Today I went to a rally held by Georgians to protest the occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The rally was held in the rally area outside the UN (for non-American readers, we have special “free speech zones” near important buildings and events here in the US so we can “protest” without inconveniencing anyone or having any impact whatsoever) and consisted mostly of Georgians making speeches in Georgian, but there were a few guests from various friendly organizations who also have beef with Russia (Polish and Cherkez, for instance) who came to show their support. I am also pleased to say that not a single stool was raised in anger.
On our way to the rally we saw a woman and my wife commented that she walked like someone from Tbilisi. We saw her again at the rally and confirmed that she was indeed Georgian. Do Tbilisians/Georgians actually have a particular walk? Something to investigate.
It was fun speaking Georgian in America. It was less weird than I thought it would be. I thought it would be like a cool secret that only a few people knew, but instead it wasn’t. Everyone just switched to English when they heard my accent or saw my hesitation in answering questions. Sort of like Tbilisi.
From the UN the rally moved uptown to the Russian Embassy, which I never realized was half a block away from Hunter, where I went to college. We took a bus (apparently loaned from a Church of Saint Nino) which was crowded full of Georgian rally-goers. It was like being on a giant marshutka where nobody smoked. Everyone was friendly and a woman offered to put my bag on her lap when I was standing so I wouldn’t have to hold it.
That’s actually a thing that Georgians do – people sitting on a bus hold bags for the people who are standing. I would never agree to such a thing in New York, except on a bus full of Georgians. In many ways, Tbilisi is like a giant village, and being on that crowded bus actually made me miss Georgia and the feeling of being part of a community.
After the Embassy, my wife’s cousin took us to Oda House, which is the new Georgian restaurant that’s been generating some buzz among the New York foodie set. Oda was my first taste of Georgian food outside Georgia itself.
My friend described my initial feelings about Oda quite aptly with the phrase “sticker shock”. Looking through their menu online revealed their offering of three khinkali for seven dollars, which is about seven times what khinkali cost in Georgia. Oda’s khinkali do seem slightly bigger than Georgian khinkali and I’m assuming they use higher-quality meat or something.
After eating at Oda, I would have to change my mind and recommend the place, with some caveats. The food was good and was certainly reminiscent of Georgian food in all the right ways, but I couldn’t really say it is authentic Georgian food. The khatchapuri was salty and buttery and eggy and delicious, and it certainly hit the spot that Georgian khatchapuri hits, but the mozzarella/feta duo that is supposed to approximate Georgian cheese did nothing of the sort – it totally lacked that sort of sour flavor that is so characteristic of Georgian cheeses.
The mchadi was nothing like Georgian mchadi. I’m guessing they’re using Mexican corn flour and the result is like eating a taco shell stuffed with really doughy bread. I wouldn’t really recommend it if you’re a mchadi fan, but then I’m the only non-Georgian mchadi fan I know. My wife (reminder: she’s Georgian) loved the mchadi for dipping in her lobio, but said it was more fluffy and had an “American kick” to it. She also loved the lobio, although she says her mom makes it better. It came with pickled cucumber, tomato, garlic, and cabbage, which she says was also great.
They had Natakhtaris limonati, and we had a bunch of their tarragon soda, which was definitely Georgian. We got walnut sauce on our garden salad (via special request), which was an unusual but really delicious combination, and allowed us to get that walnut sauce flavor that is one of my favorite odd and interesting things about Georgian cuisine. The walnut sauce was really well-done and one of the most authentic flavors in the meal.
My entree was the Lula Kabab. I have a tradition of always ordering the kababi at a Georgian restaurant, and I felt I had to maintain this tradition here in New York. The Lula Kabab was fantastic. It was presented like Georgian kababi, wrapped in lavashi and sprinkled with red onions and that red powder. It tasted perfect – very salty, nicely spiced, and with better meat than I’m used to from kababi. This was made by a chef that respects their kababi. It was a little different than the Georgian version, but I would say just as good if not better.
Overall, I’d say that if you go to Oda you can get a good general sense of some of the tastes of Georgia and of what the food is like, and even if you aren’t getting exact replicas it’s clear that care was taken to make each dish good in its own right. It’s the kind of creativity that I’d actually like to see in Georgian restaurants in Georgia, which are surprisingly uniform (although they vary in quality).
The menu on their website is not complete, but their Seamless menu appears to be complete and also has prices. I’ve read mixed reviews about service, and it does seem they have a little to iron out, but the staff was quite nice and we got our stuff in reasonable time. They might benefit from a manager with NY restaurant experience.
The space is very small and the tables are sort of crowded. There was a girl sitting right behind me with a very pronounced Vakeli accent who also spoke perfect English. Her parents must be very very rich.
And I almost forgot – they have a plate of candy in front (where restaurants might put after-dinner mints) that is straight from Georgia (which is to say, Ukraine). I had about five of the Milky Drops, which have been my favorite candy in Georgia since my first year there, and I was happy.
So yeah, I would say that Oda is probably deserving of the attention it’s been getting, and is worth trying if you’re into new things or Georgian things or new Georgian things or… I don’t know, other things. As befitting Georgian culture, there are plenty of vegetarian options which are really good and don’t at all feel like the vegetarian consolation prizes that a lot of restaurants seem to offer as an afterthought to their menu.
And yet, I still miss Georgia.
I only have fifteen days left here. Man, that went by quick. I’m going to try to make it out to Tbilisi restaurant in Brooklyn, and I’ll definitely keep y’all updated if I do.