[UPDATE: The restaurant at this location is now called Aladdin and serves mainly Uzbek fare]
If something does not exist in New York City, you just have to wait a few years. I have been proven this time and time again with obscure types of cuisine. Something like ten years ago, I dated a girl from Kyrgyzstan very briefly and wanted nothing more than to show her how cultured I was by finding a restaurant on the outskirts of Queens or Brooklyn that had her home country's food. Sadly, back then I could only find an assortment of Uzbek restaurants, very similar, but possibly insulting to suggest. Now Cafe Avat exists in faraway Bath Beach, serving the foods of Kyrgyzstan and its Central Asian brethren.
On the wall of this establishment is an homage to the original location in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, with photos of the restaurant and people back home. As our small group was eating, a table that was set for 15 people or so was suddenly filled by members of the Kyrgyz Community Organization, as if on cue. They came in and immediately started devouring their banquet courses, swearing a lot in Russian. I had a tendency to keep staring at their weathered Central Asian faces, which seemed to say so much.
Our blue and white plate parade started with two orders based on lagman noodles, one hot and one cold. The uigurski lagman ($5.99, below) is the standard bearer of much of Central Asian cuisine and you find it most often in New York City in its many Uzbek restaurants. This hot noodle dish is less a soup here than its other versions, but still just as tasty, offering a chance to savor the separate ingredients instead of a stew. I would not be surprised if they were pulling their own noodles here, as they seemed very fresh.
The cold noodle dish of a similar nature is ashlyam fu ($6.50, below). The noodles transition perfectly for hot weather and are covered with an assortment of fresh vegetables, egg, and starchy mung bean jelly. To top it off, everything is drowned with the peppery myanpar sauce. Those wearing white shirts beware, these items easily fall off your utensils and splash this sauce everywhere.
Those in the mood for dumplings will enjoy the manti ($5.99, below), plump balls of lamb, potato, and fat with plenty of herbs and very juicy. The thin, chewy skin holds it all in until first bite, and then it is all over your plate.
Our last course was a selection of two kebabs ($3.99 each, below). After trying these, I would recommend both a larger group size, and higher percentage of kebabs for the meal, as they were excellent. The lulya is ground lamb, while the barannii shashlik is unground chunks. Both are seasoned so well, but the latter is recommended slightly more for its intense tenderness. Both fall right off the skewer and do not really require the standard tomato sauce always served in this kind of restaurant, unless you want a bit of spice.
To complement your meal add glasses of kompot ($2.50) before and after if you are not drinking alcohol, and make sure some lepeshki ($1.50 for a half "loaf"), the crispy round bread makes its way to your table for soaking up various juices left unattended.