>> Dolma Restaurant | Eat the World NYC

16 April 2019

Dolma Restaurant


In a building that stands taller than most of its neighbors on Avenue X and sticks out just a bit, a few renditions of a fairly typical US American diner have come and gone over the past decade or so. Named after changing owners, first Pete, then Manny, and finally Elena, the restaurant has now did a complete 180 and its facade is decorated with some hints of what is happening in the kitchen these days.

The namesake of the new restaurant, opened at the beginning of February, refers to the stuffed grape leaves that are central in the cuisine of Azerbaijan. So special is the knowledge and skill of making these treats, and so important is the sharing of these techniques that UNESCO has included the tradition on their list of intangible cultural heritages.

Inside of the Gravesend restaurant, which sets a new bar for Azerbaijani cuisine in New York City, the walls are decorated cleanly with window frames and artwork showing scenes from the South Caucasus nation. Bright traditional fabric tablecloths adorn every table. The space is skinny, but the front can accommodate a few groups of 6-8 when necessary while the rear has some 4-tops. Our group of seven settled in very comfortably and was taken care of in spectacular fashion by our man Elmar, who made the night unforgettable. Since none of us were from Azerbaijan, he took it upon himself to show off his homeland in the best possible light and made sure every detail of our meal was perfect from start to finish.

The live music (two businesslike men playing a keyboard synthesizer and electric violin) was just getting started as our meal commenced with soups. Piti soup ($9, above) can be found in other Caucasus nations and Central Asia but perhaps is most popular in Azerbaijan. Is is hearty with cubes of fatty lamb mutton and vegetables, the broth rich from tail fat, dried sour plums, and maybe a sprinkle of saffron. Traditionally this is cooked and served in an earthenware pot.

Dovga soup ($7, below) is more specific to Azerbaijan and somewhat similar to Iranian ash-e doogh. Here it is a simple yet tasty dish served cold, consisting of yogurt and herbs, dominated by dill.

Make sure to get at least one basket of their tandir bread ($3, not shown), as many of the dishes will be crying to be mopped up with it like the soups above and the namesake dolma ($12, below). The juices that these grape leaves are served in turned out to be delicious and the table on this night did not let a drop of either pot we ordered go to waste.

The making and serving of dolma in Azerbaijan is typically saved for special occasions and "expresses solidarity, respect, and hospitality" according to UNESCO. Here they are filled with ground lamb, rice, onions, and spices, and none of us could get enough.

Another dish of small bites was the fried gurza ($11, below) tiny firm meat dumplings. The dish gets its name from a venomous snake found on the Absheron Peninsula where the capital Baku is located, but the filling is always lamb. The crispy exterior gives way to the luscious juicy interior, making popping these into your mouth a very satisfying experience, no dipping sauces required.

Although qutab ($2.50 each, above and below) is an Azerbaijani dish, you can also find versions at Tajik and other Central Asian and Persian restaurants. Essentially it is a thin, round piece of dough folded over either meat or vegetables and briefly fried in a pan. It was love at first bite when we first had this at Village Cafe on Coney Island Avenue.

The versions here were even better, as was most of the food. At Village Cafe and other Azerbaijani restaurants in Brooklyn, the cuisine seems to be seen through the prism of the Soviet Union, as can happen with a large Russian diaspora here in New York City. It happens with some Ukrainian restaurants and others as well. Dolma Restaurant excels in what seems to be more traditional foods cooked in the traditional manners of the country, with a menu that includes many items unseen on most menus here.

Not at all traditional was Beyonce, who spent the entire night on the television here as YouTube went through her entire catalogue. The volume was down of course since they had live musicians, but every once in a while their music and onscreen Bey would synch in a weird alternative world mashup.

In Azerbaijan it is popular to eat fish on a skewer, grilled fresh from lakes or the Caspian Sea. This is quite often sturgeon, also called beluga but not related to the whale, which seems to be the most eaten fish in the country. We tried the grilled sturgeon ($21, below) to celebrate this, which comes with a tart plum sauce that can be applied as desired. This is the fish caught primarily for the female's valuable eggs which when salt cured become caviar.

The group all seemed happy to experience jiz-biz ($15, below), a sauteed dish that always includes lamb heart, liver, and kidneys, but sometimes has extra ingredients depending on the chef like intestines. Since I had made the order confidently at the beginning, Elmar leaned down to me and whispered in my ear to let me know there were also testicles in this rendition. Convinced this group would not have any problems with this information, it was shared around and as expected everyone dove right in.

Besides the novelty, the dish was the only one of the meal that fell pretty flat as most of the cuts of meat were ultimately very dry and possibly overcooked.

Much better was the chigirtma ($12, below) a dish of on-the-bone chicken cooked in very hot oils and served in a tomato sauce with eggs. This is another dish that does not show up on the menus of Soviet-inspired places but should not be overlooked here. The name translates to "screaming," said to be the sound heard while it is cooked.

Sometimes chigirtma is served with plov, but we saved this course for the sabzi plov ($12, below), a dish that has a lot of Persian influence. "Sabzi" comes from Farsi meaning green and refers to the herbs used to create its unique taste, the boldest of which is garlic chives. This is a lamb dish and is served unlike most plov in that the meat and herbs are separate from the basmati rice. It is not gigantic, so for large groups more than one plate might be required so that everyone has more than just a small taste.

Sadj ($24, below) is the most expensive entree on the menu and gets served on a two-tiered contraption that can have a flame with charcoal underneath if necessary. This is actually where the dish gets its name, and examples in the country can span a range from utilitarian to highly decorative. In most houses, it is also used to do the actual cooking.

Along with tender chunks of lamb, there are mushrooms, red peppers, eggplants, zucchini, and a buttery bread similar to luchi or roti.

The gazan lula ($9, below) is a kebab served on two skewers that did not disappoint but maybe most memorable was the tomato-based sauce served alongside it. If you have ever eaten Central Asia kebabs, the sauce is never truly special, but this version enhances anything it touches.

End any meal with their excellent tea service ($10 for large pot, not shown), and a plate full of desserts. The intricately designed shakar bura ($3 each, below) won the night, with oohs and aahs from everyone at the table. These pastries (sometimes written shekerbura) are slightly sweet from sugar but rely on crushed almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts in the delicious center.

Surprisingly as well, Dolma did not tack on a service charge like many restaurants in this part of Brooklyn like to, letting us round way up with a very good tip and not worry about where that 10% was going. We will back Elmar!

Shakar bura and mutaki.

Dolma House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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