The New York chapter of the Woman’s Culinary Alliance held its December “Dine-a-round” event last week at ODA House, a relatively new arrival to the East Village, specifically, “Alphabet City,” on the corner of Avenue B and 5th Street. On a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was filled to capacity with diverse diners of all ages and has been getting rave reviews in local restaurant press.
Executive chef and managing partner Maia Acquaviva is a native of the Republic of Georgia, where she trained and worked as a plastic surgeon. But upon arrival to the U.S. she turned her career to what she considers her true calling: cooking. She was the former Executive Chef at Russian restaurant Mari Vanna in the Flatiron and will soon be featured in an upcoming episode of the Food Network’s show “Chopped.” Her passion and pride for her native country’s cuisine, and her eagerness to introduce new flavors to curious diners comes through in her demeanor and in her delicious, wholesome and hearty food.
She is serious about buying as much of her product locally and from organic producers. When you taste her well-prepared meat dishes, it’s obvious that these are not mass-produced meat products, but are heritage and pasture raised quality breeds of livestock and chicken. Much of her pork, lamb, chicken and produce comes from B & Y Farmers in Spencer, New York near Ithaca, regulars at the Union Square and Stuyvesant Town Greenmarket, among other local markets. The farm’s livestock is Animal Welfare certified, meaning, the animals were raised in accordance with the highest animal welfare standards in the U.S., using sustainable agriculture methods on an independent family farm. They are pasture/forest-raised, and although not organically certified, “the land is completely unsprayed, and no herbicides, pesticides, fungicides are used, EVER.”
The dinner was a multi-course feast, six or seven appetizers, a similar number of main courses and a eye-popping platter of traditional Georgian desserts, all served family-style. The dishes had names most Americans have trouble pronouncing that sound, look and smell like a far-away place few of us have ever traveled. Appetizers came out in increasing frequency and our plates filled with a variety of unique and tasty dishes.
Pkhali Trio: a trio of small vegetable balls or dumplings, specifically, eggplant, spinach, and leek with ground walnuts, fresh herbs, garnished with pomegranate seeds.
The tomato salad had a distinctive green ajika sauce of ground fresh herbs, walnuts and Georgian spices (e.g., coriander, fenugreek, Aleppo pepper, among others). There was a mushroom salad with oyster mushroom sautéed with onions, tarragon, cilantro & mint.
More and more appetizers arrived, including:
Kuchmachj: boiled chicken liver & gizzards with ground walnuts, fresh herbs and Georgian spices
Megruli: Homemade Imeruli and Sulguni cheese melted inside yogurt dough, baked with extra cheese on top
Shoti: a traditional crusty and chewy Georgian bread, with a fermented flavor, baked in brick oven, called a “tone.”
As our stomachs filled, the dishes just kept coming and then came the main dishes:
Lobio: Pinto beans cooked with onions, fresh herbs & Georgian spices; served with Mchadi (pan roasted corn bread) & pickle assortment
Chkmeruli: Organic grass-fed Cornish Hen roasted with garlic & thyme pan sauce; served with Georgian bread
Chakapuli: organic grass-fed lamb slow cooked with tarragon, mint, scallions, parsley, cilantro & white wine, served with Georgian bread
Mitsvadi: Georgian rubbed shish-kebab made from organic pork, served with crisp-baked potatoes and homemade ajika and tkemali (plum) sauce
Who has room for dessert after all that food? Oh, if you insist (resistance was futile…)
Clockwise from top:
Pelamushi: Traditional Georgian dessert of grape juice cooked with wheat and corn flour, served with walnuts, chocolate and whipped cream
Orange cake: ODA special, breadcrumbs, walnuts and orange biscuit, iced with homemade Bavarian creame
Napoleoni: Puff pastry with homemade Bavarian cream
Bakhlava: Traditional Mediterranean dessert pastry with chopped walnuts and honey
Overall, a true culinary adventure for a palate sometimes bored by over-stimulation. Highly recommend a visit during these cold, winter months, for Maia’s food and her personality evokes cozy warmth and a feeling of home.