[Pigging by Wilfrid: November 7, 2011]
Take a close look at that spelling. I took some trouble over it. Get it wrong, and you are not going to find the café online. You might even start to doubt its existence.
I had certainly never heard of it until the Underground Gourmet(s) touted it as a "new and exciting" destination for Georgian food in New York magazine.
I will not feign expertise in the cooking traditions of Georgia: as far as I know, this Mtskehta represents the acme of the genre in the five boros. It's not, however, somewhere I would insist you visit, unless a long haul on the D train is something you find recreational. I didn't - not in the rush, anyway - and had to refresh myself at Lollytaps, a curious and very brightly lit bar on Stillwell, offering post-subway ice-cold Buds in vast polystrene cups. Anyway, dinner...
Mtskehta's interior resembles that of many inexpensive restaurants in Queens and Brooklyn. A rectangular room, sparse decoration, tables sensibly lined up. No excess of Georgian kitsch here. The menu is in Russian, the wait speaks English and seems to like explained the dishes (and deploring the fact he couldn't serve us vodka with them; mind you, there's a back room where...well, never mind).
A party of eight ordered much of the menu, but by no means all of it. Salads first: a spinach salad so stiff (with sour cream?) you could stand a fork in it. More interesting, a salad of chicken and beans which looked like a filling for a deli sandwich, and went well indeed with crusty white bread.
Georgian salad with random pickled things. Then maybe my dish of the evening, tender slices of egg plant rolled around a walnut-flavored filling and served hot.
Two types of Georgian cheese were offered with dense, fried cornbread rolls (mchadi). They were distinguishable on close inspection: the one with tiny holes was tangy and sour, the other one rubbery and squeaky. You could stuff them in the cornbread.
We suspected the rubbery cheese of being the one melted over triangles of flatbread. This dish almost summed up the evening. It's fun to eat gooey flatbread melts, and I can see that you might very well want to eat them if working your way through a bottle of vodka. But there was something disarmingly straightforward about the dish.
The sizzling chicken specialty, served in a pungent garlic and walnut sauce, showcased specimens of fairly ordinary chicken, most of it on the bone. The sauce was the thing, and we got more good crusty bread to mop it up.
Although I liked a slightly sweet beef stew well enough, my dish of the night alongside the eggplant roulade was lamb in tarragon sauce. Lamb "stroganoff" I suppose, although certainly not called that. The lamb had been poached, and was so pale that it resembled the chicken you might expect to find match with the herb. But lamby it was, the tarragon was fresh, and I'd have happily eaten a big plate of it (portions were smaller than you might anticipate).
Another sizzler up next: u-shaped sausages, coarse and porky, garnished with barely grilled onions and some fries.
The final act, another specialty of the place: beef stew dumplings. You're doubtless familiar with these in a Shanghai context, and they need to be handled with similar care. The wrapper was quite thick and stiff, the meat and broth inside, well, no better than the beef stew we'd eaten separately. Again, not quite a winner.
Having written that, I don't feel I've learned much about Georgian cuisine or succeeded in imparting much. What I do remember is that the check for those dishes, and perhaps some I've forgotten, reached $30 a head, give or take a dollar. BYO is acceptable. Entirely pleasant.