THE DISH: Midnight Train to Georgia
Nanuchi//Kadetskaya liniya, 11//Tel. 322 2230 or 929 0002//Open 24 hours//Credit cards not accepted.//Dinner for two with alcohol: 2,420 rubles ($77)
Published: April 24, 2013 (Issue # 1756)
Collapsing into a booth at Nanuchi after a hard day of sightseeing with a visiting American friend unacquainted with Georgian food, we began poring over the menu in search of stimulation.
Pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere, which can definitely be said to have soul, and too frazzled to concentrate, we let the waitress guide us towards the Nanuchi salad (250 rubles, $8). A green-less mix of shredded chicken, walnuts, mushrooms and peppers bound together with mayonnaise and heavily infused with garlic, the salad was topped with herbed breadcrumbs. A glistening sprinkling of ruby-red pomegranate seeds added a surprising and refreshing touch.
Between bites, we cleansed our palates with the “dry” house wine (200 rubles, $6.35). Served from the tap, it was achingly sugary and we wondered aloud what would have happened had we ordered the sweet variety, imagining ourselves falling into a sugar coma.
The two of us eagerly scooped up the salad to the last breadcrumb before moving on to the kharcho soup (200 rubles, $6.35), a Georgian classic of rice, beef, onions and parsley swimming in a flavorful, if salty, broth. Served with fresh lavash bread (30 rubles, $1) to dip, the soup made a satisfying first course on a chilly, rainy night.
We tried the khachipuri po-mengrelski (250 rubles, $8), also at the waitress’s recommendation, which arrived at the table hot and bubbling with suluguni cheese and a golden crust that crackled as the waitress doled out slices onto our plates.
Room in our stomachs swiftly
disappeared as we made our way through the medium-sized khachipuri, which can also be ordered in small and large portions. One look at the plates of khinkali (250 rubles, $8) and grilled vegetables (230 rubles, $7.30) that appeared next confirmed our doubts over the extent of our appetites.
The five fat khinkali were served up too hot to handle and digging in with fork and knife, our plates were soon swimming with savory juice from the dumplings, each filled with a hearty meatball spiced liberally with cumin and red and green pepper.
The plate of vegetables included eggplant, red bell pepper, potatoes, and onions, grilled to perfection and garnished with plenty of fresh parsley. It offered something of a respite from the meaty, creamy, salty dishes that filled our table, and our stomachs. These too, however, were sprinkled with salt, removing any doubts which might have remained that had we been looking for light and health-conscious meal, we were definitely in the wrong place.
Throughout the meal, we were entertained by the whims of the DJ — if the lone soul sitting behind a laptop was indeed playing DJ. His sporadic song selection was either for our benefit, or for his, as we were the only patrons. Over the course of the meal, the music went from Russian and French cabaret ballads to jazzy lounge tunes to blaring techno. Our ears were even visited, at one point, by the 2004 Günther hit “Ding Ding Dong (You Touch My Tra La La).”
Far too stuffed to even consider dessert, we each had a grainy Turkish coffee (150 rubles, $4.75) to cap our meal and aid with digestion. This left us a moment to contemplate the decor, as moving was out of the question for at least the next few minutes. We concluded that Nanuchi’s interior felt like a Russian version of the Olive Garden, that American staple chain of faux-Italian cooking.
Kitschy and cozy, bunches of plastic grapes and strands of lights hang from the vaulted ceiling. A stand of fake ferns make up a display at one end of the small, cellar-like dining room and the light at our table was softened by a paper napkin, the lampshade apparently having been lost somewhere along the way.
Unlike the Olive Garden, though, Nanuchi is all authenticity where it really counts. Open 24 hours, the restaurant would make a worthy late-night stop for those frequenting the area’s bars in the wee hours — perhaps to wait out the hours before the metro reopens. Note that the restaurant does not accept credit cards, so be sure to have some cash on hand.
The waitress was not only helpful in offering recommendations, but also happy to accommodate us when the food proved too much, packing up the leftovers for us to take home. As it turns out, cold khinkali in the morning are satisfying in their own way, even without hyper Europop soundtrack to accompany them.