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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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.
Then came a starter plate with some warm, semi-flat quick bread (they look like sharks).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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!
104 E. 30th St.
New York, NY 10016