Please allow me to indulge in a ridiculous, fattening fantasy for a moment.
In my alternate-universe version of New York City, all ethnic restaurants would proudly serve their national dishes. Nobody would hide in the international food closet. There wouldn’t be any more Bengalis masquerading as “Indian” chefs, Senegalese restaurateurs claiming that they’re merely “African,” Algerians allowing themselves to be mistaken for Moroccans, or brilliant Laos who spend their days making Thai and Vietnamese food. Makers of “obscure” ethnic foods would proudly shove their national dishes in our faces, and make us like them.
So I was pretty thrilled to see some serious Moldavian chest-thumping at the aptly named Moldova Restaurant in Brooklyn. If you visit the restaurant’s website, you’ll be greeted by a rotating array of proud taglines: “Feel the atmosphere of welcoming Moldavia!” or “You can’t say you know the taste of Moldova until you try authentic mamaliga!”
OK. If you insist, I’ll try some authentic mamaliga. And so will eight of my friends, including Dave Cook from Eating In Translation, Eric Malson from Eric Eats Out, and Peter Cuce from Project Latte. We had way too many cameras. It was kind of embarrassing.
The food wasn’t embarrassing at all, though. Because the website told us to, we ate lots of authentic mamaliga (polenta): mamaliga with fried chicken livers ($9.99), mamaliga mixed with sour cream and feta cheese, mamaliga with grilled pork neck ($12.99), mamaliga with scrambled eggs (mamaliga trapeza, $12.99), and—this is the really exciting part—fried balls of mamaliga stuffed with feta cheese, and served with fried pork belly (ursuleti, $6.99).
The ursuleti is a Best Dish Ever nominee, simply because the combination of salty fatty pork and salty fatty cheese and salty fatty fried polenta is absolutely irresistible. (I’ve probably accumulated about 250 Best Dish Ever nominees by now…but who’s counting?)
After the website’s instructions to “try authentic mamaliga” worked so well for us, we decided that it would probably be smart to meticulously follow every instruction that appears on the Moldova Restaurant homepage. The website told us to “feast every day.” So we feasted.
We had some tasty chilled veal tongue with horseradish sauce ($6.99), an obligatory plate of pickled vegetables (cucumbers, cabbage, and red and green tomatoes, $9.99), a side of potatoes fried with mushrooms, and some phenomenal seared kielbasa served with peas and onions (carnaciori, $8.99). We even ate a cheese- and meat-stuffed pelmeni doppelganger called “Coltunasi Fat Frumos” ($6.99). I have no idea who Frumos is, but I totally understand how he got fat.
But the most intriguing line on the website was probably this one: “There is no sea in Moldavia, but there is the amazing Dunarea shrimp salad. ” (Yes, the smiley face actually appears on the website.) The Dunarea shrimp salad was a terrine of shredded daikon, avocado, cucumber, shrimp, and fish roe, all coated in a mildly spicy, lightly mayonnaise-y dressing. The dish reeked of California Asian fusion cuisine, and it was easily the biggest non-sequitur of the meal. How, exactly, did landlocked Moldova develop a dish with shrimp, avocado, and fish roe? I mean, the website was right and everything—the salad really was amazing, if somewhat heavy for something called a “salad,”—but the dish was definitely a curiosity.
Since everything had gone pretty much perfectly so far, we continued to obey the Moldova Restaurant website when they told us that “our desserts are even more delicious than they look.” So we ordered one of everything, including cherry-stuffed blintzes (clatita cu visina, $6.99), baked pears and apples stuffed with nuts and honey ($5.99 each), an order of stuffed dried plums ($6.99), and a stellar pumpkin-stuffed crepe ($3.99). I’ll agree that the desserts were pretty, and I’ll also agree that the desserts probably tasted even better than they looked… but in fairness, they all resembled similarly fruity, simple, delicious desserts that you would find in other Eastern European eateries.
But that didn’t stop the Moldova Restaurant website from bragging: “Yo Romania! Hey, Ukraine! Look over here, Russia! Moldavian food kicks your country’s culinary ass! BOOM! In your face, Eastern Europe!”
OK, fine. The website didn’t say that. But it probably could have.
Keep thumping your chests, Moldova Restaurant. You’ve earned the right.
1827 Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn
Subway: Avenue M (Q train) or Avenue N (F train)