At first, it seems like a joke. There's no way they can be serious, you think, as the giant flatbread is deposited unceremoniously before you. It's shaped like a football, with puffy crusts surrounding a moat of molten white cheese called sulguni. On top of the cheese is a barely cooked egg, its yolk peeking out over the sea of dairy. And then the waiter gives a little nod, leans over, and starts mixing the egg into the cheese, leaving you with an enormous, delicious bread boat to contend with. This is khachapuri adjaruli, and it's serious business indeed.
Khachapuri adjaruli makes up just a small part of Georgian cuisine, but it's probably the most craveable, though the oeuvre of other khachapuris—some cheeseless, others filled with beans or corn—is vast and equally tempting. Still, if you're going to seek out Georgian food at two newish Georgian restaurants downtown, save room to go beyond simple carbohydrates.
Top: khinkali; Bottom: Old Tbilisi Garden co-owner Vasil Chkheidze, chashushuli
Old Tbilisi Garden, which opened this summer on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, already feels like it's been there forever (read: The decor is a little dated). But ambiance isn't really what you're after. Apart from the excellent khachapuri ($12 to $16) blistered and bubbling, you'll want to start with an order of lamb khinkali ($8), juicy steamed dumplings the size of baseballs.
The grilled meat skewers are reliable, but we advise branching out with the chashushuli ($21), veal slowly cooked in a rich tomato and onion stew and served on a sizzling clay platter with a wheel of dense brick-oven bread called shoti. Navigating the sprawling menu can be overwhelming, but there are English translations for nearly everything, and the put-upon but knowledgeable staff can help guide your order.
At Oda House, which we fell in love with when it opened in the East Village last year, both the space and the menu are slightly more compact. The staff can be harried, but the occasional live music and close quarters just add to the festive atmosphere. Of course, you'll be trying khachapuri ($10 to $16) here as well, but see what magic Georgians work with ground walnuts and fresh herbs in the pkhali trio ($15), a trifecta of rich eggplant, spinach and leek spreads. The chakapuli ($23), a surprisingly light dish of lamb stewed in white wine, puts yet more greenery to work, incorporating tarragon, mint, scallions, parsley and cilantro. Skip the salmon, smothered inexplicably in cheese, and do order the pelamushi ($7), an odd and oddly compelling dessert that resembles grape flan.
This is just the tip of the Georgian food iceberg; there's more to be had on both of these menus and further afield in the Georgian enclaves of South Brooklyn. But right now, with temperatures dropping daily, is the perfect time to start exploring this vast and comforting cuisine.
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