Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Georgian with a smile

Photo: The Moscow News
by Kristen Blyth

21.08.2013. Saperavi Cafe, which advertises a “modern take” on traditional Georgian fare, gained acclaim at its first location near Belorusskaya [in Moscow - HN]. It’s now adding to the Georgian frenzy with a second branch on Kitai-Gorod’s Ulitsa Pokrovka.

The building itself is a historic gem: dom 5 was once the site of Dostoevsky’s favorite church in Moscow, the Dormition Cathedral, which was torn down in 1936 to widen the street. It’s undergone a series of conversions since, most recently housing a Starbucks. The cafe has done a good job of erasing the memory of prior tenants, with plenty of rugs, paintings and well-chosen lighting.

Dormition Cathedral’s original rusty red brick wall and stone moldings are still part of the architecture, visible on the second floor behind the long couch. The staff, happily and rather surprisingly, are not only aware of the building’s historical value, but are eager to share with the customers. The cheerful host spotted us taking pictures and offered to fill us in on the building’s background, even taking us for a quick jaunt to a staff-only corridor where more of the original brick and stone were visible.

And with Georgian wine in our glasses, how could we not? Russia’s seven-year trade embargo on Georgian wine and water was lifted this past spring, meaning Georgia’s uniquely earthy vintages are finally back in Moscow restaurants. The management seems to be aware of the wine’s popularity: the cheapest bottle of Georgian wine is white Tsinandali for 1,400 rubles. (They also offer some French and Italian varieties that run a bit cheaper). A glass of dry red Saperavi comes in at 350 rubles, the cost of two bottles of the stuff before the wines were banned. For the non-drinkers, Saperavi also offers an impressive variety of summery homemade limonady, such as raspberry-mint and cherry plum-tarragon.

There’s something about Georgia’s rich, hearty, buttery-cheesy-herby cuisine that melts the heart and tickles the soul. Saperavi’s food menu, which mostly maintains that of the first location, delivers on its promise of a modern twist on the tried-and-true favorites.

Their salads, for example, are crisp, creative and surprisingly filling: our watermelon salad came with big, juicy hunks of the fruit, mixed with blocks of imeretinsky cheese, avocado slices, pumpkin seeds and plenty of salt and pepper.

Khachapuri – the glorious bread boat dripping with butter and cheese – can be ordered with unusual accompaniments such as smoked cheese, mint or eggplant. We opted for eggplant, and did not regret it. The vegetable, plus a bit of smoked cheese, added a surprisingly flavorful boost to the traditional standard. Rachinsky lobio, a baked bean dish, was also pleasantly jazzed up with bacon, cilantro and a side of mini cornbread cakes – a little hearty for the warm weather, but perfect for fall or winter.

Coal-roasted pork sausages (abkhazura), stuffed in a crispy casing with pomegranate seeds and a side of Georgian ketchup, were a satisfying end to the dinner. The fruity granules adding a sweet tang to the pork’s heaviness, though there could’ve been more seasoning. We were regrettably too stuffed to venture into the dessert section, but Saperavi does have a number of Georgian sweets – such as pelamushi, a grape pudding – for those less greedy with their main courses.

Though they don’t always deliver on Georgia’s bold flavors, the cooks are highly capable – and with its attentive service and warm atmosphere, Saperavi is a strong contender to satisfy your Georgian food fix.

schyot [bill in Russian - HN], please!*
Saperavi (2 glasses)      700
Watermelon salad          330
Khachapuri with
eggplant                      350
Rachinsky lobio             330
Chkmersky chicken        590
Abkhazura                    390
*all prices are in rubles

Source (abridged)

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