LFM: Balkan restaurant

chixkebabs
Chicken Shish Kebabs at Balkan Restaurant

I have not written about local food in a while. Truth is, we haven’t eaten out much, it’s almost like we’ve given up on the Richmond food scene. A few weeks ago, the hubby declared that I was holed up in the house for too long and he was taking me out to dinner. {probably to socialize me a bit}
I tried to summon up some excitement since our last venture out to dinner was when my brother came for a visit and we took him to what we thought was our reliable go-to restaurant only to end up disappointed. This time I suggested the not too recently revamped upscale restaurant located in a grand historic hotel downtown. This experience,too, was so uneven that I was wondering about the rave reviews heaped upon it by almost every restaurant critic in town.

However, there are some bright spots in Richmond dining. Richmond Magazine recently came out with their “Best New Restaurants of 2010”. Before today, I could vouch for two of them, now I’m sure of three.

Lehja, an Indian restaurant located of all places in Short Pump Town center, is a modern space serving the best, fresh-tasting curries and tandoori chicken in town. I’ve been there a couple of times and it may be due for a serious review, so I guess a return visit is in order. Because it’s close to my abode, I’ve been there quite a few times always sampling different dishes but always looking forward to the same crisp warm butter naan (and I was told by our server that all naan were buttered anyway).

Secco Wine bar has been touted enough on twitter and other forms of social media. I don’t think I need to add my 2 cents except that I love their harissa octopus.

As I look through the list of best new restaurants I find myself expecting same old, same old. A sandwich does not turn me on, neither do crabcakes … and please, sushi? Seriously Richmond, there is more to Japanese food than sushi.

I’m still rooting for a yakitori or a ramen house to open. Come on, I think there’s a market for it, specially for the latter.

I’ve changed as a foodie, but that’s up for discussion in another post.

Anyway, the only restaurant in the entire list that peaked my interest was Balkan Restaurant. It was described as a “great addition to the ethnic quilt of greater Richmond dining…” I love grilled meat and the description of it being gently spiced definitely had me drooling.

As jaded as I have been about eating out in Richmond, one thing is for sure, if there’s a restaurant that has finally captured my interest, I cannot wait to check it out….and when I say I cannot wait that means showing up at that place for dinner the same day I’ve heard about it.

But first of all, what exactly is Balkan cuisine?

It is closely related to Turkish, Greek, Italian and other Mediterranean cooking. They have gyros, shish-kebabs, sausages, cured meat, goulash – it’s really hard to define one influence.

Hubby was still perusing the menu, but I’ve already decide what both of us should have and I was pretty sure he would agree: the Hungarian goulash and the chicken shish-kebab. We would have loved to try the beef kebabs but the goulash was already made with beef.

We also ordered the cold plate of cured meat appetizer which composed of smoked beef, Bosnian sausages, kalamata olives, Bulgarian feta cheese and Ajvar – a condiment made of roasted pepper and eggplant.

coldplate
Appetizer – cold plate

Every single bit of this plate was devoured. My favorite was the smoked beef, it looked unappetizing, but this is another instance where looks can be deceiving.

Before I forget …the bread, oh my, lepina bread that was so soft and warm, the crumb was airy and dense at the same time – I could just imagine myself  slathering it with the goulash, but for now the Ajvar sufficed.

ghoulash
Hungarian goulash

Our dinner arrives, and I took the goulash, HH, the chicken shish-kebab. I couldn’t wait to tuck into this inviting stew. OMG what a flavor! The tomato, paprika, onions were expertly balanced infusing the tender meat with its essence…my hand automatically tore off some bread and dunked it into the thick sauce. I felt like I came in from a blustery cold winter day into a home that had a pot of this stew simmering over the hearth and I just scooped some of it and ate it to chase the chill from my bones. The feeling of heartiness was that vivid!

I anxiously awaited HH’s verdict on his dish. He exclaimed: “Now this is how chicken should be cooked.” I immediately speared a chicken chunk from his plate, and I closed my eyes…subtle spices, succulent meat, nuance of lemon, hint of char from the grill….

…perfection…

Our server asked us how our dinner was and I think it was evident from our faces how satisfied we were when we both gushed: “Delicious!” She said everything was authentic and prepared fresh. Nothing came pre-packaged or out of a box. We believed her.

You all don’t know how happy I am that this is in the West End. I am already plotting a return visit for lunch, this time to try their gyros.

6 thoughts on “LFM: Balkan restaurant

  1. Hi Veronia,

    I just found your blog, and I wanted to say I absolutely love it! I love the clear, straightforward design, and the content is articulate and obviously well-informed. Keep up the great work!
    Do you mind if I add you to the ‘blogmaki’ section of my own blog?

    Cheers!
    onioncloute

  2. Hi Rosa – Happy New Year to you too!
    Hi Eugenio – oooh…can’t wait to hear what you think of their food.
    Hi Stephanie – thanks for your kind words about my blog. Sure, I would love you to add me to your blogmaki. … 🙂

  3. Thank you for these wonderful tips. I’m bookmarking now in case I ever make it down your way. Have a wonderful holiday. Here’s to a 2011 filled with macarons!

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