Nuts for Georgia

(Georgia the Country, Not the U.S. State)

A trip to Mimino Georgian restaurant in London

There are very few moments in my eating history when I have been proved completely ignorant. But such was the case last weekend when I was invited out to a Georgian restaurant called Mimino with a group of masters students all studying international politics. They are, of course due to their educational background, hip to the precise geographic location of the country itself, whereas I figured, “It’s near Russia, right? And kind of near Poland? I bet the food will be in that same pierogi-pieroshki family.”

Despite my complete ignorance, I was blessed throughout the excursion with a series of fortunate circumstances.

Fortunate Circumstance No. 1. I kept my mouth shut.

This little fact is indeed a fortunate circumstance, seeing as that when it comes to food, I am usually willing -- and more often than not able -- to talk a good game. So it is with complete and utter luck that I kept my comments about the food “probably being like Russian or Polish” to myself.

Though I did tell Boyfriend, who informed me, “Actually, Georgia is closer to Armenia than Poland, so maybe the food with have a middle eastern influence.” He can be quite kind at times.

Note the map image on this page. Georgia borders the Black Sea, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and to its north, Russia. It is nowhere near Poland.

Fortunate Circumstance No. 2. I sit with a good group. There are 20 people in our party, and everyone whom I’m sitting near is completely wonderful. The young woman opposite me, Nata, is from Georgia, and she seems to have a timid pride in explaining how we will order (family style) and what all the dishes are.

David, the organizer of the outing, is also from Georgia. He had been to the restaurant before and assures us that because he is Georgian and has talked to the staff, we’re in good hands. He orders a few bottles of Georgian wine for the table (I drink the red) and proclaims that Georgia is one of the oldest wine-making region in the world.

Unlike the bright, juicy, fruity Riojas and Nero d’Avolos I’ve been drinking lately, this wine is smooth and calm by comparison. It's deliciously mellow, not too acidic and with almost no tannins, and as I swirl it in my glass, I dreamily stare at the long streaky legs it leaves behind. I wish I give more detail about what wine this was that we were drinking (you know, the name of the grape or the label perhaps), but I relinquished all control over this meal and simply consumed whatever was in front of me.

The wine list appears on Mimino’s web site, if you’re curious to browse around.

Fortunate Circumstance No. 3. We eat family style.

This allows me to try nearly every single dish the restaurant offers, and because I’ve never had Georgian food, I am very grateful. There are a few menu items that do indeed sound Russian, and Nata confirms this. Borscht seems to be the notable offender, though Nata claims that another dish “is Russian, and I don’t know why they serve it here.”

Fortunate Circumstance No. 4. No nut allergies.

The moment we all take our seats and start perusing the menu, David looks up and announces, “I hope no one has any problems with nuts. If you have a nut allergy, you’re in the wrong restaurant.”

You know how there are certain restaurants where you just can’t bring a vegetarian because there is literally nothing on the menu that does not contain some kind of ground meat or fish stock, or because everything is cooked on one meat-crusted grill? Georgian food is like that for people with nut allergies.

With this new knowledge, I begin to take stock of the starters that were on the table when we entered and am now a little shocked and amazed that David did not mention this little fact when he first invited everyone out. Everything has nuts. In dishes where, in other countries, you might find olive oil or some other staple ingredient, here there are ground, smashed, or pulverized walnuts. It's something of a miracle that no one at the table has a nut allergy, not even a mild one.

Any time anyone asks the two Georgians at the table, “Is that like a hummus?” or “What’s in the dressing?” the answer is invariably, “It’s nuts. Probably walnuts.”

The Food

Table bread similar to naan but without oil (which I’m told is usually puffier than naan but was not on this occasion).
Chicken in walnut sauce with a texture like thin hummus.
Eggplant with hummus-like walnut paste and pomegranate seed garnish -- one of my favorites of the night.
Red kidney beans with ground nut dressing and pickles, served cold. Yum.
Tomato, cucumber, and onion salad with ground nut dressing.
Fried mystery bread -- Nata says this is a “maize bread,” though this doesn’t seem quite right. Imagine a piece of pressed chicken, coated with cornmeal and deep fried, but that when you bite into it, it is definitely not chicken, and maybe it’s bread, maybe it’s a mild haloumi-like cheese, but who can really say for sure? It’s completely delicious, crunchy and almost chewy, though bewildering.

Mid meal
Georgian pizza. We kept calling it “Georgian pizza,” but this delicious and piping hot cheese pie item was closer to a simple quesadilla. Though not much more than a thin circle of bread stuffed with mild gooey cheese and cut in eighths, this dish was easily one of my favorites. It was hot off the griddle, barely charred in spots, and had a touch of oil to it. And the cheese was incredible.

Lamb stew, almost purple in color most likely from red wine.
Chicken stew with tomatoes, which I find a bit oily.
Whole trout (I missed out on this one), lightly breaded and skillet fried.
Pork chunks cooked with onions and chips (i.e., fries), all lightly coated in a grill sauce.

Georgian food is like nothing I expected, and nothing I could have expected. The wine in particular impressed me, and I would return (though David warned me not to without him or another Georgian to safeguard the quality and service) specifically for the first-course eggplant, cheese pie, and lamb stew. It leaves me very curious to try other foods from that geographic area east of the Black Sea.