In Georgian, the word for “friend” is megobari, which is derived from gobi, the word for a large bowl. As in: when we sit together and eat from this large bowl together, we are of course friends. Lovely sentiment.
Yesterday we did that very thing, twice, with friends both old and new. And while we don’t intend this blog to be “look what we ate today” or a catalog of restaurant reviews, I do think it’s worth noting how the restaurant “scene” in Tbilisi has evolved so much from our first visits here only six years ago.
It has never been hard to find traditional Georgian food in Tbilisi. Large spaces decorated as “old Georgia” feed the tourists and non-descript hole-in-the-walls cater to the locals. Both serve essentially the same menu. Today there are restaurants and cafes seemingly popping up all over Old Town, several of which are taking Georgian cuisine far beyond simple khinkali and khachapuri.
We’ve been to some of them last year and are looking forward to returning (Azarphesha, Ghvino Underground), some are already on our must-try list (Ezo, Culinarium) and some, such as yesterday’s lunch and dinner destinations, came as completely pleasant surprises.
The first, Barbarestan, is a cozy and warmly decorated place serving dishes from the ancient cookbook of Barbara Jorjadze, a 19th century Georgian duchess, feminist and, if yesterday’s lunch was any indication, amazing cook.
We sat in the marani (wine cellar) and feasted on dishes that were traditional yet innovative, built on combinations of flavors not often found in Georgian restaurants I’ve been to: pumpkin croquettes, beet salad marinated in tkemali (Georgia’s famous sour plum sauce), strong cheeses made in nearby villages, eggplant stewed in satsivi walnut sauce spiked with cloves & nutmeg, which is usually served with chicken. Lazuri khachapuri, served “open-faced” without a top crust. And this gobi that included bazhe made with almonds instead of walnuts, roasted onions with herbs, and nadugi “cheese” made with pumpkin:
After all of that — plus more, and plenty of saperavi red wine — we had only a few hours to recover for dinner at Leila’s, a new vegetarian/vegan cafe in Old Town.
There are maybe only 10 tables, sitting under one of the most ornate ceilings I’ve ever seen (which I’m told is original to the building).
The menu featured vegetarian renditions of popular Georgian dishes (like kharcho, traditionally a beef soup) as well as new creations such as this, which I was curious about but opted for the lobio bean stew instead:
We ended the night with this gobi of traditional Georgian appetizers: mchadi cornmeal cakes, pickled vegetables, spinach pkhali, badrijani and assorted cheeses, including an addictively pungent one made from sheep’s milk:
It was a great day of eating, reconnecting with old friends, making new ones and stoking our fire of everything we love about Georgian food and hospitality.