Saturday, October 20, 2007
As I said previously, traveling makes me uber-happy. But I haven't been able to leave the country in two years. :( So what do I do about it? I decided to go to Uzbekistan!
The restaurant that is. :P
The outside is a basic strip mall facade, but the inside rather resembled a tent, no?
Do I have any Central Asian readers? I know I got my first hit from Kazakhstan recently... I know, I know, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are two different countries. I'm woefully ignorant about both. But as I always say, food is the best way to learn about another culture.
Now how I got to eventually dine at this restaurant is a rather roundabout story. Located on Sunset Boulevard, I used to drive past it all the time when I went clubbing. Back when I used to go clubbing anyway. Long, long ago. It elicited a slight curiosity but not much more. Of course, this was before blogging. Now it seems like I'm on a mission to eat every ethnic cuisine SoCal has to offer. Or am I trying to eat from A to Z? And should I include only restaurants, or can I cook what I can't find? Because then Uzbekistan wouldn't be my first U, that would be Ukraine and the borscht I made in March. And I'm completely stumped on X. What cuisine or ethnicity starts with X? Gah!
But to get back to my long lead-in to this story, and please bear with me because I still haven't gotten to Uzbekistan yet! Long before Borat put Kazakhstan in people's heads and even longer ago when I lived in the Bay, I caught a show by the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, featuring a skit about hapas. I can't re-tell it nearly as funny as I remembered, but the main point was that the hapas wanted to go to Kazakhstan, where they'd fit in because everyone there is "Eurasian." That's #1 for when Kazakhstan, and Central Asia, entered my consciousness.
A few years ago, I was in Maui for a college friend's wedding, and sitting at my table at a luau was a couple with two incredibly beautiful children. I could tell they were both hapa, but I couldn't figure out their ethnicity. They were adopted from Kazakhstan. That's #2! (Actually, the couple only intended to adopt the girl, but she insisted they adopt a little boy she had been caring for as well. And now that she was entering her teens and he was still a bratty little brother, she teased that she should have left him behind. :P )
Fast forward to a few months ago, I got cousin Q (I have to mention him from time to time because his friends read my blog. Heh.) to add "Nomad: The Warrior" into his Netflix queue for me. That's #3! I have no idea why a film about Kazakhstan starred Jason Scott Lee, Marc Decascos, Archie Kao, Kuno Becker, and Jay Hernandez. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the scenery, the costumes, and the faces of all the extras.
Well, if something keeps popping up, it makes me curious. So go here if you want to read what Wikipedia has to say about Kazakhstan, and here to read about Uzbekistan. By the way, did you know there's now about 500,000 ethnic Koreans in the former Soviet Union, primarily in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan who were forcibly deported by Stalin in the 1930s? There's even a documentary about the Koryo Saram. Fascinating isn't it?
But what did they eat?
I don't know of any Kazakh restaurants in SoCal, but I knew there was an Uzbek restaurant. So yes, while I know that the two are different countries, cultures, languages, and cuisines, this was the closest I could come to Kazakhstan. And besides, it'd be a whole new experience for me.
Now, I don't know about you, but few of my family or friends are that adventurous when it comes to eating. But there's one time of year when my siblings take me where I want - my birthday!
In preparation, I read up a little about Uzbek cuisine beforehand. Because Uzbekistan was a part of the Soviet Union for so many years, and because there's a much larger Russian than Uzbek population in SoCal, the restaurant also offers Russian cuisine. And while I heard it's good, I didn't choose to go to Uzbekistan to eat Russian food. So, with no further ado, onto Uzbekistan the restaurant, not the country, and definitely not Kazakhstan.
While we waited for our food, a violinist played some music. Is it Uzbek? Do I have any readers who would know? Notice the colorful murals in the video?
Yay! Our food comes out.
We ordered chuchvara, a dozen deep-fried lamb dumplings in a dill tomato sauce for $8. These were pretty good, not too gamey, served piping hot.
We also ordered samsa, the flaky pastry on the left for $4, and parmuda, the hard doughy dumpling on the right for $6. Both of these were too gamey for our taste. While the samsa had the benefit of the flaky pastry, the parmuda dough was rather hard and dry. And quite expensive too!
You can see the inside for yourself here.
The complimentary Uzbek bread came out warm and was quite lovely served with butter. Yes, it looks like a bagel that hadn't finished being hollowed. So far, we were feeling a bit carb-loaded. Which I guess would come in handy if we were hard at work in the Central Asian steppes...
The lagman beef stew of handmade noodles was $18. We had to ask three separate times for extra small bowls for sharing. I guess they're not used to this? It was a rather large soup bowl though. Then we also had to ask for extra spoons. And while it was a lovely beef stew, it just tasted like well, beef stew. As for the handmade noodles, I can get basically the same noodles at Chinese restaurants for 1/3 of the price.
We ordered the combo Uzbekistan for $29. It came with a skewer of chicken, beef, and lula kabobs, a lamb chop, plov (Uzbek rice pilaf with carrots and garlic), and some peas and zucchini. The rice was quite lovely but there was too little of it. All the meats were tasty and charred. It's hard to go wrong with grilling meat.
Overall though, nothing seemed very exotic to me. :( Is it because I've got a varied palate and have been exposed to similar foods? Or is it because Central Asia is not nearly as foreign as I've always thought? Hmm.
I have to also point out that the other tables seemed to be occupied by Russians who all ordered from the Russian menu. The blinis and salads looked really good. I don't think I'd go back for dinner though because I thought the prices were quite high for what we got. Well, I'm comparing it to what I can on my side of town. The restaurant does have weekday lunch $9.95 and dinner $12.95 specials that allow you to sample quite a few items for a much cheaper price.
2007's birthday eats:
Jazz Cat Cafe - Alhambra (Closed)
Perfectly Sweet - Alhambra
Tagine - Beverly Hills
Sunday Bistro - Alhambra
Elite Restaurant (Dim Sum) - Monterey Park
Update July 28, 2008: Thanks to a reader tip, I called to double-check, and found that Uzbekistan is now closed. :(
7077 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Open 11 a.m. to "Last Spoon of Plov"