Home cooking, if your home is Armenia

Newsday, NY
Feb 25 2005

Home cooking, if your home is Armenia



216-07 Horace Harding Expy.

Bayside, 718-281-0004

Its thing: Armenian home cooking

Its hours: 12 p.m.-10 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday

The Tab: Appetizers $3-$5; entrees $9-$12

Disabled Access: easy: open seating, no steps

If you have Armenian friends, sooner or later they are going to sing
you a song of lamejun.

At least that’s been my experience. I had been hearing for years
about this delicacy, which is a flatbread topped with ground lamb and
herbs. Every Armenian granny makes it, and their fortunate relatives
keep it frozen away like waffles, reheating it at needy moments.

Armenian food is said to have other hidden treasures, as well. So
when I heard about Sevan, on the service road off the Long Island
Expressway in Bayside, I headed out.

Sevan isn’t run by a grandmother, but it is a family operation. Next
door is a large grocery loaded with Armenian and Turkish specialty
items: dates, cheese, spices. A family member waits on you, bringing
out courses with helpful explanations.

On each of two trips, I started with soup. Jujoukh, or yogurt soup,
was warm and tangy, closer to great tzatskiki than what we tend to
think of as yogurt. Borscht was a satiating medley of beef, cabbage,
beets and little vegetables in broth, with a dollop of sour cream
added for richness.

On both occasions, I had lamejun on my mind.

As it turned out, the lamejun is a little underwhelming here. It’s
ground beef, not lamb, and though the herbs give it a nice little
kick, it didn’t knock me out with either its taste or texture. Far
more exciting were the potent hummus, the bulgur-dusted ground beef
kuifta, and the air-cured meat called basturma, which went well with
the olive and cheese platters that my party wisely ordered on both

The carrot salad was the biggest surprise – bound up with ground
walnuts and garlic and scented strongly with cilantro, it made an
excellent appetizer, refreshing without being filling.

Main courses were simpler – good, if a little plain. I tried the
manti, the so-called Armenian ravioli, which the menu here describes
as “seasoned ground beef shells served with specialty tomato sauce
and yogurt with garlic.” I thought it was good but neither very
interesting nor a match for the other entrees. Pork chops are mildly
marinated, thick and grilled carefully, though I made a point (as I
always do) of asking for them not to be too dry.

The “Sevan original chicken dish” is delicately breaded poultry,
served with a “specialty yogurt sauce.” (There are a lot of
specialties at Sevan.) Grilled quail were plump and vivid. And
khinkali, a meat dumpling, was probably the homiest of all the
entrees I tried.

The best part of the meal was drinking Armenian coffee, a thick and
sweet brew like Turkish coffee, and browsing the selection of
“specialty food” next door.

I was able to enjoy Sevan completely and leave happy. I even took
some lamejun home and have been eating it for breakfast.