Monday, March 20, 2023

Restaurant Review - Tbiliso

Don't let the photos on the web site fool you--Tbiliso isn't a trendy, well-lit, café with hunky, tweezer-wielding chefs in the kitchen. It more resembles granny's living room transported into the shell of a 70's-era bank building. To be honest, I have no idea what the bizarre space with 20' ceilings and partial mezzanine once held, but it functions as a restaurant now, one that has enough space for large parties, live music, and dancing. At Minxeats, we're only interested in the food, which [spoiler alert] is quite good.

I discovered the restaurant whilst randomly perusing Google Maps. (One never knows what one can find!) Tbiliso's online menu lists both new-to-us items like the vegetable stew ajapsandali as well as the more familiar dolma, lula kabob, and olivier salad. Some items have intriguing descriptions, like the kupati, "minced meat and spices in intestines" (yes, it's sausage), and the tbiliso, "fried pork with fajitas and cherry tomatoes" (surely a translation issue). Each item is also spelled out in the delightfully squiggly Georgian alphabet. What caught my eye, however, was the selection of breads stuffed with cheese or meat. I'd always wanted to try Adjarian khachapuri, a bread boat filled with melted cheese and topped with an egg, and I was finally getting my chance.

On our first trip to Tbiliso to enjoy the cheesy bread boat, we also ordered the ajapsandali and kupati, plus the chakapuli, a tasty stew of lamb with sour plums. Eventually we'd like to try everything on the menu, but this was a good start.

kupati with rice
Kupati are fat pork sausages with a nice snappy casing and a garnish of onions and parsley. The online menu offers a side dish choice of fries or rice, and on that first trip we tried the rice. On our second visit, we were served a larger portion of sausage without a choice of starch. More tasty sausage = good, though the slightly oily, vegetable-packed rice was quite delicious. Though everything we ate at Tbiliso was good, the kupati was a standout both times.
We also enjoyed the ajapsandali, a stew of peppers and eggplant somewhat like a Georgian ratatouille. It reminded me a bit of the Indian eggplant dish baingan bharta. The spicing of the ostri, a stew of tender beef in a tomato-y broth with a whiff of coriander and fenugreek also brought to mind the food of the Indian subcontinent.

Though I have recently been cursed with lactose intolerance, I was not deterred from sampling two (so far!) of the ten or so breadlike starches on Tbiliso's menu. Perhaps the most famous Georgian bread, the adjarian khachapuri is a boatlike vessel of white bread filled with a pool of molten cheese and topped with a raw egg. One (carefully) tears off chunks of bread and dips them into the fondue-like pool of melted dairy, repeating the motion until the khachapuri is gone or there are no more Lactaid pills left. It's simple, filling, and very good.

Adjarian khachapuri
The equally mouthwatering Megruli khachapuri is similar, at least in the quantity of cheese it contains. The dairy goodness is both stuffed into and layered on top of this bread, making it quite pizza-like. It's a bit easier to eat than the Adjarian version and just as delicious.

Megruli khachapuri
Tbiliso, or "fried pork with fajitas and cherry tomatoes," came with strips of multicolored bell pepper (but not tomatoes) and was served in a sizzling hot bowl, much like the popular Tex-Mex fajitas. The tender hunks of pork would have seemed right at home nestled into folds of tortilla. I might have tried to wrap it with the khachapuri, but the Megruli style was far too oozy with cheese (not a bad thing).

I can't really find fault with any of the dishes we tried at Tbiliso. Not being familiar with Georgian food at all, I cannot attest to the authenticity of any of it. From what I can tell, however, much of the menu represents the "greatest hits" of  the cuisine. The flavors and seasonings were all pleasing to my palate, and I feel like everything had been prepared lovingly by people who know what they're doing. Even if none of them is wearing a long stripy apron and tweezering microgreens onto every dish. 

Next time we're in the mood for some შემწვარი სოკო კარტოფილით or შქმერული and a boatful of cheese, we're heading back to Tbiliso. Next time, I hope to try some of the many dishes that contain walnuts, a popular ingredient in Georgia.

Church Lane Shopping Center
9926 York Rd,
Cockeysville, MD 21030
Rating - Highly Recommended

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