Monthly Archives: May 2006

8-person army conquers Cheburechnaya.

Last night, I went with Ludwig, Sophmoricles, my roommate, and four other friends to Cheburechnaya, the Rego Park Uzbek that I’ve written several times before. An ideal location for a group dinner, we ate and ate, and then ate some more – all for a bargain price.

Arriving 15 minutes late after trying several stores to find some Baltika (my roommate, classy gent that he is, bought Hennessy in homage to the three groups we saw drinking it last time), we took a table in the middle of the room. After passing out the menus and getting a lot of questions, I gently suggested that I order on behalf of the group (with some assistance and consultation from Ludwig). This seemed to please almost everybody, and I noted that, if I didn’t order in enough quantity, we could always get more.

The first things to arrive were the baskets of hot bread, hummus, and my favorite cracker (besides K-Fed), noni toki. I have been informed by those who probably know that I should alter my description from “parabolic Carr’s table wafer” to “satellite-shaped matzoh with better flavor.” Duly noted, gang.

The hummus was the best I’ve had it at Cheburechnaya, a theme which was to continue through the other dishes. Garlicky and with just the right amount of tahini, we practically licked the plate clean. Ironically, at $4, I think it’s one of the most expensive dishes we ordered all evening.

Shortly thereafter (and right after the first call for an additional plate of hummus), the chebureki arrived – two “special” with lamb, two beef, two cabbage, two potato, and two mushroom. That’s two of each kind offered, by the way – each fried pocket distinguishable by its unique shape, a representation of which is (if you can remember) printed on the menu. Of the bunch, I liked the special and cabbage best – the latter not being filled with boring sauerkraut but rather a stewed sweeter cabbage, with some kind of red-orange infusion. My least favorite was potato, but only because the filling is rather bland and liquidy – it certainly didn’t taste bad.

After demolishing the plates of mega-dumplings, we had a bit of a breather before the skewers emerged from the grill. One of my friends has decided to attend USC film school next year, and, after I offered congratulations, I told him I would be out to do a tour of the Mexican and Korean restaurants. He just chuckled – I think my friends expect things like this from me now. It’s a bit of a sickness.

Saving me from further salivation over the foods of Los Angeles was the arrival of our plates of skewers. Taking a cue from the chebureki order, I had gotten two each of the lamb, lamb rib, lamb fat, skirt steak, and ground-meat (lyu-lya) kebabs. To nobody’s surprise, they vanished almost instantly, but I made sure everyone at the table got a piece of lamb fat first. Thankfully, they had grilled it long enough over the coals that it exploded with flavor as it melted in our mouths – the oohs and aahs from across the table were many.

Once that round had disappeared, I was excoriated for not ordering enough food – only my roommate was sated after the first plate of kebabs. So I went back to the well for more, with a twist – one more of each of the lamb, fat, and ribs, and, at one friend’s request, the lamb testicle kebab. We also got another noni toki, more bread, and another plate of hummus.

Obviously the repeats were wonderful, but it was even more interesting to try the infamous Rocky Mountain oyster for the first time – if any preparation were to make that dish palatable, grilling over Cheburechnaya’s coals would be it. Those of us who tried it agreed – not a bad taste, but neither was it particularly interesting. It was kind of like a slightly less fragile tofu cube, blandly meat flavored. The texture, unexpectedly to me, was not objectionable.

I can always count on two of my friends for their near-unlimited appetites – my USC-bound friend and his counterpart across the table who works in the hip-hop world (and somehow still keeps kosher) were unbowed by the second round of food. So, while everyone else was sampling the weird honey and dough combination of chak-chak, two more kebabs and another cheburek (all lamb) were ordered. (By now, our waitress regarded us with a mixture of respect, pity, and bemusement, and I’m pleased to say that everyone felt we should overtip her for her graciousness in dealing with our requests). After this, even the two big eaters were sated, and we asked for the check and some tea to wash it all down.

The funny part is, even with several rounds of ordering, the check only came to $108. Including the generous tip, each person at the table spent about $16. Counting the beer we’d bought beforehand, this was a monumental dinner with enough excellent meat to corrupt a vegan – all for under $20.

If you want a good example of why I’m passionate about cheap eating, this is it.

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Alidoro addiction.

Once again I’m being a BAD CRITIC because I’m going to visit my buddy Walter at Alidoro every day.  I was warned that his sandwiches were extremely addictive, and those who did the warning weren’t joking: I think I was craving a repeat meal of yesterday’s Arzibubo, with Genoa salami, smoked mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, and sweet peppers.  I don’t even usually like sun dried tomatoes and artichokes, so obviously there’s some kind of addiction taking place.

I think the special Bastardino sandwich I had on Monday was even better – the same smoked mozzarella (not extremely salty like Joe’s Dairy’s was a few weeks back), adulterated with arugula, sweet peppers, and the Italian bacon known as pancetta.  Fantastic stuff, that pancetta, let me tell you – not at all like American bacon, it’s more like a thick prosciutto in some ways.  I was lucky enough to get the last portion, and I will be ordering it again when it’s available.

Later this week, I’m taking a group of folks out to Cheburechnaya – should be a good time, and I’ll be sure to fill you in on all of our various exploits.  I hope to get some additional food adventures in soon, as it’s been entirely too long.

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Zozo’s Grille lacks thrill.

In my quest to complete both Village Voice and NY Mag lists, as referenced in the subtitle of this blog, I have noticed a significant discrepancy in the lists’ conception of both “cheap” and “good.”  On the one hand, NY Mag is responsible for sending me to the bizarre yet interesting Hong Kong Station – on the other hand, I spent $15 at Zozo’s Juice and Grille on Saturday night and got significantly less value for my money.

It wasn’t terrible, per se.  Both my paralegal friend and I had the Cajun blackened steak sandwich ($9), which we were expecting (a la Mooncake Foods) to come sliced on a roll.  We got the roll, certainly, but the steak was in one flattened piece, and a bit too tough to bite through cleanly, despite my ordering it medium rare (not that a steak that thin can be cooked medium rare).

The vaunted fries ($3.75), sparsely sprinkled with parmesan and garlic, brought forth more memories with the presentation than the flavor: they were presented in a cone that reminded me of the friteur on 2nd Avenue (the Belgians seem to eschew the cone in favor of a tray, oddly).  The fries themselves seemed to be a bit cooked for my taste, and the parmesan and garlic could have been slightly stronger in punch.

My friend ended up with a strawberry shake ($3.75), which was enormous.  16 ounces, I’m guessing, which is a lot of shake.  Fortunately, it was tasty (fresh fruit seemed to have been used), but two people could easily share one.

In going back to the review on the list, I notice that a ‘cube steak’ sandwich was mentioned – if, indeed, the steak was diced instead of slapped whole on a bun, this would alleviate my concern somewhat.  However, it’s still a $9 steak sandwich, for Peter’s sake.  Obviously rents are high (Arlene’s across the street charges $6 a bottle for Stella Artois, which is highway robbery), but…ladies and germs, I again welcome you to the Lower East Side.

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