As unlikely as it sounds, I’ve now been to three different Uzbek restaurants here in NYC. Many years ago I visited Cheburechnaya in Rego Park, and this past summer I went to Uma’s in the Rockaways. Now I can add Nargis Cafe, in Gravesend, to that list.
I started with a plate of assorted pickles, like I almost always do, as well as a pumpkin-filled pastry known as samsa. The delicate pastry dough envelopes a sweet and savory pumpkin mixture, heavily spiced and seasoned. Pumpkin in this case is not the sweet jack-o-lantern type, but a slightly less sweet (though still orange-colored) gourd.
The photo at the top of the page is potato chuchvara, a rolled dumpling typical of Central Asian cuisine. At Nargis they are available either steamed & sauteed or crispy deep-fried. I got the deep fried ones, though in retrospect I should have gotten the steamed ones. The dumpling skins were a little too thick to be enjoyed fried like these were, though the smooth potato filling was a nice contrast to it. Either way you get them I highly recommend dipping them into the provided sour cream for yet another contrast.
There are a surprising amount of vegetarian options on the menu at Nargis Cafe, so I think a return trip may be warranted.
Nargis Cafe — 2818 Coney Island Ave
Last winter I wrote about the joys of simple roasting, and now that the weather has taken a turn for the colder I thought it was time to revisit the idea.
I cut some shiitake mushrooms into halves, and quartered some creminis. I tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and added them to a pre-heated pan in the oven at 450 degrees. While they cooked I cut a quarter of a cauliflower into large chunks, and tossed it with the same seasoned oil. After about 20 minutes the mushrooms were crispy on one side, and more importantly they had shrunk enough to make room for the cauliflower. I moved the mushrooms to one side and added the cauliflower to the pan. I checked on the over every 15 minutes or so, turning the cauliflower and mushrooms as they browned.
When everything was browned and the cauliflower cooked through, I removed the pan from the oven. I let it cool for about two minutes before squeezing the juice of a fresh lemon over it. There was enough residual heat in the pan to make the lemon juice sizzle, but not immediately evaporate. I let it cool for another few minutes and then served the mushrooms and cauliflower over rice.
It’s a dish that celebrates the joys of simplicity; everything is perfectky cooked, and perfectly seasoned, and there is nothing missing. It wasn’t until I was almost finished eating that I even realized that this was a completely vegan meal.
I get a lot of PR emails, and to be honest I ignore 99.99% of them. A few weeks ago I saw one that intrigued me, which mentioned a rooftop dinner at Gotham Greens presented by a design firm called ICRAVE. I’d never visited any of the Gotham Greens rooftop greenhouses, and I’d always wanted to go. So a free dinner at their Greenpoint location seemed like a great opportunity.
Before dinner we got a short tour, where a representative from Gotham Greens showed us the facility and the 1/2 acre of leafy greens and herbs. They say that they grow as much as a tradition farm could grow on 10 acres, and delivery to local restaurants cuts down on the carbon footprint (versus produce being shipped in from outlying farms). And although it was windy and a little rainy we got great views of the city skyline in the distance.
The dinner consisted of three salads, each designed to highlight the produce from Gotham Greens. Pictured at the top of the page is the pad thai inspired salad, created by Franklin Becker of the Little Beet, with lime, garlic, and peanuts. My favorite salad of the night was the oneby Mariela Alvarez of Tasty Plan. It started with a base of beet hummus, topped with the Gotham Greens salad, an amazingly tasty chimichurri, and homemade crackers. It was the balance of flavors — sweet, salty, acidic — and textures — crunchy, smooth, crisp — that really set this one apart.
Thanks to Gotham Greens and ICRAVE for the invitation and the great food and drinks!
For many years I’ve been enjoying dinners at Elora’s Mexican restaurant, just a few blocks from my apartment. Although they serve brunch I’m not really a brunch person, so I didn’t really care. But I kept the knowledge in my metaphorical hip pocket, and on a recent Sunday when trying to think of a good place to eat I suggested Elora’s.
I’m glad I did. There’s only one vegetarian item on the brunch menu, but it’s a doozy — the chilaquiles. Tortilla chips are saturated in a tangy salsa verde, then topped with scrambled eggs and melted cheese. The chips soak in all of the flavor of the salsa, making a perfect bed for the rich eggs and cheese. I couldn’t eat it fast enough, even with the rice and beans on the side to slow me down. I’m glad to have such a good option for brunch in the neighborhood, even if I don’t eat brunch that often.
(I should point out that they will make the huevos rancheros without meat if you ask.)
Elora’s — 272 Prospect Park West
If you live in NYC you know all things change. As I mentioned in my previous post, Kebeer has become Cafe Max. More shocking to me was the closure of the Brighton Beach outpost of one of my favorite Ukrainian restaurants, Cafe Glechik. Thankfully their Sheepshead Bay location is still open, and not too far from Brighton Beach. We started out meal with some fantastic cold appetizers — assorted pickles and the “salad spring.” The pickled cucumbers were sharp and acidic; the pickled tomatoes were soft and matched well with the dense dark bread, and the pickled watermelon (yes) had a hint of dill to offset the sweetness. The salad featured radishes and cucmbers tossed with mayonnaise and scallions, but what really elevated it were the small chunks of hard boiled eggs throughout.
They still have the fantastic potato and mushroom vareniki, and we also tried the homemade pancakes filled with sweet farmer’s cheese. It was a feast fit for a (Ukrainian) prince, and well worth the extra walk from Brighton Beach… if only to work off all of the calories we consumed.
Cafe Glechik — 1655 Sheepshead Bay Rd
For many years I thought of Kebeer, a small Russian restaurant, as one of my favorite places to eat in Brighton Beach. Imagine my surprise a couple of months ago when I walked by and saw it was no longer there — instead there was a restaurant called Cafe Max. It didn’t look particularly Russian inside, and there was no menu posted in the window, so I assumed everything had changed. Later I did some research and found out that in spite of the American-sounding name they pretty much kept the menu intact from the days of Kebeer. On my next trip to Brighton Beach I decided to stop by and find out the truth. I started my meal with a bowl of the borscht; without the sour cream it’s actually vegan. It’s a great vegetable soup, cut with the sweetness of beets. Strips of onion and cabbage, chunks of potato, and grated raw garlic all added flavor to the soup. For my entree I got the fried potatoes with mushrooms. The potatoes were sliced into thin rounds, and fried until crisp on the outside with a bit of creaminess on the inside. They were topped with sauteed mushrooms, mixed with caramelized onions and more grated raw garlic and some fresh dill. The mix of textures and flavors was a good one, and it was a huge plate of food. It wasn’t quite the same experience I’d had during my visits to Kebeer, but Cafe Max was still pretty good.
Cafe Max — 1003 Brighton Beach Ave
Here in NYC we’re in the middle of an incredible heat wave. It makes me want to do nothing other than sit inside in the air conditioning and eat ice cream. I’ve been making a fair amount of my own ice cream this summer, but lately I’ve been craving something a little lighter, something that can take advantage of all of the great summer fruit available at the farmer’s markets right now. Sorbet seemed like the obvious answer, but I’d never made sorbet before. I found this recipe over at the Kitchn and slightly adapted it to my own needs. Here’s how I did it.
I made a sugar syrup by bringing 3/4 cup of sugar with a cup of water to a boil, then turning down the heat super low and letting it sit like that for about eight minutes. Meanwhile I peeled 4 Jersey peaches — you use a knife to make an “x” int he pointy (bottom) end of each peach and then boiling them in water for about a minute. Then remove them from the water and rinse under cold water and the skins should peel right off. Then I roughly chopped the peeled peaches, and put them into a blender with the sugar syrup, a pinch of salt, and the juice of one lemon. Then I blended this mixture until completely smooth. Then I chilled the puree.
And that’s it. Once the puree is chilled you can put it into your ice cream maker and make the sorbet. Then put the sorbet into a plastic container and store it in your freezer. You can do this with just about any fruit. I served a scoop with some fresh blackberries and was quite happy with it, but you do what you need to with yours.