End of A’s

January 28, 2009


Well folks, we have terminated the first letter of the alphabet in our global gastronomical armageddon, and the last A may just have been the best.  After traipsing from borough to borough (plus Elizabeth, New Jersey) for our first 11 countries, we needed look no farther for Azerbaijan than Cafe Sim-sim, 312 Ditmas Ave. in our own neighborhood of Kensington, Brooklyn.

As our core trio would once again be joined by friends, I thought it was best to call ahead to make reservations.  After a good 25  attempts on which a woman’s pleasantly recorded voice told me that my call could not be completed, I came to the conclusion that the listed phone number for this place was defunct, so I decided to head over there to make sure this place actually still existed.

Mirrored ceiling...so you can watch yourself sprawled out drunk and fat

Mirrored ceiling...so you can watch yourself splayed out drunk and fat

From the outside, Cafe Sim-sim could be mistaken for a gentleman’s club, package lounge, or some other such unseemly establishment, and walking through the door doesn’t entirely dispel that impression.  The walls are all mirrored, as is the ceiling.  The decor, along with the dim lighting, almost begs for a silver pole or two and a good deal of vinyl-upholstered seating.

I entered to the disorienting whirring of a CD skipping over a PA system and an older fellow with his back turned to me hunched over one of the tables. Despite his being no more than five feet from the door, he seemed completely oblivious to my presence (which was making a considerable amount of incidental noise I should add) not to mention the grating sound of the  CD.  I stood behind him for a good 15 seconds thinking that maybe he just needed to finish up what he was doing before he turned his attention to me.  When it became clear that he genuinely had no idea that anyone else was in the room, I ventured a hesitant “hello?”

He turned and looked at me as if my standing in front of him made little to no sense.  He looked at me long enough without saying a word that I started to laugh out of simple bewilderment.  I finally pulled myself together enough to start explaining why I might have walked in the front door of what I assumed to be his restaurant.  Before I got three words out, he pointed toward the back of the dining room where I saw a short, round, mustached man with missing teeth who, upon hearing my request of a reservation for six, demanded that I pay him a forty dollar deposit to hold the table.  When I protested that such arrangements are fairly unusual and, besides, I didn’t have forty dollars, he interrupted me saying, “No problem, no problem.  How much you have? You give me what you have.”  We finally both agreed that it would be a bit silly for me to give him the $3.58  I had in my wallet, and he gave me the reservation on nothing more than my simple promise to actually show up.

When I returned a couple of hours later with the Nomad, Noquar, and the rest of our crew in tow, certain aspects of my previous encounter started to make a lot more sense.  The older gentleman who had so baffled me earlier was, in fact, the evening’s (unfortunately camera-shy) entertainment and appeared to speak no English.  As we were being seated, he was rather beautifully singing in what I assume to have been Russian over a blaring pre-recorded backing track, which would suggest some degree of deafness on his part, since there was no other possible reason for it to be that loud.


As soon as we had shed our heavy coats and were seated, our waitress came to take our drink order.  We wanted alcohol and we wanted it to be Azerbaijani.  It quickly became clear that the closest thing we were going to get was vodka.  We asked what amount would be appropriate for the six of us and were encouraged to order 750 grams.  We didn’t really know what that meant as none of us were particularly familiar with liquor measured in grams.  What we got was a full liter bottle of Tanqueray Sterling which we wasted no time laying into.

When it came time to order food we once again relied on our server, who was really wonderful.  She tried earnestly, but with varying degrees of success, to answer all our questions about the food, and when her English vocabulary limited her descriptions she emphatically entreated us to just trust her judgment, which we happily agreed to.

beansOur first round of dishes was comprised of soft, fresh homemade bread with eggplant spread and kidney fish_taters4bean salad, which closely resembled a lot of Turkish starters I’ve had, a basic green salad with tomato, onions, and vinaigrette, as well as a whole smoked trout meatpies6alongside boiled potatoes.  These were promptly followed by a plate of kutab, which are moist, perfectly textured lamb-stuffed pancakes, and a nourishing bowl of borscht, which got passed around the table.

We were duly impressed by these first few bites, but they paled when compared with what was to come.

As should be expected with Turkic fare, we were again dealing with the ubiquitous shish kebab.  However, I, personally, was unprepared for how revelatory the introduction of fish into the whole kebab genre proved to be.  On our server’s recommendation, we ordered the sturgeon, or as it visits me in my dreams, huge flavorful juicy nuggets of perfectly-seared white meatiness.  As good as the assorted meat plate was that followed (and it was rock solid), it was always going to be like Usher trying to outdance JT.


meatFor flavor and tenderness, the lamb kebab rivaled the best kebab meat I’ve had anywhere, including the Armenian kebab that captured our hearts a few weeks ago.  The chicken was close, but not quite moist enough to meet the dizzying standards of the Armenian version, and the beef, while certainly as flavorful as the other meats, had had much of its tenderness grilled out of it.  The kofta, meanwhile, was kofta.  To be honest, I’ve never actually had kofta that really distinguished itself but am certainly open to suggestions. We ended things with a round of excellent lemon tea and a trio of overly sweet fruit cakes, cake4which were superfluous anyway, as we were all pretty stuffed at that point.

I have left few meals drunker, happier, flusher in pocket, or more raring for a bar brawl.  Cafe Sim-sim, you are a marvel.



8 Responses to “End of A’s”

  1. confinednomad Says:

    A most excellent summary of our Azerbaijani adventure, Supereg. I also want to add that Sim Sim made The Village Voice’s Best of 2008 list and was reviewed by Robert Sietsema: http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-10-08/restaurants/no-balls-at-caf-sim-sim/

  2. Cori Says:

    Azerbaijan is Caucasian, not Central Asian 🙂

  3. supereg Says:

    Thank you for a much needed geography lesson! I wasn’t actually aware that the Caucasus region isn’t included under the Central Asia umbrella, which is apparently only reserved for the ‘stans. The post has been corrected.

  4. Marianne Power Says:

    Love the story about the $40 vs the $3.48 and the description of the decor. Hugs, MOM

  5. Marianne Power Says:

    Sooo what is the first country for “B” ??

  6. Marianne Power Says:

    Did you guys know you are on http://www.chow.com ?

    • confinednomad Says:

      I occasionally post questions to chowhound (the chow.com discussion board), but haven’t seen anything written about us on the site. Can you send a link to what you saw there?

  7. Marianne Power Says:

    It was a ‘tag’ to your blog from your post about looking for Angolan food. I was trying to find your blog from another computer and I googled “confinednomad” it took me to that post which then took me to your blog.

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