Today, I had the good fortune to join an expedition to the Bath Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn to try a Kyrgyz restaurant that Charles Bibilos, creator of the wonderful United Nations of Food blog, had heard about. Joining us was Dave Cook, creator of the amazing Eating in Translation. Lunch with the two of the most intrepid eaters I know was huge fun – all we needed was Joe DiStefano to complete the triumvirate. It’s a fairly long haul out there, but I’m delighted to report that Cafe Avat is worth it.
The Kyrgyz Republic is a former Soviet republic in central Asia that borders on Uzbekistan and China, among other countries, and those influences and more can be discerned in the food (the chef is from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek). As one would expect from any self-respecting former Soviet republic, there is a good-sized roster of Russian-sounding salads on the menu, but on the plate of pickled vegetables, one does not expect the presence of what is essentially kimchi (Chin-cha, or Чин-ча)! That and the pickled cucumbers were the standouts:
I was pleased to discover that in Kyrgyz cooking, as opposed to Uzbek, Azeri, or Kazakh cooking, there is a certain measure of spiciness. Ashlyam-fu (Ашлям-фу) is a mildly spicy, vinegary, cold dish of handmade lagman noodles (central-Asian-speak for ramen), shredded cucumber, tomato, and strips of mung bean starch "noodles". Refreshing on a warm day.
This dish immediately struck me as tasting more or less Chinese. Come to find out in my subsequent research that it is a Dunghan dish. What is Dunghan, you may, as I did, ask? Ethnic Chinese Muslim (Cafe Avat is halal).
Gan-fan (Ган-фан) was a huge hit. A stew of beef, onions, bell peppers, tomato, and mushroom is ladled over a mound of white rice. One of those dishes that is more than the sum of its parts.
I was also crazy about hanim (Ханим) – my companions, not so much. Seasoned shredded potatoes are enshrouded in an ultra-delicate dumpling wrapper and steamed, served with a zesty mashed red-pepper sauce. Delightful.
The two kebabs we tried were both spectacular: lamb rib meat and lyulya (Люля - ground lamb). These are the first kebabs I’ve tried up to the quality and of the late, lamented Café Sim-Sim (because Cafe Avat is halal, there is no pork neck kebab, alas!). Juicy and very flavorful, and only four bucks apiece.
The only real miss of the meal was the home fries with sautéed mushrooms, a dish I requested precisely because Café Sim-Sim’s version was so wonderful. Here, it is merely some ordinary home-fried potatoes, sliced a tad too thick, with ordinary white mushrooms – no chanterelles. There are many, much tastier items on the menu with which to sate oneself.
The charming Uzbek fellow that waited on us went above and beyond the call of duty to make our first Kyrgyz dining experience a pleasurable one. It will not be the last.
2158 Bath Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11214
(D train to Bay Pkwy, walk 2 blocks SW on Bay Pkwy, then turn right)