THE DISH: Khochu Kharcho
Khochu Kharcho//39 / 41 Sadovaya Ulitsa//Tel. 310 3236//www.ginzaproject.ru//Open daily, 24 hours//Menu in English and Russian//Dinner for two with alcohol 2,750 rubles ($90)
Published: November 16, 2011 (Issue # 1683)
Khochu Kharcho, a new Ginza Project restaurant specializing in Western Georgian cuisine, is eager to please whenever, whoever and almost wherever it can. Located on Sennaya Ploshchad, the two-story restaurant is open 24 hours a day, equipped with hookah and a kids’ menu that includes Georgian classics such as khachapuri as well as not-so-Georgian hotdogs, and is ready to deliver anywhere within a five-kilometer radius.
While the substantial menu includes descriptions of most dishes, many may seem to those uneducated in the art of Georgian food to be rather similar — lots of meat, stews and spices. Consulting with the servers can however help to understand the sometimes subtle differences and make a final decision. Kharcho with lamb, a thin broth with rice, spices and fresh cilantro, totaled 230 rubles ($7.50) and was an impressive start to the meal. Served piping hot and in red clay dishware reminiscent of something you might find in a café buried in the mountains, the soup had quite a kick, but even those who can’t stomach spicy would still be safe. The lamb was a little fatty, but the dish was overall satisfying and justified the restaurant’s name (Khochu Kharcho means “I want kharcho” in Russian). The other appetizer, cheburek with veal (280 rubles, $9.20) was a perfectly fried thin pastry, but extra thin on the meat. Khachapuri cheese bread (320 rubles, $10.50) was freshly baked and filled with delectable Suluguni cheese.
The main courses took a bit longer to be served, but only because they weren’t waiting under a heat lamp for their unsuspecting patron, and the waitress had the courtesy to warn us that it would be a few minutes. The dishes arrived in order of their readiness rather than simultaneously, assumedly to avoid the presentation of almost fresh food. Kuch-machi (340 rubles, $11.15), effectively giblets, is a dish ordered only by the brave and was surprisingly good (and very spicy) considering how difficult it can be to prepare innards. It was also presented well, with cilantro and fresh pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top. Chkmeruli (640 rubles, $21), baked chicken in a creamy garlic sauce with herbs, came recommended and with a bowl of lemon water and towel for clean-up as it should be eaten with your hands. In fear of looking like a cave-person who mistakenly made it past face-control, an attempt at using a knife and fork was made but proved useless. Hands it was. Both entrees were healthy portions, even too much, especially after the appetizers. The large portions, however, are in keeping with the Georgian tradition of over-feeding guests.
The restaurant’s atmosphere, like its staff, is warm and inviting. Despite its high seating-capacity of almost 300, it feels intimate and personal. The earth-toned color-scheme with tan walls and curtains accompanied by primarily red-and-orange patterned armchairs and sofas and low-lighting create a calm and relaxing interior. While ideal for snuggling or chatting, if you come to Khochu Kharcho to eat, a booster seat may come in handy as the chairs are a little low. The lampshades woven from straw project funky designs onto the ceiling, complimenting the patterns on the furniture and columns. A large movie screen on one wall showing a Soviet film seemed to be a little out of place at first, but was harmless enough as there was no sound, and less odd once we realized the film was Georgian.
Our table for two proved to be a little small, or rather just littered with no fewer than four unnecessary table tents, toothpicks and more. Every time the waitress brought something, it was a challenge to find somewhere to put it. She did, however, get rid of the advertisements once asked.
A trip to the restroom was more like a field trip to a village. Walking through some curtains, the restaurant’s modern twist on Georgian style was left behind. Even the music was different, with traditional instrumental music replacing the R B and Amy Winehouse combination playing in the dining rooms, and sinks in the form of red clay basins sitting on the counter tops. Thankfully the “country excursion” wasn’t too authentic — the toilets flushed and there were even baskets of fluffy white hand towels.
Overall, Khochu Kharcho comes highly recommended for its appetizing and authentic Georgian cuisine, friendly atmosphere and attentive but not intrusive service. Vertically challenged diners should, however, be prepared to sit up straight in order to reach their dinner.