In spite of all the poseurs and self-styled food bloggers in this town, I often feel that I am the only one with an abiding interest in the genre. This feeling is reinforced when something truly new and unusual visits the city, and no blogger but me shows up to experience it.
That was the case last Saturday night, when Nina Manchev, the young proprietor of Forte, maybe the only Bulgarian/Spanish tapas restaurant in the United States, brought in a guest chef, Rumen Aydarov, from his acclaimed restaurant in Sofia, Bulgaria, Besso, to cook for her guests.
The turnout was ample-I’d say around 80 people, to eat this ambitious 9-course menu, composed of many dishes I was unfamiliar with.
I visited Bulgaria during the Zhivkov era-when it was a Commie dictatorship joined at the hip with the Soviet Union-and found the Bulgarians, a charming people, reticent to speak with anyone from America, lest they arouse suspicion and a visit from the secret police.
So my experience there was brief and superficial, despite being totally impressed by the beauty of the Byzantine architecture in Sofia, and an impressive parade of beautiful women, with whom I couldn’t socialize.
Bulgarian cuisine is Balkan, heavily influenced by its centuries as part of the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, Bulgaria has a large Turkish population even today, though many of them have since migrated back to Turkey.
Most of the people at this dinner were prominent members of the local Bulgarian community. Ms. Manchev dolled up the restaurant with white tablecloths, which gave the room a chic funk. All wines and spirits she served with the courses were from Bulgaria, save one, Putinka Limited Edition Russian Vodka, which she served with the caviar she imports.
That Ossetra caviar, from the Black Sea, was delicious, on buckwheat blinis with crème fraiche. After that, Aydarov’s food slowly rolled out, a long evening, to be sure, but well worth it.
I loved the little zucchini “envelope” of marinated Bulgarian sheep cheese, drizzled with parsley and Spanish olive oil. Aydarov, an award winning chef, has cooked and consulted in Barcelona, so he’s familiar with other genres besides his native cooking.
That was followed by something I’d never had before, called kyopoolu. Picture a halved yellow pepper filled with a tomato and eggplant relish laced with more peppers and toasted sesame seeds. Wonderful!
Next was a vegan dish, as it turned out, that may have been the top dish of the evening, a timbale of wild mushroom and baby spinach with pine nuts. The other warm appetizer was a piece of filleted rainbow trout with a light Marcona almond crust alongside a tomato concasse. I would have been content to stop there, but much more was to come.
The Main Course of roasted suckling veal with blue plums was easily as tender a meat dish as I’ve ever tasted, and what followed, a Royal Style Bulgarian torchon of foie gras on a fresh baked rye bread toast was mercifully small, dusted with Balkan almonds and crowned with a halved apricot.
Did you know foie gras was big in Bulgaria? Liar!
There were two desserts; milk banitza (sort of a turnover) with vanilla ice cream and borovinki, Bulgarian for blueberry, and an goat cheese and crème fraiche custard with a cherry reduction, plus a dessert wine called Katarzyna Estate Late Harvest, a raisin-y gold elixir.
If you stuck around- I did not, because the hour was approaching midnight, there was Bulgarian grappa for a digestif. The quality of grappa in Bulgaria is impressive. Their wines, I think, are a work in progress, though I liked the Katarzyna “Encore” Syrah with that wild mushroom timbale.
But this was an impressive effort by an innovative restaurateur, one that should not be ignored by local writers. Remember that next time you overeat the night before an event you should attend.
You know who you are.
Forte is at 4180 S. Rainbow Blvd.
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