill for a nice charred and crispy outer edge, and finished in butter. So soft and light, yet meaty and satisfying.

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These zucchini pancakes were fucking great. Part of me wanted a more crisp texture, but when I got down on them a little more I didn’t mind. They’re made with feta, mint, scallions, parsley, dill, eggs and flour, then topped with a yogurt cream sauce. I could actually go vedge (vadge) with food like this. Awesome.

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Last of the small plates, and my least favorite of the small plates, was the Italian meatballs dish. The garlic tomato sauce was nice; velvety, smooth, sweet yet tangy and spicy… but the meat was a little dense for my liking, and I wasn’t a big fan of the pine nuts and raisins within. The ball itself was made from good quality veal, worked with thyme and basil. I just have a very picky sense when it comes to meatballs: it’s very difficult to compete with my mom’s. I did really like the sleepy-time red wine that was served with the meatballs (Nero D’Avola, Mortilla 2013).

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Now for the entree – lamb skewers with flat bread and some sauces. Yes!

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The sauces were mint, parsley, garlic, oil and vinegar (left) and yogurt (right).

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The lamb was cooked perfectly. It was light, flavorful and soft. No overly gamey flavors, no chewy sinew, nothing. Nice and simple, but well executed.

We sampled three sides with the entree. First, and by far the best of them, was the truffle mac and cheese. It wasn’t over the top like some “truffled” items are these days. This was a gentle and proper use of the truffle, with perfectly cooked fusilli pasta and quality cheeses.

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Same goes for the presence of truffle in the potato gratin side – not too aggressive. I liked this dish too – it just needed a little pinch of salt as you went down into the deeper layers of potato.

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The last, and least liked of the sides (and probably our least favorite overall) was the wheat and veggie rice. It had good texture, but the flavors were a little flat, it was a bit dry, and it just didn’t seem to go well with our entree.

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And just when you thought you tried too much food, along comes dessert. All ye fat men rejoice, for there is chocolate ahead in thy future:

Chocolate layer cake (this ended up being my favorite of the three despite my usual hatred of chocolate cake). The cake itself was a slight bit dry, but the hint of salt really made it work in terms of flavor.

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Chocolate mousse cake. Nice texture, creamy and flavorful.

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And finally, tiramisu. You could taste the rum in this bad boy, but it wasn’t overpowering. It was moist and flavorful. The others liked this dessert the best (I was outnumbered).

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That about wraps it up for Balzem. Highlights of the meal were definitely the prosciutto wraps, the octopus and the ceviche. Those would be absolute must-try items, especially if they’re only $5 a pop at happy hour. That shit’s a no-brainer. The ambiance is also killer here. Really nice inside. And when you go (you will), you should chat with Balahan and Mehdi. Both guys are really awesome, friendly, and hands-on. In fact, the service in this joint is top notch and classy. It makes a great date spot, a great pre-game spot for food and drinks, and it has that amazing happy hour. I will definitely be back as a paying customer. Most likely I will head down for happy hour, but the brunch menu looks enticing, as well as the lunch deals ($12 for soup/sandwich or soup/salad).

BALZEM
202 Mott St.
New York, NY 10012

Balkanika

I nabbed a Groupon deal for a seven course tasting for two at this joint, with wine pairings. At $75, it was a steal.

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The meal opened with a lightly sweet Macedonian Muscat and a delicious tomato soup. The soup was smooth and velvety, and reminded me almost of a vodka sauce.

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Next was the Balkanika salad, which was mixed greens, beets, pine nuts and prosciutto, and served with a light red Macedonian wine. This was a hearty salad. The addition of the beets and prosciutto means that you could easily eat this dish as a main course in a larger portion.

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Next was a yogurt, feta, mint, garlic and dill dip/spread served with toasted whole wheat pita bread. This shit would be amazing on an everything bagel instead of cream cheese. It came with a shot of this absinthe/sambuca type of liquor, on the rocks.

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Next up was an eggplant and zucchini tapenade with pine nuts, onions, garlic and red peppers. I wasn’t too thrilled about this dish, but then again my wife and I are not bigs fans of eggplant to begin with. This course did not come with a wine pairing.

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My favorite course of the night was this spiced beef wrapped in grape leaf and cabbage. Each had its own flavor. In one, the meat was perfumed and spicy. In the other, it was mild and comforting. Both very good in their own way. This dish came with a red; Shiraz.

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The last savory course was chicken kebab with yogurt sauce and potatoes. The chicken was nice and tender on these, and the yogurt sauce was thicker than the typical runny white bullshit you get with a kebab. The potatoes were delicious as well. Soft, yet still firm enough to pick up with your form, and deeply flavorful. This came with a white Gavi wine from Italy.

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The dessert course was, of course, baklava. It was a little tough to break through with the tiny dessert forks, but the nutty flavor was excellent. It was a bit too sweet, however. Perhaps too much honey. It was served with a flute of Prosecco.

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The place even serves their mezes and sides by the pound in what looks like a deli counter. Nice!

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BALKANIKA
691 9th Ave.
New York, NY 10036

Pepela – Georgian Cuisine

I was recently invited to a press dinner at Pepela, a very elegant but non-stuffy Georgian restaurant on 30th Street just east of Park Avenue. I didn’t know what to expect, really. Not only have I not regularly indulged in eastern European, Scandinavian or Russian/northern Asian cuisine, but I’m also new to the press dinner thing. I must say: after tonight, I’m a fan of both Georgian cuisine AND press dinners.

Pepela is a beautiful restaurant. I thought maybe the name meant butterfly. That’s just a guess though from the decor on the back wall.

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However, a quick google translate “language detect” search said that pepela means “ash” in Slovenian.

The entry way feels like you are stepping into a fancy brownstone.

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A short hallway walk takes you to an upscale bar/lounge area, which partially overlooks the downstairs dining room area nearest to the small stage that’s set up for live music.

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This place is great for something like bridal parties or girly brunches, for sure. But it’s great for date night too. I think I even overheard something about a cover band. A band was setting up while we were on our way out.

White brick walls line the dining room downstairs. Purple toned up-lighting splashes color all around, giving the place a distinct lounge feel, but without the loud music blaring in your ears (loud lounges suck once you hit your 30s).

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Upstairs there are elegant light fixtures, shimmering chandeliers, columnal white wainscoting and bold crown molding on the walls. It’s bright and clean. Dare I say… sexy? I hate that word when used relating to food… but I guess I’m talking about atmosphere. Here – just look at some of the artwork that throws back to the sexified 80’s ideal of Victorian-era erotica.

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Okay so on to the good shit. The important shit. The fucking food.

The first things that passed into our digestive system were some drinks. A lovely tarragon and citrus flavored soda called Natakhtari was bright green with a delicious and herbaceous taste. Where can I get more of this awesomeness?

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Next was a proprietary in-house Georgian vodka-based drink with a pomegranate and orange flavor that transformed with a simple squeeze of lime. Refreshing and fruity. Not too strong, not too light. Really a perfect cocktail: especially for you broads out there. It was called a chacha pom.

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Then came a starter plate with some warm, semi-flat quick bread (they look like sharks).

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First on the starter plate was eggplant wrapped around a hummus-like walnut paste puree. I liked it a lot. Even my wife, who absolutely hates eggplant, was able to eat it.

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Next was a beet spread. This was mixed with onions and herbs. Really nice balance of sweet and savory going on here, and it went nicely with the bread.

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Last were peppers stuffed with walnuts, pomegranate, carrots, spices and herbs. This was my favorite of the three. The roasted pepper flavor really added a nice earthy note to drive home the nutty excellence of the stuffing.

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By that point in the meal I was already sold on Georgian food. Unique drinks, with tasty and light starters? Sure! The starter plates were surprisingly Mediterranean in flavor. Delicious and totally unexpected, yet somehow familiar. If I had to make one suggestion here: it could use some crunch to mix up the texture. Maybe some thick cut, crispy fried potato slices as an alternative to the bread? But then maybe that would take it out of the realm of traditional Georgian food? What the hell do I know. I really was fine with it as-is.

Next came the cheese bread called khachapuri. To a grease bag EYEtalian-American like me, this was sorta like a white pizza. It was made with very light, mild and melty cheeses though, on crisp yet soft dough.

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For my taste it could’ve been a slight bit crispier, but maybe that’s just me subconsciously transforming it into pizza in my boot-shaped-country head.

Last was a plate of veal soup dumplings called khinkali. These were like doughy gift packages of spiced meat, accompanied by a great soup broth inside that packed some really robust, home-style flavors.

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You’re supposed to eat these fuckers by hand, which I love, because I’m a man and I have a base-born NEED to eat with my hands. It’s genetic; it’s in a man’s DNA. Shit maybe it’s even evolutionary. (Pay no attention to my girly, pinkish-purple shirt…)

Ridiculous video.

Wow. Pepela… what a great build up from start to finish. The lightness of the starters awakened my taste buds and prepared them for the punch of the entree. I loved everything, and I’ll definitely be back to try some of the other tasty menu items. Georgian food has a great future in the belly of this meat man!

PEPELA
104 E. 30th St.
New York, NY 10016