I grab a few things that look familiar: frozen handmade pirogies, a slab of goat butter, a large jar of taramosalata (okay, technically this is a Greek caviar spread, but here it is half the price of what you pay in
Cheburechnaya, our next stop, is named after the house specialty, deep-fried tarts like oversized empanadas, filled with meat, pumpkin, mushrooms, or potatoes. The restaurant is a cavernous and gleaming place of long tables and chrome fixtures, clearly a favorite for family gatherings but nearly empty at eight p.m. on a weeknight. The photo-laden menu offers Bukharan specialties, priced per piece, so that one could easily assemble a tapas-like meal. There are quail, salmon, beef and veal kebabs, about 12 types of salads, borscht, and any part of a lamb you might get a hankering for, including testicles and hearts. Also platters of Bukharan French fries that come generously dusted with minced garlic and parsley.
Our waitress is a mere slip of a girl with a pale face and high wide cheekbones; with two pounds of makeup, she could easily model for Vogue. She tells us she’s from
“No. Never,” she says, emphatically shaking her head.
We order a beef pilaf, grilled vegetables, and pumpkin chebureki, though I have no idea where all this stuff will fit and worry that I will soon be waddling around like Mrs. Khrushchev.
The huge mound of pilaf is studded with chickpeas, sliced onions, and chunks of beef and fragrant with spices like cumin and cinnamon. It’s hearty and flavorful and there’s enough for four, but we do what we can. The vegetables are nothing special, and the chebureki may be an acquired taste, but I wouldn’t mind a return trip to try different fillings. I would dearly love to sample the desserts, like lavz (triangular pastries made with walnuts and almonds) or the fried noodles with walnuts and honey, but there are limits to what even the Nordic track at the gym can fix.
A small birthday party is in full swing underneath a television set that broadcasts what looks like a Slavic version of MTV: gesturing provocatively, a full-figured brunette gyrates to a tune that’s thankfully inaudible at our table. Next to us is a group of middle-aged people, one wearing a cross between a babushka and a do-rag, and three handsome kids perhaps in their early 20s. I ask Dave if he thinks the older pair sitting side by side might be married.
“Nah,” he says. “They can’t be. They’re talking to each other.”
Nonetheless, this looks like a great place for family celebrations, and I could easily see staging a reunion here and savoring the shocked looks on the faces of the Midwestern Bible thumpers in my father’s branch of the clan. What a concept.