Four things really caught my attention during our visit to Syabri, a friendly Belorussian restaurant in Brooklyn:
I got more tongue at Syabri than I’ve ever gotten in any other restaurant, Slavic or otherwise.
- I got more mayonnaise at Syabri than I’ve ever gotten in a Slavic restaurant. (The Russian and Ukrainian salads I grew up with were always dressed with vinegar, not mayonnaise.)
- Tongue and mayonnaise might actually go well together… as long as you like your tongue cold and gloppy.
- If a Belorussian dictator visits your restaurant, you should name a dish after him, just to be polite. And perhaps to avoid getting your ass kicked.
For our first round of dishes, our gang of 11 diners (including a Belorussian, a Ukrainian, two Moldovans, a shark-chomping Slovenian, four Americans of partial Russian ancestry, a beautiful American woman who does not actually resemble a burrito, and the captain of the Jamaican women’s basketball team) ordered sautéed beef tongue with a delicious beet-colored horseradish sauce ($7.90). I like my tongue warm, wet, and spicy, so I was pretty happy. We also ordered a plate of chilled pork loin and boiled, chilled beef tongue, served with more of the delicious beet-colored horseradish sauce ($13.90). I’m still not sure how I feel about having cold, spicy boiled tongue in my mouth, but the pork was fantastic.
Even the “Belorussian salad” featured tongue, lightly seasoned with fried onions, cabbage, radishes, and assloads of mayonnaise. Our Belorussian companion was much more enthralled with the olivie salad ($6.50), which included radishes, peas, carrots, and potatoes, held together with a somewhat lighter dose of mayonnaise. We also ate a Russian radish salad ($7.50), graced by yet still more additional heaps of mayonnaise. I’m not really a mayonnaise-lover, but the delicious beet-colored horseradish sauce helped the mayonnaise and tongue slide down my throat.
(The beef tongue, I mean. Nobody else’s tongue slid down my throat. At least not that I can remember.)
Besides the tongue variations, most of our other dishes were fairly standard Slavic fare, much like the goodies you’d find in any Brighton Beach Russian or Ukrainian joint. We had fried potatoes and mushrooms (always good with vodka, $9.50), pelmeni (translated as “chicken ravioli” on our bill; it wasn’t as good as Oceanview Café’s vareniki, but it’s always good with vodka), pickled vegetables ($13.50 for large platter, including magnificent pickled green tomatoes, which are always spectacular with vodka), beef stroganoff (which goes well with vodka, $10.99) and chicken and pork kebabs ($10.50 and $11.50, respectively), which usually taste better with vodka.
The friendly staff also brought us small glasses, which are also always good with vodka. Even the gently sweetened, mildly overpriced ($10 per pitcher) non-alcoholic house punch went very well with vodka.
So basically, pretty much everything served at Syabri falls into the category of hearty, delicious Slavic comfort food that happens to go well with vodka. Still, there were a few standouts, in addition to the pickled green tomatoes. Draniki ($5.50)—Belorussian potato pancakes—are perfect for soaking up craploads of vodka; kolduny ($7.50) are an even heartier version of draniki, stuffed with mildly spiced meat. (When we inquired about the filling, the waitress just said “it’s meat.” Hm.) And my favorite dish was the stuffed cabbage ($11), jammed with rice, vegetables, and bits of meat in a blissfully oily, tomato-tinged sauce.
The menu at Syabri features one oddity that we—sadly—failed to try. Once upon a time, Syabri restaurant was graced by a visit from a dude named Alexander Lukashenko, who happens to be the dictator of Belarus (or, if you prefer, “Belorussian dude who has been president for 18 years and is somehow still popular enough to be reelected with 86% of the vote”). So what do you do if the
dictator “president” of Belarus shows up at your restaurant? You serve him a fancy egg omelet, and then rename it in his honor.
No, really. The menu at Syabri includes a dish called “Egg Omelet ‘Hi from Lukashenko’”. I am not making this up. In retrospect, I wish that we’d ordered one, just so that I would be able to tell my Belorussian friends that I once had some Lukashenko in my mouth.
Oh, well. At least I can still say that I enjoyed a long, hearty, vodka-soaked dinner in Brooklyn, and somehow ended up with more Belorussian tongue in my mouth than I ever could have expected.
906 Kings Highway, Brooklyn
Subway: Kings Highway (B, Q, F trains)