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Rosemary has taken over Kiwi Cafe‘s old location at 41 Vertskhlis Kucha, near Liberty Square

Now, before I give you my review of the new restaurant, Rosemary, I have to give you the disclaimer that the chef, Grant, is a good friend of mine. As such, I’ve had his cooking many times, long before he opened the restaurant. In fact, when we were living in the same neighborhood, my apartment had an oven and his didn’t, so he asked if he could come over sometimes to use the oven–I was not at all opposed. Grant is a professional chef back in the US, and he’s from the state of Georgia, so many of his dishes are inspired by traditional Southern food, but he’s using the ingredients fresh and available to him in this Georgia.  As such, some of the dishes skew more American Georgian, some skew more Caucasian Georgian. He’s also got local wine and microbrews on tap.


Burrito night!

I’ve been to Rosemary three times now–once for pre-opening burrito night, once for a welcoming tasting party, and once as a regular old guest, so I’ve tried quite a few of the dishes. My absolute favorite so far is Rosemary’s take on the traditional Georgian ბადრიჯანი ნიგვზით (badrijani nigvzit, eggplant with walnuts). Here, it’s served as eggplant fries with a Georgian-spiced walnut dipping sauce. I also really enjoyed the arugula salad with cheese, pear, and adjika-honey walnuts. My more carnivorous dining companions have all given rave reviews of every meat-centered main that has come their way (braised pork belly, chicken satskheli–inspired by satsivi but served warm, and pork tenderloin). I have enjoyed all of these, but to me they weren’t as stand-out and creative as the other dishes I mentioned above. The draught red wine was good, and although I’m not really a beer-drinker, I’ve enjoyed Alkanaidze’s brew.  The hot mulled wine was perfect for a gray, rainy day.


Rosemary’s menu on October 16, with a glass of Alkanaidze in the foreground

One small detail where Rosemary really shines is that they bring you free, chilled (tap) water as soon as you arrive. It’s so nice to get that note of American-ness (and also to be able to drink water with reckless abandon). I was also glad to have my dishes arrive as courses–first the appetizer, then the soup, then the meat–another small detail that’s often overlooked in restaurants in Georgia.


Clockwise from top left: Badrijani Nigvzit, Salad Tbilisoise, Chicken Satskheli, Pumpkin Souffle

If you’re looking for a taste of home, or something different from the ordinary Georgian fare, but still distinctly Tbilisian, I recommend you stop in to Rosemary and see what they’ve got for you to try that day.

The perfect Tbilisi dinner has to include the two most iconic Georgian dishes: adjaruli khachapuri and khinkali. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a restaurant that excels in both of those categories, but luckily most reputable restaurants will do one well, and one adequately. You’ll need something else to eat or the (delicious) dough + grease combo of those dishes will put you right to sleep. When you look at the menu, though, you might find some alarming options listed: “coup of vodka” “mind with fungus” and “boiled language”.

Party food in a Tbilisi restaurant--before the dessert!

Party food in a Tbilisi restaurant–before the dessert!

Allow me to translate: “glass of vodka” “brains with mushrooms” and “boiled tongue”…still maybe not the biggest crowd-pleasers, but far more food-like. It’s a bit of a sport in Tbilisi to spot the mistakes on menus. In one khachapuri restaurant, the tri-lingual menu I was given featured editing marks in red pen throughout the Russian version–and I was itching for a red pen of my own to take to the English version. My best guess is that lots of the menus were translated by a schoolkid with an outdated dictionary. Getting someone with a language background and a modern dictionary–or, better still, internet access–would make a world of difference. The bigger, more profitable restaurants catering to tourists may want to use translation software and get something that actually helps visitors choose their meal..

Even the places with better menu information will often not really translate the full menu. What, pray tell, is “Madame Bovary” or “chikhirtma”? (Answer: They’re both pretty good. Madame Bovary is a stroganoff-y thing topped with fried potatoes, and chikhirtma is a chicken and egg soup). Though it’s usually just the name of a dish that’s translated; there’s often an ingredients list in Georgian. That’s where a little bit of work can pay off in getting food you actually want to eat! While there are lots of difficulties in having non-experts translate between English and Georgian due to the weirdness “charm” of Georgian verbs, it’s pretty easy to translate nouns, which is what a  savvy eater will do here–pick your favorite way to translate (friend/dictionary/internet/app) and look up the list of things in a dish; you should at least know if you’re expecting meat or veg. Depending on the neighborhood and likelihood of foreigners, the server might be able to describe a few of the ingredients in the dish, as well. Make sure you order some Georgian wine, too–the house wine is generally cheap and drinkable. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, explore particular vineyards and varieties to find your favorite.

Once you’ve figured out what to eat, there comes the question of eating it. Some Georgian foods–in particular khachapuri and khinkali, have a specific technique for eating them. Of course you can go your own way, but that will leave quite a mess. Most Georgians will be happy to offer you instruction; but be careful how you ask. A woman approaching a man in a restaurant or accepting his offer of food or drink is often seen as agreement to more than the meal.

Lots of the restaurants with the tastiest food in Tbilisi seem to also have the loudest music–sometimes this is fun: when they’ve got a great live band or you’re in the mood to dance like a fool. And while that can be fun, I also sometimes like to be able to talk to my dinner companions. Luckily, many restaurants have small private dining rooms called “coupes”, which can cut the noise a bit. Likewise, many restaurants do have more than one dining room, so you can distance yourself a bit further from the music.

After a night out like this, you’ll practically be an honorary Tbiliseli.



P.S. If you’re interested in travelling to Tbilisi, send me a message or leave a comment (or any other topics you’d like to hear about), and I’ll give it a think and try to write a post on the topic

I wanted to do a series of “The Bests”, but I realized that referring to my absolute favorite lobiani (Georgian bean bread) as “The Best Lobiani” could be interpreted as an insult to traditional lobiani.  I love traditional lobiani, and can tell you many good places to pick some up, but in my opinion the best lobiani is at the Café Literaturuli chain.  Traditional lobiani looks much like khachapuri, and is just filled with beans rather than cheese, but as you can see, Literaturuli does things a bit differently—and isn’t it pretty!

Cafe Literaturuli’s lovely lobiani (and latte)

In my opinion, all the top-shelf lobianebi will have a flaky pastry-like crust.  Literaturuli’s version accomplishes this beautifully and the final result is a well-nigh croissant-like pastry filled with beans.  Literaturuli also pays a bit more attention to the filling than many places do.  A bit of coriander is traditional in the filling, but many places just moosh up some beans and coriander, perhaps throw in a bit of onion, and call it a day.  This can result in a rather dry piece of bread.  Literaturuli’s bean filling is always a good consistency, with the added bonus that they seem to caramelize the onions first, making the flavors meld together very nicely.

Literaturuli is a chain of cafes locatedin cities throughout Georgia, with branches on Pekini and Chardeni streets in Tbilisi (and maybe others).  They combine a bookstore with a coffeeshop/cafe—the coffees are good (they can even make some drinks decaf!), the cakes are pretty, and the lobiani is excellent.  They carry an excellent selection of Georgian and Russian books, a passable selection of English books, and the odd book in other European languages, too.  Overall, the atmosphere is lovely.  The prices here are more expensive than a street vendor (the simplest place to procure lobiani), but far lower than at other similar European-style cafes.  A piece of lobiani will set you back 3 GEL, and a latte costs 5.50.  Enjoy!

…seems to be appreciating some of Tbilisi’s Restaurants.  And the ones mentioned in the Atlantic Cities’ piece: The Next Big Foodie City: Tbilisi, are ones I’ve never been to.  Will have to take notes and start branching out…

I must say that Georgian cuisine is some of the most delicious out there.  Georgian restaurants are quite common in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union (I was first introduced to Georgian food while I studied in Moscow), but outside of the region they’re rather hard to come by.  My friends had a great experience at a Georgian restaurant in London (I believe there’s even more than one).  In the US, I’ve heard glowing reviews of a Georgian restaurant outside Pittsburgh, though I don’t know its name and have never been.  That’s the only Georgian restaurant I’ve heard of in the US, but I hope I’m wrong (please share any further information!).  I’ve had some success finding Georgian treats and fueling my love of Borjomi at Russian grocery stores–most major cities in the US have one.  That’s also where I’ve gotten my Georgian condiments to make preparing Georgian food on my own much easier.

To cook your own Georgian food, here’s where to go for recipes:

The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein–the only all-Georgian cookbook I’m aware of, complete with history, and culture.  Great recipes, and also an interesting read.

Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman–sadly out of print, and starting to get expensive.  This is a cookbook with food from all over the Soviet Union, and I have yet to find a bad recipe in the book.

Feast by Nigella Lawson contains a Georgian Feast, which even contains a Georgian cookie recipe! (Which I haven’t tried yet. Sorry)

Here are a few online recipes I’ve had success with:

Irma’s Eggplant Puree


I haven’t tried this recipe for Georgian Tuna in Walnut Sauce yet, but IMHO adding tsatsivi to anything sounds like a pretty good idea, though I must say I never saw any fresh tuna in Georgia…

Successes and Failures:  My record with khachapuri is mixed–I’ve used the recipe in The Georgian Feast, once with great success and the second time resulting in a very big mess encompassing my kitchen.  I’m planning on trying some other recipes and seeing if they work better for me–I’ll keep you posted.  Personally, I prefer the “Please to the Table” recipe for lobio (bean soup) to the one from The Georgian Feast, but I think that’s just a question of taste.  All the vegetable purees and sauces I’ve made, from many different sources, have been fairly simple and really delicious!

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