My thoughts on Old Tbilisi went from 0 to 100 real quick. I’ve been there three times, and the first two times, I will admit, I was disappointed. But the third time, I totally fell in love with the place.
Now, I need to take a moment to discuss my initial bias going into Russian / Georgian / Ukrainian restaurants. I absolutely love my Russian heritage and culture, but the fact of the matter is, Eastern European food has never sat well with me. No matter how many times I’ve tried it, I’ve simply never been a fan. As a result, whenever I walk into an Eastern European restaurant, I already have an intense bias that I won’t like the food. So, that’s what happened to me and Old Tbilisi the first two times — I walked in believing I wouldn’t like the food, so then I guess… I didn’t. But, it was also the fact that I was a vegetarian those first two times, and frankly, I think vegetarian Eastern European foods are even more distasteful to me.
However, I went the third time with parents, who love the restaurant, with an open mind and a nonrestrictive diet. Everyone around speaks Russian, from the waiters to the customers. The customers are largely, as expected, from Eastern European descent. The staff can be a little crude and inhospitable at first, but then the actual service was great, friendly, and comfortable.
We started off with Georgian mineral water called Borjomi, which is substantially stronger and more bitter in flavor than other mineral waters such as Perrier or Pelligrino. It takes a few sips to get used to, but I started to becoming a big fan of the robust strength of the water.
The menu itself is fairly simple and straightforward, but the names of the dishes are all authentic Georgian, which can make it a little difficult to understand what exactly you’re ordering if you have no idea what the dish is to begin with. But the descriptions make it all more approachable.
I wasn’t crazy about one of the appetizers, which is a huge hit with almost all Eastern Europeans I’ve met, and that’s Adjaruli Khachapuri. It’s essentially a Georgian take on a pizza, minus the sauce. It’s something I would imagine one would find in a Georgian Domino’s. It’s a big warm bread creation stuffed with cheese, with cheese in the middle, often mixed with some egg and butter. Now, that probably sounds great, and most people think so, but I get a little too overwhelmed by the fat, carbs, and dairy that I rather steer clear of the dish. I’m also not crazy about the Sulguni cheese itself, for I think it lacks a good amount of flavor (or at least salt). We got a classic pickled vegetable platter for the table, which I can’t imagine an Eastern European dinner without, and then these beautiful dumplings called khinkali, stuffed with either beef and pork or lamb. They were great, and I really appreciated how satisfying they looked.
My entree itself was also phenomenal. I ordered their salmon, which I’ll admit isn’t the most Georgian dish I could’ve picked on the menu, but I was also legitimately in the mood for some good fish. You wouldn’t necessarily guess that the dish was Georgian at all, but it was still some of the best salmon I’ve had in a long time.
Overall, my impression of the restaurant changed dramatically, and I think I would happily return in the future. We didn’t stick around for dessert, since West Village is full of incredible bakeries and stops for dessert. The area is phenomenal to walk around in before or after dinner, not to mention that Cafe Espanol, truly a family favorite, is the restaurant right next door.