12.06.2013. A group of Georgian feasters passed a variety of old hats around their long table, doled out by a laughing man donning a white furry headdress. When they noticed our friend looking on, they invited her to join the fun, and she pulled on one of the cylindrical caps. "Pull it down your forehead!" One of them called. "It's good for migraines!" Such was the jovial, communal atmosphere at the newly opened Oda House, the Georgian restaurant that made its home in the former Caffe Buon Gusto space at 76 Avenue B.
Knowledgeable servers will walk you through the menu if you're unfamiliar with the cuisine, calling out favorites and explaining why certain dishes are important representations of this type of food. They'll also recommend that you order a bottle of Georgian wine, pointing out in particular the saperavi from Teliani Valley, a medium-bodied red with good acidity to take on the rich food.
The hot and cold appetizers, main courses, and khachapuri are all good for sharing, and drawn-out feasting is a big part of the Georgian culinary tradition. The kitchen will course your order to facilitate that custom, and while that makes a good way to enjoy a weeknight dinner with friends, we imagine Oda House is at its very best on weekends when it brings in Georgian folk musicians to play for parties enjoying leisurely dinners.
Reminiscent of massive soup dumplings, Georgian khinkali traditionally come packed with meat and hot broth. The Oda version mixes pungent beef and pork in a savory soup. Our server instructed us to eat with our hands and pluck each dumpling by its twist, give it a liberal shake of black pepper, and then slurp out the soup before devouring the rest of the package. We ate the entire wrapper, though it's customary to leave the tough tops on the plate.
"Georgians eat bread with everything," joked our server before she walked us through the khachapuri (literally translated: cheese bread) section of the menu. We settled on the adjaruli, a hollowed out loaf filled with tart feta and stringy mozzarella and then baked until the cheese is molten. The kitchen cracks an egg over the mixture just before serving, which we were instructed to mix into the cheese, creating a dip that we could eat by slicing off bits of the bread.
A house special enfolds grilled liver into layers of cheese, sour cream, and pastry crust that's then baked until it bubbles. The tomatoes impart acidity to an otherwise very rich dish.