Stout and sometimes stately apartment buildings surround much of 108th Street in Forest Hills. Their brick, oddly institutional facades stand behind broad lawns with trees and manicured hedges, evoking psychiatric hospitals for the wealthy. It is a strange neighborhood, and strolling through it, I half expected to find H.G. Wells’s door in a wall to a magic garden. Instead I found Bukharian Broadway.
Bukharian Broadway is a short commercial strip, not directly connected to the Bukharian strip further west on 63rd Road, and seemingly not connected to anything in particular, but hovering magically in the midst of blocks of Victorian behemoths. It is, however, connected to the neighborhood by the young boys in yalmukes who run shouting in Russian from the leafy streets down past the storefronts, and the women with bouffants who yell after them.
Salute is one of the most widely respected Bukharian restaurants here. It is run by a Bukharian family from Tajikistan and, like Cheburechnaya, it closes for Shabbat.
The interior of Salute is, like the neighborhood outside, a little strange. The walls are covered in pink-marble wall paper, and mirrors with white frames and lamps affixed to them hang from the walls at regular intervals. The ceiling has Victorian style molding, and two chandeliers hang from lozenge-shaped recesses in the ceiling. Track lighting runs around the interior of the recesses, and it slowly shifts color—from red, to blue, to green, to white. The decorator seems to have combined kitschy rococo with nightclub ambience.
Although the food here is highly regarded, there have been some doubts about the service. There is serious online debate about whether the service at Salute and some other Bukharian restaurants is rude, racist, or simply Russian. It is true that Russians are known for their public reserve, and it’s possible that other Central Asians share this characteristic—especially Bukharians, the majority of whom speak Russian and share a Soviet heritage with Russians. Whatever the case may be, my waitress was attentive, courteous, and perhaps even warm, while certainly reserved.
I started with Uzbek mantu. This Central Asian dish is quite similar to Tibetan momos. For those of us who have long regarded the claim that momos are Central Asian in origin as ridiculous (they are obviously just a kind Chinese baozi!), Uzbek mantu are a thought-provoking dish. Like momos, they are filled with meat and onions—but instead of spices or broth, they are sprinkled with sweetened vinegar and herbs. They are very good.
Next I ordered plov, or “Asian Pilaf.” This is an ancient dish, which seems to have changed little since the times of Alexander the Great. Plov is soft, slightly oily, very flavorful rice that has been cooked with cumin, coriander, onions, and other flavorings. It is then combined with cubes of meat. Salute also adds soft, boiled shreds of carrot. This is a very satisfying dish. The servings at Salute are large, however, and probably best shared with a group (plov is traditionally a dish for celebrations).
I also had a chicken kabob. I rightly suspected that I would have little room for anything more after the plov, but I wanted to see how they handled this popular Central Asian fare. The meat was tender and infused with the smoke of an open fire—just right.
63-61 108 Street
Forest Hills, NY, US, 11375
Sun-Thurs 11am – 11pm
Fri 11am – 5pm
Sat 9pm – 11pm