No, not that Georgia. San Carlos has expanded its already impressive breadth of cuisines with one almost completely unique to the Bay Area in Tamari, offering Georgian food. If you’re not familiar with Georgia (the country) or it’s cuisine, you’re not alone. According to the restaurant’s owner, there isn’t much of a Georgian community in the Bay Area, so he had to find a chef from Pennsylvania to open this restaurant (it’s the same owner as the earlier Agora restaurant, but he claims, as a native Georgian, his goal was always to open this place. Agora never seemed to find its footing in a town fairly dense with Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, so we’re glad the owner is giving this a go). Georgia is the former Soviet Republic of less than four million people located in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, wedged between Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan with a small coast on the Black Sea. As such its cuisine, although varied by region, is related to Russian, Turkish, and Persian food with its use of spices and focus on stews, breads, and dumplings. The meat is varied, with lamb, chicken, pork, and veal selections (there are limited seafood options). Georgia must also have a lot of walnuts in the region, as they play a big role in many dishes, and Georgia also apparently has a long wine producing tradition.
The restaurant just opened last Saturday, and initial signs are good. When we first tried going there on Sunday night, they were completely filled with reservations. We returned on Wednesday night at 6:30pm to a fairly empty restaurant, but by 7:30pm the place was filling up. The decor and layout has not changed significantly from that of Agora, with a decent sized bar and a set of about a dozen tables inside and a handful outside. The owner has already made the investment in permanent signage along with two big “grand opening” banners, so hopefully this will draw some attention.
The menu is extremely varied, with plenty of selections of small plates (hot and cold), salads, breads, dumplings, shish kabobs, stews, and other vegetarian and meat entrees. The biggest challenge will be selecting your dishes, due both to the variety on the menu and the unfamiliar nature of the dishes (although many have explanations, it’s best to ask the waiter for help — we also Googled a few words). Our biggest challenge with having just two of us at dinner was to get any reasonable sample of the dishes, so we will need to return, probably with a larger party. In any case, definitely don’t skip the Georgian breads. As Georgian cuisine is big on cheese, there is a wide variety of cheese topped or stuffed bread. We started out with the Acharuli Khachapuri, a large boat-shaped bread topped with cheese, butter, and an egg (placed on raw with the egg slowly cooking on the hot bread cheese). It was an excellent, very rich dish, especially as you cut the runny egg into the cheese bread. Unique and tasty, no doubt best shared with a group.
After having the Georgian Salad (which was similar to a Greek Salad but with a few small flavor differences), we ordered our main dishes. The Chanakhi is a traditional stew served in a small urn with a side of toasted bread. It contains lamb, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and is mildly spiced. Although it is a lamb dish, it is most reminiscent of a ratatouille with eggplant as the dominant flavor. The spices are good, but not overwhelming. We also had the Ojakhuri with Mushrooms, which was a platter with cooked and spiced mushrooms over a bed of potatoes (basically, oversized French fries). It’s a bit of a carb-heavy dish, but the mushrooms were very good. It was best with a side order of the red bell pepper sauce. We did also sample the Georgian Cabernet blend, which really good, but we were too full to try dessert.
Although the City of Good Eating has no basis against which to compare Tamari against other Georgian restaurants, it feel like the newest San Carlos establishments represents its culture faithfully and with a plenty of tasty and interesting choices. There were so many other dishes that we didn’t get to try but wanted to, including the small plates, dumplings, and other stews, so we’ll definitely be returning. Another spot to put in your rotation particular when you’re not in the mood for just another place serving Italian, Mexican, or Mediterranean fare.