Serious Eats: New York
The Vegetarian Option: Moldova, a Journey to Eastern Europe Through Midwood
I wasn't sure what to expect from Moldova in Midwood—before eating there I couldn't have pointed out Moldova on a map. But after eating there I want to know everything I can about the country, which I now know is sandwiched between Romania and the Ukraine. Sometimes we food obsessed people talk about beginning to understand a culture through its cuisine; that's exactly how I feel about my meal at Moldova.
An appetizer to get you started: fasolita ($6.59), a white bean purée topped with cold fried onions and a healthy drizzle of olive oil, served with slices of heavy dark brown bread. The onions added some sweetness, and paprika added a subtle smoky spiciness to the thick purée, which seemed to blend Mediterranean flavors with Eastern European.
The coltunasi ($6.99) is listed as a hot appetizer, but it was a big enough plate to serve as an entrée. Here was pure, simple Moldavian fare: paper-thin dumpling skins filled with salty farmer's cheese (you can also get potato or meat filled dumplings), dressed with melted butter and served with thin sour cream. It was a humbling reminder of how good simple ingredients can be when you don't mess with them too much.
The most traditionally Moldavian dish of the night was mamaliga ($5.99). To eat it, use a fork to flatten out the warm cornmeal porridge (similar to a thick polenta), which is topped with a little melted butter. Then scoop on copious amounts of crumbled feta and sour cream and mix it all together. The fine grains of the cornmeal mingled with the chewy, salty nubbins of feta, and the sour cream added a tangy richness. The mamaliga usually comes with fried pork belly as a garnish, but the kitchen had no problem leaving it out for me.
I left Moldova (the restaurant, not the country) feeling quite full; the food is heavy and rich, and though it's simple stuff, it's not short on flavor. This was real stick-to-your-ribs fare, and I could imagine using it as a bulwark against a cold wind blowing in off of the Black Sea. My server's obvious pride in his country's food was well justified.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian. Follow him on Twitter @bklynvegetarian.