The eastern gate to Queensistan lies at the intersection of Queens Boulevard and 63rd Drive. Cheburechnaya is a short walk south from here, and Bukharian Broadway is a short walk northwest. Women stroll along 63rd Drive in old-world dresses chatting in Russian, and some stores post their signs entirely in Cyrillic.
Just north of this intersection, you will find a rare jewel. Marani (which means ‘wine cellar’ in Georgian) is a Kosher Georgian restaurant, serving Georgian cheeses, spreads, kebabs, and dumplings (they have nearly everything Georgian you might want except Georgian wine; apparently no Georgian vintners have been certified Kosher).
The nine days of Av just came to an end, meaning that observant Orthodox Jews are now enjoying being able to eat meat and drink wine again—and that Marani is open again after being closed for more than a week. Tonight the restaurant was, as a result, quite busy—filled with people of all ages, most of the men in yarmulkes. It is possible that some of the clientele of Marani are from Russia or Central Asia; I have heard that Stalin popularized Georgian food throughout the Soviet Union. But I have also heard that there is a significant Georgian population in Rego Park, so it is likely that the clientele is mainly Georgian.
The owner, in any case, is from Georgia, and I think the menu is a good representation of authentic Georgian food.
I started with a sampler of Georgian spreads and a loaf of fresh-baked bread shaped like a leg of lamb. I was given three spreads on a platter: spinach and walnut, beet and walnut, and eggplant and walnut. The waitress explained that walnut was used to achieve a creamy taste and texture without using dairy (dairy foods are confined to a special bakery downstairs—which I will have to visit another time). Walnuts seem to be used heavily in Georgian food, however, so in this instance walnuts may have been a solution looking for a problem.
In any case, the addition of crushed walnuts to these spreads renders them exquisite. The walnut is subtle, enhancing the other flavors rather than competing. With the help of the walnut, the spinach and eggplant become buttery. The beet becomes a medley of candied fruits. All three spreads have surprisingly bright and complicated flavors.
My main course was khinkali, meat-filled dumplings. These are almost identical to Tibetan momos. They have the same thick, chewy shell. They are filled with the same mixture of meat and soup. The only obvious difference is that khinkali are much larger than momos, and in fact, one must drink the soup from them before eating them. (My waitress gave me a short tutorial: ‘You turn it upside down; then you take a bite, and drink the soup out of it’.) I think the flavoring of the meat may be a little different as well; khinkali seem to contain dill and other herbs, but momos usually have more onion, garlic, and chilies. (Since traders from Central Asia would have passed through Georgia, this may strengthen the argument that momos are Central Asian.) The herbs used in the khinkali reminded me of the herbs used in chebureki; Caucasian and Central Asian cuisine seem to share some things in common, besides Queens addresses.
97-26 63rd Road
Rego Park, NY 11374
Mon – Thur 12pm – 10pm
Fri 12pm – 1 hour before shabbat
Sat End of shabbat-Midnight
Sun 12pm -10pm