Saturday, June 25, 2005

at last, cherry dumplings

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time might remember how Sarah and I tried so many times to go and eat at Cafe Armenia, a restaurant we'd come across when eating Korean in Carnegie. As with all holy grail type quests, we had been rebuffed many times. This was a restaurant that seemed to think nothing of ignoring its own opening hours, or having private functions... anything to stop us getting in and trying all the morsels that tempted us on the menu: beans with walnuts and garlic, pickles, pancakes and of course, cherry dumplings.

But readers, you will be glad to know that your nights of the laminex table can rest now because on Thursday Cafe Armenia was open! I would like to state for the record, that this is the raddest restaurant in town. It was like eating in someone's lounge room. Picture a small shopfront cafe; folky paintings of Armenia (we guess) on the wall, some odd carved knicknacks, plastic tablecloths. The place looks like it's been there since the 60s, even though it's only been opened a year or two. Down one side there's a bench and shelves topped with plates, plates like your grandma might have had, with gold rims half worn off. A plasticy stereo. Up the back some old men and a woman rant at each other from separate tables. In the middle a family with one child eat some seriously meaty looking soup from a big tureen. And over all of this hangs a big black cloud smelling unmistakeably of barbecue. Yep, the perfect place for a hot date. Sarah and I almost wet ourselves with excitement that we were actually in there!

Before we ordered we were served a big plate of flat bread with a little jug of a salsa like red sauce. Very oniony and delicious. We ordered most of the vegetarian options, forgoing potato dumplings to leave room for cherry. I ordered a mineral water - they brought us a Coles brand 1.25l bottle. Food came really fast - a bowl of delicous red bean, walnut and garlic spread. Then a plate of mixed pickles - "hot" he warned us. "It's okay, we like hot." "Eat it", he urged. I nibbled an end and nodded my approval. He seemed satisfied that we were tough enough, and wandered off. Next came two pancakes - much like blintzes, they were rolled around a ricotta and sultana filling and crisply fried. Served with sour cream on top they were awesome. Then there was a big fat cabbage roll, full of rice and yummy things.

I worried we were getting full. But the unobtrusive (absent) service gave us plenty of time to digest. And finally we had enough room to order cherry dumplings. In Poland these would be described as pierogi, or in Russia, as pelmeni - basically they were little half moons of a pasta-like dough wrapped around a great cherry filling. There was bite, there was real cherry lumps, and flavour. Served with sour cream they were about as heavenly an end to this holy quest as we could have hoped for.

So viva the Armenians. I didn't know much about them - somewhere between the Middle East and Eastern Europe? Turns out it's kinda in the middle of Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Azerbijan. Prone to invasion like my poor Poland, but I guess there are culinary benefits to having all those armies passing through. You can tell at Cafe Armenia, that it must be a land where they've taken the best from all around them. Meat eaters would be very happy too - lots of crazy stews and swords of bbq meat. But we were rapt too. I think maybe divey is my favourite restaurant aesthetic and it only made me happier when Sarah went out the back to the toilet and reported that the kitchen was like a family one, complete with piles of boiled potatoes everywhere and an old lady with bright red lipstick and a ciggy hanging out of her mouth.

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