Monday, March 29, 2010

Café Ket – St. Petersburg, Russia

My last jaunt to St. Petersburg was my fourth time there. Every time I go, my business partner takes me to a lovely, tiny restaurant called Café Ket. The cuisine is actually not Russian, but Georgian. In years past, I was able to sample some exquisite Georgian wines, but since the recent conflict with Georgia and Russia, Russia no longer imports these fine wines. However, there is always vodka! Georgian food is rich and creative, and if you ever have the chance to taste it, I highly recommend it. If you ever make it to the main course, it’s all shish kabob style barbeque. This last time, we did not even manage to make it to this course.

My partner in St. Petersburg is this guy named Steve who is an American, but has lived there for about 20 years. He comes to this restaurant so often that when we arrive there is already food on the table. One of my favorites here is a roasted eggplant covered in a creamy walnut sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds (Baklazhani). Eggplant can be a touchy vegetable. Cooked to short of time, it will be hard and bitter. Cooked too long, stringy and soggy. On this fourth visit to this restaurant, the eggplant was once again, cooked to perfection. It’s soft and just a bit chewy, but only to be chewed a bit before it melts into your palate. The walnut sauce has just enough flavor to accentuate the eggplant without taking over. And of course the random hints of pomegranate and parsley surprising your tongue every now and again. A mouthgasm for sure. This dish has imbedded itself in my subconscious making all other eggplant dishes pale in comparison. There are also chicken pieces covered in that same walnut sauce (Satsivi). The server comes around with the decadent Khachapuri, which is pizza like bread that has a topping of a crumbly, sour cheese mellowed with egg mixture to make a kind of soufflé texture. This can also be dipped in the walnut cream sauce. By now, visions of waterfalls and rivers of this sauce are dancing in my head.

After this appetizer course, it’s debatable on if we should even order more! Steve and the rest of our table decide to forgo the barbequed meats, and just have a few more Georgian specialties. He orders Lobio and Khinkali. The Lobio is a small ceramic pot of refried beans served with a side of spicy, pickled, purple cabbage. The beans smooth down the heat of the cabbage making a surprising combination. Khinkali are huge, beef dumplings. Steve advises us that there is a special way to eat these dumplings and not get the pocket of juice to dribble all over you. “First,” he says, “you grab the top like you are grabbing a nipple, bite the corner of the dumpling, tilt your head back, and let the broth drain down your throat.” The broth alone is hot and salty, and a perfect preview of the way the meat will taste when the dumpling is finally ready for you to bite it. And these dumplings are not small, let me tell you. They are almost as big as my fist. Huge MF’s! The pork in the dumpling is succulent and hearty. The flavor is very simple because the meat doesn’t need any additional spices. Georgia is also famous for it’s sodas. We had a pear and a thyme soda. We finished the meal in typical Russian fashion with shots of my favorite vodka, Ruski Standard. Russians do not drink vodka without a bit of food, so they even have a side dish to order with your vodka. It’s an array of pickled veggies including pickles, garlic, cabbage, chilies, and green beans. Brookie, I hope your reading because this is a shout out to you! You would D-I-E die for this little plate of love. I hope you all can one day experience delicious Georgian food. If you know of a good restaurant here in the States, let me know! I would love to try!

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