“Complete Chaos” isn’t a name that should be given to any dish, let alone a salad, that’s meant to attract eaters. However, this composition of potatoes, carrots, boiled eggs, pickles, olives, peas, cubes of baloney and a super-light dressing given a shot of mayo for body is mounded pertly on a festive blue-and-white patterned plate, then topped by a flourish of dill and a scattering of shredded egg, and it looks positively calm.
It also a United Nations of tastes, its disparate parts mingling as smacks of things salty and tart, sour and slightly sweet, softly textured and crunchy come together in every bite. It’s basically a potato salad, and one I want to make for Fourth of July, I think to myself.
I’m eating it at Old Bukhara, a new Uzbek restaurant in Freehold Township at which proprietor Rustam Kuchkorov is spreading the gospel of the great foods that come from his thousands-years-old hometown that was a crossroads on the Great Silk Road. Bukhara is a veritable melting pot of ingredients and techniques both European and Asian, a place where you see the threads of the cuisines of Russia, North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Far East on one menu.
I’m at a business dinner on this night, and trying hard not to be distracted by the food. I am not particularly successful, for the pumpkin-filled dumplings, hand-pulled noodles and mixed-grill kebabs are engaging me, mind and palate.
As I eat rolls of grilled eggplant stuffed with cheese, parsley and more than a riff of garlic, I give up the pretense and tell my companions that this place is too good to play second banana to business. They agree. We talk food, and I resolve to come back.
Now it’s the next week, early afternoon, and Rustam is telling my lunch date and me that we need to try the classic Uzbek salad of tomatoes, onions and basil that’s got a faint underpinning of green chilies. Tomatoes in March? Please, no. But Rustam says the archik-chuchuk toss is a must. Hmm. The tomatoes have been marinated in a fruity olive oil, the onions slivered and tempered by salt, and the parsley let loose in all its vibrancy to perk up the mix.
But, still, I like the ararat far better, those eggplant rolls served chilled and fanned out on a platter with little cornichons, a ramekin of hot sauce and a squiggle of balsamic glaze. Actually, I love this dish, which needs to be on the hors d’oeuvre list of every catering company in New Jersey.
My second go-round of the Complete Chaos salad needed more olives and pickles, but it still slam-dunked any potato salad I’ve tasted in this century. While there’s still a chill in the air, dive for the shurva, a soup with a broth that penetrates the bones, the joints, the muscles and leaves you feeling cured of any ails. It’s got flecks of carrots, the ever-present dill, a hunky bone with shreds of falling-apart chicken to consider. The menu calls this soup an “Oriental opera”; I call it restorative.
Rustam, meanwhile, deems the fried beef an absolute necessity, a dish folks in Uzbekistan cherish. I’m now a member of the Rustam Fan Club, for sure, but it may take me a while to warm to the slightly tough texture of the crusty cubes of beef—although I take immediately to the super-thin sliced potatoes sitting under the meat and absorbing its juices. Spear a potato with a curl of onion and find happiness.
Just don’t miss the manti, delicate steamed dumplings filled with mini cubes of pumpkin and served in a bamboo steamer. East has never met West as deliciously. Manti for World Ambassador!
Old Bukhara, 4239 Route 9 in Freehold Township. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 732-683-1400; theoldbukhara.com.Click here to leave a comment