While trying to fill in as many ethnicities as I can alphabetically, I recalled a certain restaurant walking distance from where I work. I needed to walk away from the office so that I could enjoy my lunch without having someone running up to me as though his or hair were burning with a bright blaze and demanding some work out of me while I was busy sinking my teeth into something yummy. So it was off to Sayat-Nova at 175 E. Ohio Street to sample some Armenia food.
Nice and dim on the inside — superb atmosphere for dating or meeting for a tryst — Sayat-Nova has all the makings of a rather nice eatery from a cosmetics standpoint. I must admit that it took a while for the host to detach himself from the bar stool on which he was so comfortably perched so that he could direct me to a seat. Although I inconvenienced him with my entry, he did seat me close enough to a window where I could handle business with the camera while seeing if the food was worthy.
The waiter was prompt considering there were only two servers working the floor during the lunch hour. I received a menu and a wine list, the latter which I was not going to entertain while having to return to work. I started with a hot appetizer, a red lentil soup, which was a broth with lentils, carrots, and celery. To balance out my hot appetizer, I ordered a cold appetizer, a yalanci sarma — vegetarian grape leaves stuffed with rice, chickpeas, pine nuts, onions, and tomatoes. Of all the restaurants where I have gone that serve grape leaves in this fashion, Greek restaurants have been the ones to get it right. Now I can add Sayat-Nova to the quill and scroll of eateries that know how to prepare stuffed grape leaves to satisfaction. I completed my order with an array of vegetarian bites. Spinach boereg. Plaki. Tabouleh. House salad and rice. And when the waiter found that my whole order was primarily vegetarian, he commented that the red lentil soup had a chicken broth base. While I am not one of those vegetarians who fall on the floor and writhe and pain, disgust, or foolishness because there is meat or essence of meat on my plate or in my bowl, I did note his concern as genuine. Most servers would care less and I was appreciative of the waiter’s awareness.
The spinach boereg was one of those items on the menu that tasted okay. Part of it was having had phyllo stuffed spinach at some recent Greek jaunts and loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Did I say, “Loved it”? The pastry, although flaky just right, had a bit of a burnt tinge to it. And the spinach was bitter to the point of my taste buds at the back of my mouth bursting and making me cringe. The plaki, which was a small plate of northern beans with sautéed onions, light tomato puree, and olive oil, tasted like Big John’s pork and beans with a bit of water to lighten the gravy. Since I was going to be paying for the dish, I ate it rather perfunctorily, but I was indeed nonplussed. Much like the yalanchi sarma, the tabouleh is where Sayat-Nova shined. With the complementary pita bread, the tabouleh was perfect. The diced tomatoes, green onions, cracked wheat, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil went down very well. And surprisingly, the rice was tasty without being salty, too buttery, or mushy. It certainly was a nice antithesis to the rabbit food house salad that I wish I could have substituted for more tabouleh.
I found myself hankering for Greek food after leaving Sayat-Nova. Part of it was wanting authenticity and flavour, something that I am sure is at the restaurant. However, it felt more like going to an eatery with novelty ambience and enough atmosphere to hide the fact that perhaps all dishes are done for the American palate only. Probably one of these days I may return and try something else on the menu, something different, something with pizzazz. Being a food addict, and one who has walked away from countless restaurants bent over from having stuffed himself, I felt a pang of disappointment leaving Sayat-Nova, feeling like I had experienced a Rip Van Winkle moment in eating. Who knows? It may have been just today.