#120 Tajikistan: hm, this food closet smells like pickled cabbage

 

closeted Tajik kabobs with onion doilies?

At a glance, one might assume that Salute Kosher Restaurant (sometimes listed online as “Salut 2000” or “Restaurant Salute”) is just another Uzbek-Bukharian place, much like Cherburechnaya or Tandoori or Aladdin. The word “Uzbek” appears twice on the menu, and the restaurant was featured in a 2006 New York Times article, which specifically mentioned that Salute serves “Uzbek plov.” So clearly, Salute is just another of New York’s many Uzbek-owned eateries, right?

But then I noticed an odd turn of phrase by the “Uzbek” restaurant owner interviewed for the article:  ”‘We had the most wonderful fresh lake fish in Dushanbe,’ Ledya Moses, an owner of Salute, said.”

Wait a second. Dushanbe? That’s in Tajikistan, not Uzbekistan. Hm.

So I rounded up a handful of friends—all of whom happen to be thin, intelligent people with impressive appetites—and we headed over to Salute to investigate. And to try to make my pals less thin.

“Central Asian” pickled green tomatoes are effing amazing, wherever they’re from

The menu at Salute features classic Bukharian fare, including hummus and babaganoush, plenty of pickled vegetables, plov (rice pilaf), and craploads of kabobs. Interestingly, only two nationalities were mentioned on the menu: several dishes were supposedly from Uzbekistan, and the pickled cabbage was “Armenian.” Crap, maybe these guys weren’t from Tajikistan after all.

When we ordered our first round of food, I asked the waitress where the owners were from. “This is Central Asian restaurant,” she responded, cryptically. After some good-natured coaxing, she finally relented: “The owners are from Tajikistan, from Dushanbe.” Congratulations, we found yet another restaurateur hiding in the NYC food closet! Maybe you could argue that Tajik food closely resembles Uzbek cuisine, but a small homage to Tajikistan on the menu would be nice, right?

“Central Asian” cheburek

Whatever. The food was phenomenal, even if humble Tajikistan wasn’t specifically honored on the menu. We had an inevitably excellent platter of pickled vegetables ($7), including pickled green tomatoes, which are rapidly becoming one of my favorite post-Soviet food obsessions. We had insanely fresh bread (lepeshka, $2), pulled straight from a tandoori oven, and plenty of charcoal-grilled lamb and chicken kabobs ($3.75). We even sampled Salute’s version of herring and potatoes ($6.50), some tasty fried chebureks ($1.75 each) stuffed with ground meat and onions, and some crunchy marinated eggplant (ochor, $6). Nearly everything we ate was beautifully executed and wonderfully fresh—definitely a notch or two better than, say, the mayonnaise-y goop at a certain Belorussian restaurant in Brooklyn, and at least as good as the Uzbek joint that serves horsemeat salad.

not quite as amazing as the babaganoush, but definitely crunchier and more photogenic

A few dishes were particularly impressive, however. Babaganoush (eggplant paste with garlic, $5) is a standard dish served throughout a wide swath of territory from Greece to Central Asia, but Salute’s version had an addictive smoky flavor, and was probably the best I’d ever eaten. Another highlight was the “Armenian” pickled cabbage ($5.50), which was both ridiculously crisp and ridiculously spicy, even if it wasn’t ridiculously Tajik.

As you know, I’m always vaguely sad when I see a New York ethnic food closet-case, and I sometimes wish that places like Salute would fly their national flags more proudly. But when the food is this good, who really gives a crap if they hide in the food closet?

 

“Armenian”

Salut on Urbanspoon

Salute Kosher Restaurant
6342 108th Street, Queens
Subway: 63 Dr.-Rego Park (M, R trains)

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