8, Sioni Street, Tbilisi, Georgia;
+995 32 2 05 08 07; +995 555 44 09 01
Using a spatula, a Mingrelian homemaker can stretch out elarji from a pot as if there is no end in sight. A homemaker from Akhaltsikhe can string out so many sets of chechili you might think you’re watching Wheel of Fortune. A Mingrelian host can bring an entire roasted goat on a large, metal platter into a supra without batting an eye. A Kakhetian man can boil up some khashlama in a manner you would call a masterpiece of minimalism, and an Imeretian woman can step into the garden and suddenly blend such a sauce from picked herbs that you might utter something about her being a master of mixology. To this day, Georgian cuisine is accompanied by such wonders despite being one of the oldest culinary traditions on Earth. And such wonders exist, but not every day. The everyday Georgian restaurant or home menu is so banal and tedious that even talking about the need for modernizing the Georgian supra has become a cliché.
In contrast with bygone times, some experiments have really taken place recently, and the revival of recipes lingering in ethnographic books has become more or less a trend in restaurant and home menus.
Here, I truly and thoroughly examine some such experiments which are conducted daily at the Schuchmann Wine Bar, a wine production company located in the modernized Old Tbilisi environment of the basement of the Tbilisi History Museum.
At first glance, the local menu leaves the impression of an updated but roughly standard restaurant menu: a few varieties of mtsvadi, an assortment of pkhali, khachapuri, tkemali, sauces, chakapuli, and cucumber and tomato salad (more widespread in Georgia than is Caesar Salad). Anyway, if you’re only satisfied with reading the menu, you will conclude that modernization of the Georgian supra at Schuchmann Wine Bar, like in other modern Georgian restaurants, means little more than adding a pumpkin pkhali to the menu or arranging seafood in a chakapuli stew.
Yet there is a different kind of modernization going on at Schuchmann. Here, traditional Georgian recipes are disintegrated into molecules and rearranged into various forms and states. Chef Lasha Kenchadze does this at the Wine Bar. Having studied the principles and techniques of molecular gastronomy in Germany, he has already begun transforming Georgian dishes in Tbilisi using these techniques.
After seeing his cooking, I advise all of you to try Lasha’s dishes. You will be convinced that it’s possible to put on an unforgettable culinary show even with Georgian dishes that are well known and frequently sampled.
Let's take a completely standard order: a salad, mtsvadi, some bread, and dessert. A little while later, upon seeing the starter and salad dish, you’ll realize that the show has begun.
You will think the edges of the white, hat-shaped dish are a painting – joyfully arranged yellow suns, little bits of green flowers, white mounds of radishes, and some white sea sand. In the depression of the hat are colorful tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers and red cabbage, and a scoop of ice cream plopped on top with a lime chip.
I was in the kitchen when Lasha placed the scoop of ice cream on the salad. It’s a good thing he told me right there that it’s not really ice cream, it’s the usual Mingrelian sulguni transformed into a sorbet – sweeter, frozen like ice cream, and having an unforgettable texture that transforms even the flavor of the sulguni.
He poured some Kakhetian oil and raspberry vinegar on the salad in front of me, taking the story of the colorful, fresh vegetables on a completely different course. Yet if you mix the aforementioned “white sea sand” scattered on the edge of the dish into the salad while eating it, you’ll see that it’s not sand, but rather Kakhetian oil transformed. Accordingly, it will be some time before you emerge from the pleasure of experiencing the flavor of this white powder for the first time.
The change of form involves making a protective layer and transforming a hard substance into a liquid and vice-versa. The rest is the fantasy of the cook: he must find the right formulas, for example, as to what consistency better suits Kakhetian oil – remaining a liquid or being turned into a powder; how a lemon best manifests its own tenderness and lightness (a feature which is frequently obscured by the sourness) – after being squeezed or when being transformed into a gel. Or with sulguni, who would think that it would lose its fatty, heavy, and creamy qualities once turned into ice cream and made so light as this.
I am astounded by Lasha's innovations even after the arrival of the mtsvadi. He himself says that there is some surprise at their place as to why mtsvadi must be grilled for so long. As soon as you see the platter, you'll realize why: the dish resembles a painting. If the mtsvadi didn’t give off some steam or if the straight line of Svanetian salt wasn't so aromatic, you would think that it wasn’t real. The lamb has an unprecedented tenderness and juiciness. Lasha explained to me that it was slow cooked at 60-65 degrees and then it spent some time in a vacuum before being grilled with some ajika and soy sauce. Lasha also came up with the idea of some other things suiting this soft, tender, succulent meat – pomegranates turned into caviar, white balsamic vinegar shaped into little balls, a marinade of grilled carrots, a red onion paste, and of course, tkemali, only with a vivid, grass-like color and shaped into a sphere. I pressed down on the sphere with a fork and aromatic tkemali came gushing out. The shell was made of seaweed, with a binding function that is not only edible, but beneficial for the body.
I finally asked for some bread due to the deliciousness of the dish and sopped up the remainder of the juice on the plate.
The dessert department at the Wine Bar is quite interesting. If you desire some fireworks, I advise you to order a mix of desserts made with nitrogen. You will see a waitress coming toward the table enveloped in a white mist, and you yourself will become enveloped in the mist when tall and short chalices are placed on the table. Whether or not your eyesight returns and you get over the initial shock, you will already be contenting yourself by eating peanut sorbet, white chocolate with honeycomb, banana, and almonds, dark chocolate mixed with balsamic vinegar, and marshmallows.
The Schuchmann Wine Bar was merited in being awarded a certificate for a Trip Advisory rating in 2016. Eating here is an adventure. Familiar roles become new and unforgettable, and the flavors are even more intense and vibrant.