Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bukharan Banquet New York City Entry #97 Salute

When a few months ago I had cause to be in Japan for two weeks, each time I took the subway I ached for New York. The brimming diversity of these boroughs is bracing. Every street is a Silk Road, although some, such as 108th Street in Rego Park, are silkier than others. Recently a group of friends and I ventured to Salute to sample kosher Central Asian (Bukharan) cuisine. Since we were ten, a banquet ensued. (There seems to be alternative spellings for Salute - notably Salut - but the menu, signage, and business card allows us to salute Salute).

Although Salute is sometimes billed as an Uzbeki restaurant, the food has Russian accents as well as Central Asian traditions. The restaurant characterizes itself as a "Kosher Restaurant." It is startlingly clean and spacious, not elegant but simple and comfortable without an attempt to claim the authenticity of the steppes. Our waitress hailed from Pinsk, the White Russian town, several thousand miles from Samarkand. Some dishes were Crimean, others Near Eastern, and some such as Herring and Salmon, seemingly Russian; still others, such as kebabs, lagman (noodle soup), and pilaf, were more traditionally central Asian. Some such as khorovak-kebab (Veal Sweetbread Kebabs) were delightful and novel.

Our dinner consisted of simple preparations with some dishes more moist and delicious than others. The jewel of the evening was lagman, a lamb and noodle soup, given surprising flavor by cilantro, cumin, and a sharp taste of anise. The broth was rich and aromatic. The bowl had a distinctive taste that I will long treasure.

Also excellent was a "Asian Pilaf" (sometimes spelled Plov or Palov), a hearty mix of lamb, rice, carrots, chickpeas, and onions. Of course the kebabs - lamb, sweetbreads, salmon, seabass, and vegetable - were admirable, if not remarkable. Good too were cheburekes, thin Crimean meat pies, large golden, flaky moons of fried dough; ochor (marinated mini-eggplants); humus and national bread, looking like a giant bialy. A hard halvah dessert (which I heard as lavs), was sweet and pretty. I was less taken with the marinated mushrooms; pickled cabbage wedge; samsa, a home-made piroshki with too little filling; and a somewhat dry baklava. None were unpleasant, but didn't stand comparison to the best dishes. Throughout dinner we quaffed Borjomi, a popular Georgian water treasured for its distinct alkaline taste of mineral salts.

With the exception of the wonderful Lagman soup, the other dishes are pleasurable and simply made. The sweetbread kebab is unique in my experience, although aside from the startling experience of seeing these organs on a skewer, they were not uniquely tender. Still at under $25/person, a trek to Salute is to demonstrate that the middle of nowhere can be somewhere special.

Salute Kosher Restaurant
63-42 108th Street (at 63rd Road)
Queens (Rego Park)
718-275-6860

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