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63-42 108th St., Forest Hills
Beginning with the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, thousands of Buckharian (Central Asian) Jews emigrated to the United States. The majority, roughly 40,000, settled in the Queens neighborhoods of Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, and Rego Park.
Buckharian Jews trace their ancestry to Persia. Large numbers of Persian Jews migrated to Central Asia in the late 1700s. Since Bukhara, Tashkent, Dushanbe and Kokland, where the Buckharian Jews settled, were all along the Silk Road, their food also reflects Turkish, Mongolian, Chinese, Russian, Middle Eastern, Korean and even Indian influences.
Wed been hearing good things about Salute, a kosher Buckharian restaurant in Forest Hills for quite a while, and figured it was about time to give it a try.
The decor at Salute gives it a micro-mini catering hall feel. The space is small and narrow, but adorned with mock crystal chandeliers, wilton carpeting, and imitation-gilt-framed pop-ups of Old Testament biblical themes. The clientele is about a 50-50 mix of ethnic Buckharians and everyone else. The night we were there, one of the waitresses was fluent in English, the other was not an appropriate division of labor.
The first thing you need to order is bread. There is a choice of two types. The menu calls one National Bread (Leposhka is the real name), a puffy Frisbee baked in a tandoor (cylindrical clay oven). It arrives warm and studded with black and white sesame seeds. Mmmm. The alternative is Non Toki, a bowl-shaped matzo. Not a taste sensation, but kind of interesting. You might as well try one of each.
We began our sampling with two offerings from the salads list Korean carrot, and homemade babaganoush. We have been told that in recent times there has been a lot of trade and travel between Korea and Uzbekistan, and that when Uzbekis go out to eat, Korean food is the cuisine of choice. Many Korean dishes have infiltrated Uzbeki menus, so it seemed logical to try the Korean carrot salad.
We were rewarded with a finely shredded carrot salad heavily laden with garlic and some other less-easily identified flavors. It was tangy and refreshing. The homemade babaganoush was outstanding. It was creamy in texture and smoky in flavor. A far cry from the prepared stuff.
Soup was next. We opted for lagman, a tomatoey beef-and-noodle soup flavored with pepper and dill. The flavor was not particularly refined, but would hit the spot on a cold blustery day.
We tried three different types of dough-encased meat fillings from the list of appetizers. The fillings were all rather similar lots of onions with ground meat. Cheburekes, the Crimean version, are deep-fried. Uzbek Mantu is boiled. Samsa (described as home made pierogi) are baked in a flaky (if greasy) pastry casing. All three were tasty, and were definitely enhanced by tkemali sauce (listed under salads on the menu), which serves as Buckharian ketchup.
The dish usually regarded as the Buckharian national dish appears under appetizers as Asian pilaf. Buckharians call it Plov, Plav or Plaf, which derives from slurring the word pilaf. Plov demonstrates the Persian influence on this cuisine. It is a basmati rice pilaf with bits of carrot, onion, and other vegetables topped with meat. Ours was nicely seasoned, but the meat was on the dry side. It is really too substantial a dish to have as an appetizer, but makes a nice meal accompanied by bread and one or two of the salads.
Hasib is another appetizer entry worthy of note. This Buckharian sausage made of a mixture of meats and rice achieves its characteristically smooth texture by the addition of beef spleen. If you are an aficionado of unusual ethnic foods, its worth tasting. Its rather pricey compared to the rest of the menu, so try it as an appetizer split between several diners.
The signature dishes of this establishment are the kebabs. You can choose from several cuts of lamb, lula (ground meat), beef, chicken, veal sweetbreads, or fish. Kebab platters are served with vegetables, onion topping, and French fries. Our kebabs were a little overdone for our taste, but the overall quality of the meat was surprisingly good value for the money. We will make sure to ask for rare meat next time. The French fries are noteworthy as they are served with garlic. Garlic fries what a concept!
Dessert is a no-brainer. Halva is the only choice on the menu. Take it or leave it.
The Bottom Line
Salute serves soul-satisfying kosher Buckharian food at pocketbook-pleasing prices. Unlike the décor, there is no pretense in the food. No architectural presentations or fancy garnishes. Just honest eats.
Cuisine: Kosher Buckharian (Central Asian)
Setting: micro-mini catering hall
Hours: Open 7 days L & D, but observe Sabbath by closing early Fri. and opening late Sat.
Children: No childrens menu, but child-friendly atmosphere.
Takeout: Yes, local delivery.
Credit cards: No
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes
Korean Carrot Salad...$4.50
Tkemali (All purpose sauce recommended with whatever else you order)...$1
Non Toki (bowl-shaped matzo)...$2
Cheburekes (Crimean deep-fried savory pastries)...$1.50
Samsa (Baked meat-filled pierogi)...$1.50
Uzbek Mantu (Boiled meat dumplings)...$1.50
Hasib (Buckharian sausage)...$15-$25
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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