New New Yorkers, from the Very Old Country

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A new Georgian restaurant wants to bring a taste of the home country to NYC

By Adam Janos

"Not to burn the kebab, not to burn the stick," Beka Peradze, co-owner of new restaurant Oda House (76 Avenue B), explains. It's an old idiom from his native land, the Republic of Georgia, a nation of 4.5 million in the central Asian Caucasus.

It's hard to say what Peradze exactly means by this (out of the frying pan and into the fire, perhaps?), but it seems fitting that the idiom is both cryptic and tied to food, as Georgia's rich culinary tradition remains largely a mystery to the average New Yorker's palette. Oda House, which opened on May 5th, is the brainchild Beka's stepmother, Maia Acquaviva; together, they run the place. Acquavia is a native Georgian who came to New York in 2007, and ? after attending culinary school ? served as an executive chef at a Russian Restaurant on East 20th Street called Mari Vanna.

Not that Russian and Georgian cuisine are anything alike.

"It's big different," Acquavia said. "Georgian cuisine is rich: rich with everything. I could not say same with Russian cuisine. They not have so much herbs, meat products."

Georgia, in contrast, was perfectly situated to take advantage of the rich trade that came through the Silk Road, a network of trade routes dating back to the first millennium that linked Europe and East Asia.

"We use a lot of fresh things: so many herbs: tarragon, mint, cilantro, parsley, scallions, garlic? and it's makes our dishes so flavorful. It's different; there's a freshness that makes our cuisine different."

At Oda House, Acquavia is hoping to use those flavors to create a menu that's elegant, exotic, and inspiring. Aside from her set menu, which includes her favorite dish (Chakapuri: a slow-cooked lamb with tarragon, mint, scallions and white wine, served with Georgian bread), the chef is preparing specials every week. This week, she'll be serving chicken roulade with vegetables, and a cold zucchini in a white sauce with tarragon and mint. As the weather continues to warm, she'll start preparing cold savory soups.

Along with the Georgian food, Acquavia and her staff of eight (seven Georgians, one Latino) hope to familiarize New Yorkers with all aspects of Georgian culture. They have live music every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, in which a duo plays Georgian folk tunes on the doli (hand drum) and the phanduri (traditional fretted string instrument).

"And we want to start next week, Thursday evening, we want to make Gypsy evening because we know these people very well," Acquavia says. "And maybe from Monday until Wednesday: she's very famous singer, Georgian, now in United States: Nini."

"She's gonna be in U.S. X-Factor," Peradze added. "She been through three auditions already, now she go for judges like Simon? she won Greek X-Factor."

There's a saying in Georgia: if you ask a Georgian for water, they give you wine. Acquavia says that why she opened a restaurant, and why she wants to bring people into her business.

"'Oda' means your own home," Acquavia explained. "Your family home. Your grandmother's home. In old Georgian language, Oda means this one. It's the old word for 'house'. Your house. I want everyone who comes here feel like they're home."

"We're little people, just 4.5 million," Acquavia said about Georgia. "But we are very friendly. For us, family is much important. We are religious people, Orthodox. We religious, but never have Antisemitism in Georgia. Never, ever. Jewish, Muslims, Christians: they live like brothers together. I'm so happy because we're so friendly. I'm proud of this, because it's a different genetic."

"People say: today's egg is better than tomorrow's chicken," Peradze added. Enjoy the things you have in front of you. Eat Georgian food in New York's melting pot, where the old world comes to begin anew.

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