Vodka doesn’t appear anywhere on the menu at Tbilisi, a cozy Georgian restaurant in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn. There’s no beer on the menu, either.
But we got slaughtered, anyway. Surrendering to our lamentable stereotype of former Soviet states, our group of nine—all of whom were of purely Asian or Western European descent, with the exception of a certain half-Slav food blogger—felt obligated to drink as much vodka as possible with every course. BYOB can be a very dangerous thing, especially if you eat four or five or six courses. Which we did.
For our first course, we ordered craploads of khachapuri—Georgia’s legendary cheese-stuffed bread—to soak up the two bottles of vodka that we purchased at a liquor store down the street. Our wonderful waitress told us that each order of khachapuri is cut into six pieces; there were nine of us in the group, so we decided that we needed four orders of khachapuri.
Don’t ask me how we came up with that math. What do I look like, a math tutor? Oh, wait.
In our first wave of food, we received two large, round, flat loaves of imeretian khachapuri ($9), stuffed with craploads of suluguni, a slightly pickled, salty-sour cheese that tastes outrageously good when it comes straight out of the oven. Khachapuri is always amazing, but it tastes particularly great when it’s fresh… and accompanied by assloads of vodka.
Soon after devouring the first batch of khachapuri, we started on the cold, salad-y portion of our meal, featuring a dish called “eggplant with walnuts” ($11)—basically, slices of eggplant that had been marinated, grilled, and then chilled, topped with something resembling walnut hummus and garnished with pomegranate, red onions, parsley, and lettuce. It was absolutely delicious, and arguably the best dish of the day.
The similarly named “spinach with walnuts” ($10) was nearly as good: shredded, pleasantly dry balls of spinach and walnuts, pressed into little figures that vaguely resembled stuffed mushrooms, and garnished again with pomegranate and onion.
Sadly, our other two cold appetizers weren’t quite as amazing. We ordered a pair of pricy sturgeon platters ($18 each), consisting of reasonably appealing marinated, chilled sturgeon, garnished with black olives. The sturgeon was decent, but not particularly interesting; I had hoped for better for the price. And I love pan-Soviet pickles more than most people, but was pretty bummed by our nondescript plate of pickled cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and canned pepperoncinis ($10); the dish was mildly redeemed by the handful of blissfully crunchy pickled green tomatoes, but was otherwise a dud.
But the crazy bubbly green s#!t we drank wasn’t a dud, and Tbilisi deserves an award for serving the best-tasting mouthwash doppelganger I’ve ever encountered. Georgian tarragon soda ($3) is an unreasonable shade of emerald green, but has a surprisingly mellow, not-overly-sweet licorice flavor. Tbilisi also offers a pear soda ($3) with a pleasantly floral finish.
Both sodas go very well with vodka. Actually, everything goes well with vodka, in my opinion. Except for lawyers. Who needs lawyers, really?
After we finished our “cold” appetizers, our wonderful waitress brought our second round of khachapuri. This type was called mingrelian khachapuri ($14), and like the imeretian khachapuri, it was stuffed with cheese… but it was topped with even more cheese. It might have been the cheesiest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, and I mean that in the best possible way. It might have been cheesier than most pieces of plain cheese I’ve eaten. How the eff did they make that happen?
As I finished stuffing my face with blissfully cheesy Georgian cheese bread topped with cheese and extra cheese, I realized that six of my eight fellow diners were lawyers or law students. That made me want to drink even more vodka. So I did.
For our—I don’t know, our third or fourth or fifth course, depending on how good you are at counting—we ordered a double plate of khinhali (6 for $9), Georgia’s large, ravioli-like dumplings, stuffed with spiced lamb. Our always-wonderful waitress explained how to eat them: you’re supposed to hold the khinkali by the nipple, take a small bite, drink the juice out of the dumpling, and then eat the rest of the meat and dough. I’d read somewhere that you’re supposed to leave the nipples on your plate as a way of counting how many khinkali you’d eaten, sort of like notches in your belt. So I left my nipples, even though they were doughy and delicious.
Actually, I just wanted an excuse to write the word “nipple” a couple of extra times. You’re welcome.
For our final course, we ordered yet still more sturgeon, but in kebab form this time. It was a little bit disappointing, especially for the price ($23); it was unnecessarily fishy, and really didn’t have much going for it in the way of seasoning. I pretty much ignored the sturgeon, and focused on an incredible veal-tarragon stew called chakapuli ($11), loaded with an unreasonable amount of tarragon and parsley.
Once I finished licking the veal-tarragon stew bowl clean, I looked around the table, and realized that I was not only surrounded by lawyers, but engaged to marry one of them. So I finished both bottles of vodka and immediately went to my favorite Nigerian restaurant to drown my sorrows in more food.
811 Kings Highway, Brooklyn
Subway: Kings Highway (B, Q, F trains)