Sunday, May 06, 2012

MOSCOW: Georgian cuisine 101. By Jennifer Chater

( Saperavi, 27 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Ul., (499) 623 8993, m. Belorusskaya Sun.-Wed. 11 am-midnight, Thu.-Sat. 11 am-3 am 

Furthering the fashion for contemporary Caucasus cuisine, a trendy new Georgian spot called Saperavi recently appeared at the Belorusskaya end of Tverskaya Ulitsa. 

Saperavi is a creation of Georgian Muscovites Khatuna Kolbaya and Tengiz Andribava, also responsible for the Adzhika chain. The cuisine is modern Georgian, meaning it’s lighter and more artistically presented than in the rustic old-style restaurants that used to dominate.

Beneath the Help! cocktail bar, it’s a cool, clubby place with a disco ball, funky light fittings and colorful textiles, both traditional and modern. The music makes you feel like you’re in an elitny nightclub but there’s no face control or go-go dancers, and the prices are surprisingly democratic. 

Saperavi doesn’t take any risks when it comes to ignorant diners spoiling its food with wacky experiments. I remember an Australian tourist who thought the best thing to do with her khachapuri was to use it as a base for an open sandwich, piling it up with a mish-mash of everything on the table until it resembled a dog’s breakfast. Food faux-pas aren’t surprising with a cuisine that’s totally unknown to much of the world, so Saperavi’s menu gives detailed descriptions of each dish in both Russian and English, plus exclamation-filled instructions on how to eat certain things and what with. With kharcho, described as beef pieces stewed in a sauce of hazelnut and spices, it says: “We recommend you to order chvishtari-corn tortillas with smoked sulguni with this very tasty dish. Break bread into small pieces, place in sauce and .. try to keep yourself calm! You can also order [with] kharcho gomi and then you get a real Megrelian lunch!” Saperavi has an exceptionally interesting and extensive menu, so even experienced eaters of Georgian cuisine can try new combinations and regional specialties. Besides the usual Megrelian and Adzharian khachapuri, there’s an unusual original one with mint and sulguni cheese, as well as achma and Svaneti-style kubdari filled with pork and veal… and that’s barely scratching the surface of one section of the menu.

As a kind of benchmark, we started with some dishes that we’d already reviewed in other new Caucasus eateries – pkhali and adzhapsandal. The green bean pkhali was pleasantly light and fluffy, but we preferred the spicier pkhali at Khorosho Sidim. And there was no fresh-from-the-oven lavash to go with the pkhali at Saperavi, just some boring generic lavash-like bread resembling the kind found in kiosks. The adzhapsandal outdid Khorosho Sidim’s version, thanks to bigger chunks of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes stewed in a mouthwatering mix of herbs and spices.

There are two varieties of lobio red bean stew – the usual vegetarian Megrelian style, served here with a side of spicy red cabbage; and the not-so-common Racha lobio with “lori” smoked beef brisket, served with the same red cabbage plus a couple of mchadi cornbread cakes. (“Break cake into pieces, put them in a pot with lobio, wait two-three minutes, if you can bear it! Eat with a spoon, do not forget about red cabbage!”) Delish.

For mains, the lyulya kebab is up to par – nicely meaty and not padded out with bread as some costcutting cooks cunningly do it – and the red pepper adzhika is the real deal, spicy and intense. Kalmakhi trout with hazelnut stuffing is a good choice for fish-lovers; fish and nuts proves to be a surprisingly scrumptious combination.

On the waitress’s recommendation we tried the quince compote, one of several homemade drinks on offer. Besides being a tasty if sweet drink, it included a bounty of fruit slices that served as dessert. Meanwhile, wine prices are good, with bottles from 900 rubles and plenty of affordable choices by the glass.

The only sour taste came at the end of the meal, when getting a fiskalny chek was like getting blood from a stone. If you’re claiming expenses and really need that receipt, be prepared to embarrass yourself (if you can bear it!) and make a scene (try to keep yourself calm!) – persistence is rewarded.

Schyot, please!*

Adzhapsandal 270

Racha lobio 290

Green bean lobio pkhali 250

Bread basket 95

Lyulya kebab 350

Red adzhika 50

Kalmakhi trout with hazelnut stuffing 450

Quince compote 1L 390

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