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Culinary crossroads

City's first Georgian eatery offers taste of the Caucasus

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One of the newest Corydon-strip restaurants is dedicated to Georgian food. No, not fried chicken and peach pie. Saperavi, which opened in April, serves the dishes of the small Eurasian nation situated in the mountainous Caucasus region.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/07/2016 (2273 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One of the newest Corydon-strip restaurants is dedicated to Georgian food. No, not fried chicken and peach pie. Saperavi, which opened in April, serves the dishes of the small Eurasian nation situated in the mountainous Caucasus region.

Georgia borders Russia, the Black Sea, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, making it a fascinating culinary crossroads. Saperavi’s Georgian-born chef, Zena Nozadze, combines Slavic influences, seen in meat pastries, mushroom dumplings and borscht, with intriguing Middle Eastern and western Asian flavours such as pomegranate, mint, cilantro and fenugreek.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Saperavi chef Lena Sanina serves up a sizzling clay pot of Soko, Mushrooms and Cheese.

As the only Georgian restaurant on the Canadian Prairies, Saperavi offers something unique. Some dishes arrive at the table bubbling in flat clay dishes or kept warm in enclosed clay pots. Many dishes do a lot with simple, rib-sticking ingredients like potatoes, tomatoes, beets, eggs and soft, yeasty breads. Many rely on strong flavours, including salty cheese and resolute (very resolute!) garlic. The results are occasionally uneven but worth exploring for their unusual and unexpected pleasures.

The menu, for non-Georgians, requires some navigating. The welcoming wait staff will be happy to help with this, so don’t be shy about asking questions. If possible, go in a group and order for the table, which will help you get the most of a menu where several dishes are offered in varying sizes and everything comes à la carte.

Meat dishes, for example, are just that, and you’ll probably want to supplement them with some vegetables, as well as traditional plum and tomato sauce for grilled dishes, and potatoes, rice or bread to sop up the juices of braises and stews. Dishes tend to come out as they are cooked, not necessarily as distinct courses.

Pricing can seem arbitrary. Some dishes feel like a bargain, while others are overly expensive. There are also a few discrepancies on the menu — or rather menus. Saperavi has a standard menu, plus a laminated insert with pictures, as well as a bill of fare on the restaurant’s website, and these sources don’t always agree. Some dishes are listed but not yet available, like pelamushi, a Georgian dessert made from concentrated grape juice.

Other dishes are available but not yet listed. Shashlik, for instance, is itemized as skewered marinated veal, chicken or pork, but you can also get lamb, a tasty bone-in cut with lots of char, which is not yet on the menu. Gorgeous hand-twisted fist-sized dumplings called khinkali are available in a mix of ground beef and pork with a slurp of broth, but there is also a mushroom version, an option listed on the web menu but not seen in the hard-copy versions.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Georgian Lavashi bread, wine

Again, you just have to ask, and a little back-and-forth during the ordering process will pay off. Standouts include meat-intensive options like kebabi, intriguingly spiced house-made sausage, and shkmeruli, bone-in chicken thighs crisped on top and braised and tender below in a garlic-spiked milk sauce. Odjakhuri is a soupy stew of pork and potatoes with the tart, licoricey finish of tarragon.

Vegetarian-friendly dishes include ajapsandali, a spicy Georgian take on ratatouille, and badrijnis, an eggplant salad in a creamy sauce of walnuts sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Walnuts, a staple of the Georgian kitchen, are also used in versions of phkali, a kind of vegetable purée that tastes good smeared on bread.

The small wine selection includes three reds and one white from Georgia, one of world’s oldest wine regions, where ancient winemaking traditions are protected by UNESCO. There are also some good Belgian and German beers.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

PHOTOS BY PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Phkhali, one of the Georgian dishes on offer at Saperavi, includes spinach, beet, leek, eggplant and walnuts.
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