So, having solved the dispute in the first war in history, I will carry my peacekeeping mission forwards in time. The next crisis to solve will be the series of wars between Rome and the Pontic Empire ruled by Mithridates VI, popularly known as the ‘poison king’(perhaps not a good omen for a food based challenge). Eventually the Roman armies, lead by Pompey the Great, forced Mithridates to kill himself. In this bout the Italian-American community will be representing Rome and Pontus will (slightly spuriously) be defended by the good people of Georgia (the country, not the state).
There is only one place I know of in New York to get a decent Georgian meal and that is Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. There you do have a few choices but I went for Pirosmani. The weather had conspired to give me an authentic Soviet feel to the day in the form of unseasonable snow. It brought to mind the wide Steppes, but did not make the 10 block walk from the Avenue U Subway station fun. The trip was worth it though. The food was excellent (not a hint of poison) and the Georgians have a flair for presentation. Their two foot long national bread and pies with spatulas poking out of their bulging pastry heads would delight even the most cold-hearted of diners. As for the main course, I had a $14 lamb’s ribs in tomato sauce. The meat was as tender as a Georgia peach (the state not the country) and the sauce, rich and well spiced (if you like garlic!).
The real reason to go here is not the food, it is the experience. With it’s vulgar chandeliers, frankly bizarre murals (see the website), chairs wrapped in pink fabric and dance floor sprinkled with hundreds of multicoloured dots of light I felt transported to a world of party Aparatchiks, Skoda Tycoons and Georgian folk singing. This was only enhanced by the fact that they were preparing for a large party that night (they only fed me after some persuasion). So before you go call them to check that you can come. Also BYOB.
You would not blame the Italians for being confident in this battle. “Veni, Vidi, Vici” said Caesar about Pontus. As for me, I set out for Arthur Avenue and Pasquale’s Rigoletto. This confidence was certainly reflected in the price (c. $12-5 appetizers, $17 Pastas and $20+ mains). I started with Baked Clams, which Italians restaurants in Arthur Avenue have decided is the one quintessential Italian dish. The clams were fine but I thought that the half-inch on breadcrumbs that sealed them in their shells was too much. The Fettuccine alla Matriciana was colossal and left me full for the rest of the day. That pasta was quite hard but, for me, this proved at least some Italian pedigree (Se la pasta non e al dente il cuoco e un ********).
Again it was the surroundings that most captured my attention. It was built in 1986 but the restaurant looked like a ’70s Mob Movie set, with thick glass tiles, faux columns and marble-esque walls. I half expected an old-timey crooner to walk in demanding the manager deal with the corpse of a prostitute before the cops caught up with him (DISCLAIMER: I am sure all of the business at Pasquale’s is above board).
So really it was the battle of the décor in this particular case, which I think would have rather pleased both sides, each of whom saw the other as somewhat barbaric. What more fitting way, then, to continue of anti-war mission (or Pastafist, as the Italians might say?).
Pirosmani. 2222 Avenue U (btwn 22nd and 23rd St). (718) 368-3237. Tues-Sun; 1PM-11PM. B/Q to Avenue U.
Pasquale’s Rigoletto. 2311 Arthur Avenue. (718) 365-6644. Sun-Sat; 12PM-10PM. B/D to Fordham.