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Who is Shota Rustaveli and what does he have to do with food?

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Who is Shota Rustaveli and what does he have to do with food?

Mike G | May 24, 2002 05:46 PM

Shota Rustaveli, two seconds' search on Google informs me, was "One of the greatest representatives of the world literature - Shota Rustaveli lived in XII-XII cent. in Georgia, during the reigning of Queen Tamara... A long before Renaissance he sang about the humanistic ideals, the feelings of love and friendship, courage and fortitude."

That's what I love about immigrants. We name restaurants "Ed Debevic's" or "Mike Ditka's." They name them for poets who've been dead a thousand years.

So anyway, Rustaveli lives on in a strip mall on Dempster, 4902 West in Skokie, where his name has been given to a small Georgian restaurant. I popped in there for lunch today and was handed a menu in which most items had a bare description ("Pelmeny") and Cyrillic letters presumably saying the same thing. But those weren't all my choices, no sir-- there was also a specials menu completely in Cyrillic writing.

When the waitress asked me if I knew what I wanted I simply laughed and said "I have no idea. What's really good?" She suggested Harcho soup and something that sounded like pierogi. I accepted the first suggestion and asked for more for the second. She suggested something with chicken and garlic, and a lamb stew called "Chanakhi." I took the latter.

I was expecting something like Russian food, when actually Turkish would have been closer geographically and gastronomically (in fact "Turkish coffee" is on the menu). The soup was a hearty, flavorful vegetable beef broth with barley and lots of fresh parsley on top. The stew was, lamb apart, remarkably similar to an appetizer I had at Turkish cuisine-- eggplant, onion, tomato and red pepper, all a bit caramelized, being the main flavors, and again very fresh tasting. Bread was decent although it had clearly been microwaved on its way to the table.

Is this a really good Georgian restaurant or a fairly standard one? Heck if I know, it was good in the sense that everything was fresh and homemade tasting, and quite flavorful. Beyond that I have no standard to judge. But I'll go back.

Only downside was that they committed a couple of the semi-inevitable sins of immigrant restaurants. No, for once the TV wasn't on showing the match between Kirghiz and Tadjikistan. But my arrival did prompt them to turn on ghastly Europop disco music, and the owner (I assume the one resident male was the owner) paced around the dining area with cigarette one time and cell phone another time. But you expect all that, it's part of the experience. The waitress was certainly friendly and seemed genuinely interested in whether or not I was actually enjoying her native cuisine. I hope she believed me when I said I was.

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