I went to Sheepshead Bay, looking for Armenian food. Instead, I found tasty dried horse meat. And fake pet birds. Life is good.
Aladdin, a six-week-old Uzbek restaurant in the spot formerly occupied by Armenian-owned Garden Bay Café, serves all sorts of classic Uzbek awesomeness: a colorful version of lagman (noodle) soup, solid renditions of manti (large dumplings, similar to nippled Georgian khinkhali) and chebureki (flat, empanada-like pockets of fried meat and dough), and the best plov (Uzbek rice pilaf with lamb) I’ve had in NYC.
Across the board, the execution at Aladdin seemed to be a notch above its pan-Soviet peers. All of our kebabs had a delicious charred taste to them, the avocado salad was unusually fresh, and the servers were friendly and efficient. Even the tongue salad, topped with freshly fried onion rings, had an appealing tang to it, and was a huge improvement on the gloppy stuff we ate in a nearby Belorussian restaurant.
Clearly, they’re doing something right. The place was packed on only its seventh weekend of business, and the Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States was in the restaurant, despite the fact that the restaurant is hardly Kyrgyz: the chef is from Uzbekistan and his front-of-the-house partner, a fine fellow named Alex, is from the Caucasus mountains in southwestern Russia.
And clearly, one of the things they’re doing right is the décor: there are fake birds, in a fake golden birdcage. And that’s awesome.
Even more awesome: one of our salads was an appealing little number called naryn, made from shredded dough with medallions of an unusually tasty meat product. It tasted like a cross between a mild sausage and a not-completely-dried beef jerky, and none of us—not even our well-traveled Armenian friend—knew exactly what it was. I imagined that it was beef or lamb, cured in some ingenious way.
Nope. It was horse meat, dried with cumin. And it was delicious.
1788 Sheepshead Bay Road, Brooklyn
Subway: Sheepshead Bay (B, Q trains)