Sitting on the back patio at Caucasus Garden in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, I was pretty convinced that I was in another country. We guzzled Ukrainian and Russian and Japanese beer, purchased at the bodega next door. The TV inside the restaurant blared Russian news at full volume. Everybody else on the patio—including my Armenian companion—spoke Russian. And the menu included fried lamb testicles. Clearly, I wasn’t in Iowa anymore.
For better or worse, Caucasus Garden has a massive menu that features dishes from all over Central Asia and the former Soviet Union. You can get dolma, hummus, and kabobs, as you would in many countries that were once part of the former Ottoman Empire. You can have your choice of Russian ravioli (better known as pelmeni), Siberian ravioli, or Azerbaijani ravioli (kurza). Or lamb testicles, fried with onions. In keeping with the theme of the evening, we decided to stick with the stuff that included the word “Azerbaijan” in the menu description.
That worked out pretty damned well. I started with a bowl of dovga ($4.90), a cold Azerbaijani soup made from yogurt, dill, rice, garlic, mint, eggs, and a few bits of finely diced parsley and spinach. It was an interesting dish: I loved the combination of dill and mint, but the yogurt was on the acidic side, and almost seemed to have a hint of carbonation in it. Slightly fizzy cold yogurt with greens and rice? Pretty cool. Almost as cool as lamb testicles.
(After our meal, I found a dovga recipe that included this magnificent line: ”In order to make dovga, beat up sour clotted milk with sour cream and flour, add egg and rice. To prevent the sour clotted milk from decomposing, all the mass should be continuously stirred.” That nice fizzy taste? From beat-up sour clotted milk. Yum!)
Our next three appetizers were outstanding. We tried kurza ($5.90), the Azerbaijani version of ravioli or pelmeni: lovely pieces of a pasta-like substance, stuffed with a mild, gently herbed sausage. The kutabs ($2 each) were even better: Azerbaijani crepes stuffed with a thin layer of either mild lamb sausage or spinach, topped with sumac and served with a side of yogurt sauce. Even the green salad ($6.90) was fantastic, with unusually flavorful vegetables and a stellar, salty vinaigrette dressing.
After four appetizers, we decided to order another meat kutab. And we accidentally ordered an insanely juicy lamb shank ($9.90), marinated in sweet peppers and olives. And we ran through two loaves of fresh bread, topped with roasted sesame seeds. We told the server that we loved the bread, and she responded by insisting that the bread would taste particularly good with a plate of fried onions and lamb testicles.
And just in case two loaves of bread, three kutabs, a plate of kurza, a bowl of soup, a salad, and a lamb shank weren’t enough, we then ordered Caucasus Garden’s monstrous mixed grill, a platter of grilled chicken, lamb and lamb sausage (adana) kabobs, intended as a full dinner for two people ($26). The chicken and lamb were about as perfect as grilled meat can get, though the adana was our only (mild) disappointment of the evening.
And the lamb testicles? Unfortunately, we didn’t have room for them, though the server told us that they would make a great dessert. Maybe next time.
2715 Avenue U, Brooklyn
Subway: Avenue U (B, Q trains)