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Sevan: Armenian bakery-turned-restaurant offers delights

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Although you enter through the bakery, once you are in the restaurant area, the owners have taken great pains to create an inviting ambiance. The ceiling is done up as a grape arbor, perhaps as a reminder that some say Armenians invented and perfected wine. There are some lovely paintings on the walls and the overall feeling is relaxing and welcoming. There is recorded Armenian music on the sound system, although my daughter, my dining companion for the evening, asked me "Why are they playing circus music?" I've got to admit it does have that sound.As it is with most cuisines, geography is destiny when it comes to Armenian food. Essentially, think what Turks would eat if they were Christians, with a bit of a Russian influence. In other words, the cooking styles and seasonings of Turkey and Armenia are similar, but the meat dishes also may include pork. There is no prohibition against alcohol (except for Sevan's lack of a liquor license). The Russian influence is noticeable in the way they play fast and loose with sour cream, rather than yogurt on many dishes, not that the use of yogurt is neglected. We enjoyed a yogurt drink with our meal called "tahn," which tasted like liquid cream cheese and had the consistency of milk. The tahn was bottled and labeled with the various alternative names used by other Middle Eastern cultures.We began with two appetizers - lahmanjun and cheese stuffed peppers. Lahmajun is traditional Armenian pizza topped with ground beef, minced vegetables and spices on a "lavash," the thin, crisp, Armenian flat bread which is then folded. If you enjoy spicy food, ask them to make yours extra spicy. This is a light and appealing starter, or a perfect snack. Our other starter, cheese stuffed peppers was also interesting and well seasoned.Next we sampled gourmet carrot salad, described as being made with fresh shredded carrots, garlic, nuts, cilantro, olive oil and optional sour cream. The salad was served with a dollop of sour cream in the center. I had resolved not to eat the sour cream as a token gesture of healthy eating, but lost my resolve when I tasted the salad. Although I am a garlic lover in the extreme, this salad was so garlic-laden that it needed the sour cream to cut the garlickiness. With the sour cream, it was a garlic lover's delight, but without, the garlic was overwhelming. We also tried a yogurt soup that was pleasantly tart, with rice for body.For our entrees we opted for a mixed shish kebab platter and the Sevan original seafood dish. The shish kebab had been marinated in a tasty mix of spices and the meat was of decent quality. The platter included chicken, pork and lamb and came with a choice of French fries, rice or grilled vegetables. Our other entree the seafood dish, consisting of grilled trout, was something of a disappointment. The dish was bland and uninteresting, lacking any noticeable seasoning. When dining in a restaurant that is affiliated with a bakery, dessert is de rigueur. No excuses. Try the pakhlava (baklava), khadaifi (the shredded wheat pastry) or the mixed dessert platter of Mmiddle Eastern treats and cookies. Pair that with Armenian coffee (indistinguishable from Greek or Turkish coffee) and you can't go wrong. There's always regular coffee or tea for the sludge phobic.The Bottom LineThis Armenian eatery is long on charm and short on price, making it ideal for a cheap date. The food is tasty and the cuisine unusual. Although we were served a thimbleful of complimentary Armenian wine, Sevan has no liquor license, so bring your own if you wish to drink. Pari akhorjag! (Bon appetite in Armenian).Sevan216-09 Horace Harding ExpresswayBayside, NY 11364718 281-0004Cuisine: Armenian and Mediterran­eanSetting: Small attractive cafe with entrance through bakeryService: Friendly and accommodatingHours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday to Sunday. Closed Monday.Reservations: Not necessaryAlcohol: No licenseParking: StreetDress: CasualChildren: WelcomeMusic: RecordedTakeout: YesCredit cards: The usual Noise level: OkayHandicap accessible: YesRecommended DishesLahm­ajunÉ$1.75Cheese stuffed peppersÉ$4.00Mushroom SaladÉ$3.50Armenian SaladÉ$3.50Mixed shish kebabÉ$13.99Khinkali (Ground beef dumplings)É$6.50Manti (Seasoned ground beef shells served with tomato sauce yogurt & garlic)É$8.99Mixed dessert platterÉ$2.99

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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