Take the B-train to Xinjang: Cafe Kashkar’s excellent Uighur.

I have to hand it to Mr. Sietsema – the farther out in NYC (or NJ) he’s sent me, the better the meals get.  Compare Sukhadia’s centrally-located disappointment with the far-off charms and culinary excellence of Café Kashkar, the 33rd entry on the 2005 list.  Kashkar is located near the far end of the B express line in Brighton Beach (you can also take the Q), in a neighborhood lately inhabited by Russian émigrés.  It’s quite jarring to stumble out of the train and soak in the neighborhood: underneath the station, on Brighton Beach Ave., a brand-new Starbucks faces off with 99 cent stores and pharmacies.  A little further, after the train has taken off to the north, the stretch featuring grocery stores, variety stores, and delis faces a recently-constructed complex of enormous Florida-esque condo towers.  It’s what Rockaway would look like, if Russians moved there and wanted to build a beach resort.  Seems like there’s lots of money rolling around the area, which is atypical for many of the far-off neighborhoods in NYC, and in absolute contrast to the extreme poverty in the neighboring Coney Island area.

It appeared to be a mostly Russian clientele in Kashkar when my girlfriend and I arrived, befitting the menu’s English and Russian explanations.  The décor, though, reminded me mostly of Chinatown’s humbler lunch counters – wall-mounted moving waterfall picture and all.  Without Mad Ludwig’s excellent translation skills, we were left to our own devices to interpret the English approximations of the dishes, but having taken a few notes from Sietsema’s column beforehand, I felt pretty confident.  (I should mention at this point the KIND of food we were preparing to order – Uighur.  Hailing from China’s northwestern Xinjang province, the Uighurs claim Turkish ancestry, and our waiter looked almost Icelandic.)  The food itself is like a cross between Uzbek and Chinese, though I’d say that there are similarities to Russian and Tibetan foods as well.

We started with the “geiro lagman” ($6), which is listed rather strangely under “soups.”  While the soup version of this dish is available under the title “lagman,” the geiro version (under-described as “noodles with meat & vegetables”) is more of a noodle dish with toppings.  It’s also one of the best things I’ve eaten on my nearly half-complete journey through the Cheap Eats list.  It features hand-thrown noodles that rival Super Taste’s and a sauce that includes tender, fatty chunks of lamb (watch out for the bones!), green and red pepper chunks, green beans, onions and scallions, and it’s tied together with a oily red sauce enhanced with ground black pepper.  We practically licked the plate clean – no joke!

Second-favorite, for me, were the kebabs.  We tried both lamb ($2.50) and lamb rib ($3) versions.  If you’ve not been to a Uzbek-style kebab restaurant before, your skewers arrive on a plate, with about four or five pieces of meat per kebab, covered in raw onions, with a mild red dipping sauce which I usually skip.  You could easily make a carnivorous, cheap and Atkins-friendly meal from just kebabs, as a neighboring table did.  The lamb was tender, smoky (thanks to the charcoal grill), and melt-in-your-mouth fatty.  Avec rib, the meat became even more flavorful – picking them up and sucking the meat off the bones gave me a flashback to youthful Tony Roma’s visits (thankfully, the barbecue sauce was nowhere to be found).

We also sampled a second impressive starch: the pilaf ($6).  No longer referred to as fried rice on the menu, it features the very same chunks of succulent lamb that the lagman did, except it presents them in an oily (according to Sietsema, unrefined sunflower oil), sticky rice with a few shaved carrots.  I realize that it doesn’t sound particularly great (can you imagine the TGI Fridays’ menu-copy-writers trying to tackle it?), but you’ll have to take my word for it – lovely and delicious.

Our attempt to conquer yet another lamb dish (I want to see the chef here challenge Chen Kenichi in a lamb battle, especially if I can be on the tasting panel) was stymied by what I think was waiter confusion – we had ordered the samsa, which were to be small, lamb-filled dumplings, but they never arrived, and we had entered a food-coma induced forgetfulness by the end of the meal.  Suffice to say we weren’t that disappointed.

I’ve never been very impressed with the salads at Uzbek places (achik-chik being somewhat of an exception, but it doesn’t appear to be offered at Kashkar), and I’m sorry to say that the pickle plate ($6) proves that uninteresting salads are also a problem further along the Silk Road.  Consisting of dry pickled red cabbage chunks, what might have been pickled tomatoes (they seemed a little overripe), and bland pickled cucumber shards.  Not worth $6, at all.

Similarly disappointing was the bread – the Uzbek-style bread, which I believe is referred to as “naan” on the menu, was a bit on the stale side, and was not oven-warmed or pre-oiled, as the better iteration at Cheburechnaya was.  Perhaps it would have done better as a soup sop.

I loved Kashkar.  Loved, loved, loved.  Even better, it’s actually not even that far from me, if the B train is running – about 15-20 minutes from Atlantic Avenue.  You can bet I will be back with as many people as I can muster.

(Address: 1141 Brighton Beach Avenue, between Brighton 14th and Brighton 15th Sts.)


Filed under NYC

4 responses to “Take the B-train to Xinjang: Cafe Kashkar’s excellent Uighur.

  1. Count me in next time you’re there.

  2. "Ludwig"

    Me three (nice write-up).

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