Day 63: Georgia
It’s GirlfriendBites birthday and we’re still in San Diego. She was never a serious food person, but has been developing admirably over the course of this Personal Food Project in Blog Form. So to commemorate her stamina, effort and durability, we’re going to start today off with a list of all of the “romantic dinners” that she has experienced so far. These are all the meals that were just GirlfriendBites and I— when I probably guilted her into joining me so I wouldn’t have to eat alone:
So for the girls out there, how many of those country’s cuisines do you usually get taken out on a date to? Just France? When’s the last time you’ve been taken out for a nice meal from a currently or recently war torn country or one run by a threatening leader of some kind? Just one or two, right? How about countries in The Axis of Evil? So once again, as I look back at my whole, long adventure, it’s impossible not to be absurdly impressed by my wonderful girlfriend, and to feel like I’m an absolute ass. So where am I taking her for our romantic mid-week escape to San Diego? To a Georgian restaurant, of course. And I’m not talking about the state. It’s the one near Russia. Luckily (for both of us), this place turns out to be pretty darn nice.
Russian Georgian Pomegranate Restaurant in San Diego. The one rule of the night? “You have to actually take some good pictures of me for the blog this time.” I’ve been hearing those complaints a lot lately. As we pull our car around the corner to park, we catch a glimpse of a gentle interior with candles and soft lighting. GFB says “Ooh, that looks nice,” and I release a large amount of anxiety that had been building up regarding this restaurant. Georgia is known for its food, but you just never know when you’re going to show up and find a surly woman with a thick accent behind a counter holding up a whole dead fish saying “Vat yoo vant?” But so far, so good. It’s very dark out, but we can see that the perimeter of the restaurant is lined with some sort of fragile fence made of wild, twisted branches. We step inside and find the walls covered in handwriting, mostly in English, but some in Russian and even Japanese. All the writing seems to be from satisfied patrons saying things like “We love this place!” and “This is the best restaurant in San Diego!!!”. I’m still looking for the one that says “Eh. It was okay.” Our diminutive Russian waitress runs up to us, looking like the owner has told her that she will give receive five lashes for making customers wait. She apologizes and shows us to a table, then strikes a match on the wall and lights the candle in front us. “I like that they light the candle when you sit down,” says GFB. Things are going pretty well. Even my seemingly hand made wooden chair is deep and comfortable.
We are brought an entire pitcher of water with a massive ice cylinder planted in the middle. “Do you want cucumber in your water? If you try it and don’t like it I can change it for regular water.” I like a restaurant with its own unique policies which are carried out to the letter. In the back, the owner, who is Georgian and wears a woolly sweater, looks over his restaurant with quiet authority. I get the impression that he is a powerful man and can probably drink me under the table. Our waitress tries to convince us to order a sampler salad, which includes several different types of both Russian and Georgian salads separated on the plate, but GFB and I had a late lunch in downtown San Diego which involved beer and nachos, so we really don’t need an appetizer. She checks with the owner to get his specifically Georgian recommendations, and I would like to think he says something like “They will have the chakhokhbili and the chanakhi.” That is, it turns out, our order, and about fifteen minutes later it arrives.
GFB’s chakhokhbili is a slow cooked chicken casserole, on the bone, with tomatoes, onions, lemon, bay leaves and sherry. It is topped with fresh dill and pomegranate seeds and the menu says “Even Stalin melted at the prospect of this aromatic dish.” Aromatic is right. GFB doesn’t usually like to have to tear her chicken off the bone, but this stuff is so tender and wonderful, it mostly does all the work itself. She is a huge fan of this delicate but sturdy dish, of which she says, “It tastes great, but half of what’s so amazing about it is the smell.” I have a similar but darker experience with my chanakhi, a lamb stew served in a metal pot with a side handle. For my dish, the menu proclaims, “In Georgia, it’s ‘Wine, women, song — and chanakhi!’” I take my first bite and can now officially say that I like all four of those things very much. Once again the aromas are spectacular. There are no bones whatsoever in this stew of tender lamb, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and bay leaves. The fresh parsley, dill and pomegranate seeds add a layer that has brought me to the conclusion that I’m adding pomegranate seeds at the end of any stew I ever serve again. It’s that brilliant. And I am not one to ever discriminate against a stew because of bones, but there is something deeply relaxing about sitting over a hot, meaty concoction and being able to dip your spoon in and take bites with no concern whatsoever for having to pull a bone fragment out of your mouth. This stew, quite simply, is spectacular.
GFB takes a bite of her simple and moist side dish of rice, then proclaims “This is the best rice I’ve had on the project so far.” “Really?” I ask. “Yes. Absolutely,” she says. It seems like I may have found an adequate restaurant for her birthday dinner and I am more than a little relieved. We’re also very glad that we didn’t order appetizers, since we simply cannot finish the food in front of us. It’s an incredibly disappointing realization, since a cold stew won’t do us much good tomorrow and our hotel room doesn’t have a microwave. Maybe we’ll have to sneak into a 7-Eleven and use theirs. But we pay our bill (the restaurant is, bizarrely, cash or check only, which is made especially strange since entrees run around 17 bucks a pop), and head out, feeling like we didn’t set ourselves up for the opportunity to truly enjoy this restaurant. It is a restaurant that really feels like it deserves to be enjoyed with a large group of friends and family, many bottles of wine and a massive sampling of their impressive menu. But perhaps another time. You would think, when this project ends, that I would be extremely excited by all my newfound food options. But I’m actually afraid that the number of possibilities will be crippling and debilitating. But that is a luxurious problem for another day. Tonight, it is GFB’s birthday. After a nice day, her true birthday present of an Obama presidency, and a wonderful meal, it’s time to head back to the hotel and just simply relax. Maybe for the first night in quite some time. No thoughts about tomorrow, no concerns, no worries. Not tonight anyway. But tomorrow? We’ll have some catching up to do.
Russian Georgian Restaurant Pomegranate
2302 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92104
Food Breakdown: 2 entrees, 2 teas
Distance From My House: 127 miles