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versicle | Oct 28, 201811:57 AM     3

Just returned from a two-week trip to Georgia, where the food is extremely varied, usually made from local ingredients, and generally delicious.

A few highlights.

Azarphesha

We dined here on our first night in Tbilisi, and again later during our stay. It's a cosy, warm establishment decorated with artifacts of Georgian drinking culture, old books, and textiles. The menu changes seasonally and uses local ingredients. It's probably best characterized as more unusual dishes that you don't typically see in Tbilisi, and variations on traditional dishes. Some of the highlights were spicy lamb dolmas, chicken with blackberry sauce, and a version of nigvziani badrijani (eggplant slices wrapped around a filling of some sort, in this case bacon, and topped with pomegranate seeds). This restaurant, as with many of the places on this list, is dedicated to serving natural Georgian wines, including many amber (orange / skin contact) variations. They don't automatically bring the full wine list. The house choices are very good, but ask if you want the full list. You can also buy bottles to take away here. It's worth noting that a really excellent, top shelf bottle of wine at this and all the other places will cost around $25-30, with a lot of perfectly good wines for more like $12.

Poliphonia

This is a sister restaurant to Azarphesha, though with a different menu, one that takes more liberties with typical Georgian dishes and ingredients and can get truly inventive. Same principles - natural wine and local, seasonal ingredients.

Vino Underground

We didn't eat here, though you can get food. This is probably the nexus of natural wines in Georgia, served in a more raucous setting than the prior two places. Also a place to buy bottles to take away.

Ezo

Ezo continues the theme of food made with fresh, seasonal ingredients and natural wines. The menu focuses on simpler, more traditional Georgian dishes. The salads are huge. We especially liked their version of lobio, bread made with a smashed bean filling. They have tables set up in a courtyard that gives an interesting view into the way many Georgians live - in apartments with balconies around a central common space. The restaurant has an associated tour program that organizes trips outside of the city--they looked lovely.

Cafe Littera

This restaurant also offers an outdoor setting, though a more refined one than Ezo. It was welcoming and the ambiance was lovely. The food is more of a European take on Georgian dishes. I had a dish that was very similar to shrimp and grits, only the Georgian version of grits is called ghomi and is mixed with sulguni, a ubiquitous, slightly sour cow's milk cheese. The seasonal phkali (a sort of mash-up between a dip and a salad) were particularly good. The wine list, which goes beyond the strictly natural wines of the prior places, is extensive.

Barbarestan

Dining here was a particularly special experience. The space is underground in a former meat cellar and is decorated beautifully. The wait staff is extensive, welcoming, and attentive. The menu is based on recipes collected in the 19th century by Barbare Jorjadze, a feminist and Georgian royalty, from all around the country. At the beginning of the meal, a waiter brought us an original copy of the book housed in a specially made wooden case, and told us about her and the restaurant's dedication to working its way through all of the hundreds of recipes. The cooking was sophisticated and everything was exquisite. We had "The Real Salad," a green salad rendered special by whipped Sulguni cheese and the spicy adjika sauce; crayfish croquettes; duck breast seared in Svaneti salt with a sunchoke / coconut milk puree, and a pear / carrot sauce and mulberry sauce; and fried rabbit and ham rolls with quince.

Cafe Stamba

This is a vast, stylish establishment associated with Rooms Hotel and Hotel Stamba, with a more westernized menu, including things like kale salad. We went here specifically for the Adjaruli khachapouri, the boat shaped bread with melted cheese and an egg in the center. This is a ubiquitous dish in Tbilisi, but this was a standout version with flaky, rich bread. If you haven't had it before, note that the cheese and egg should be stirred together immediately and then pieces of bread boat broken off and dipped into the center.

Bina N37

This place has gotten a lot of international attention, primarily for its novelty--a mariani (wine cellar) built into a swimming pool in an 8th floor apartment. Half of the apartment was turned into a restaurant. The wine being made there was very good and I can imagine it being pleasant to sit on the terrace overlooking Tbilisi in the summer and sip a glass. The food, however, lacked the freshness and flavor of other places we dined. It's far outside the city center and we didn't feel it was worth the hassle to get there.

Dezerter Bazaar

This is a absolutely vast market full of vendors selling everything from produce to meat to fish to honey to cheese to flour to spices. We took a tour of it with Culinary Backstreets - I think it would have been difficult to navigate on our own.

Bakery near the Seminary

Most neighborhoods have their own local bakeries, often little more than a tiny space with a tone (a sort of kiln oven). This place is not marked and has no apparent name. It's located behind the Sioni Cathedral in a row of buildings that house a seminary (the one Stalin flunked out of!). Look for an open doorway with a stairway going down. It's worthwhile just to see the space, which seems largely unchanged from the 19th century.

Food shop near Sioni Cathedral

Off to the side of the Sioni Cathedral is a little shop selling items made at the associated monastery--honey, vinegar, fresh nadughi (similar to cottage cheese). This also isn't marked, but if you're facing the cathedral with your back to the river, it's to the right.

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