I've only been to Brighton Beach three times, but two of those times I ate at the same restaurant: Cafe Kashkar, My first visit to this Uyghur restaurant in 2006 gave me a craving for Uyghur food that I rarely get to fulfill, seeing as there are few places to get Uyghur food in the city. I'm glad to say that three years later it's still the same—save for an updated awning—and still mostly tasty. The main difference between this visit and my last was that this time the restaurant was crowded. Our waiter was a bit flustered from having to serve a roomful of customers, but very nice and apologetic to my group of five in light of the craziness.
What is Uyghur food? With my minimal eating Uyghur food (and absolutely none cooking) I can't provide a substantial definition (please feel free to provide me with one), but I associate it mostly with lamb, onions, noodles, and spices that I can't readily identify. They're probably part of this Uyghur spice mix. Cumin, chili flakes, Sichuan peppercorns, and garlic? No wonder I like this food so much.
My favorite dish of the meal was one I hadn't tried before and probably sounded the least promising from its menu description: naryn, "pieces of dough with seasoning." Not that the description was false; it really was a plateful of dough pieces, unexpectedly cold and resembling shaved mozzarella, topped with sausage slices. But for some reason it was seasoned just right, with cumin being the dominant, but not overpowering, flavor, and had a pleasing chewy texture.
My second favorite dish was the pilaf, a spiced (it's that cumin again) fried rice dish with lamb, carrots, and chickpeas.
Right behind the pilaf was the geiro lagman, a soup-less noodle dish despite appearing under the "Soup" heading on the menu. The long, thick hand pulled wheat noodles are topped mostly with chunks of spiced lamb, onion, peppers, and chopped scallions. It's a little spicy, but nothing that will make you breathe fire.
Although I loved the manty—large thin-skinned dumplings filled with chopped lamb and onion—on my first visit, they tasted a bit off on my second try. The lamb had a funky flavor that didn't appear any of the other lamb dishes. I'm hoping it was an isolated incident.
You may have noticed that all the dishes I've mentioned so far contain lamb. Great for lamb lovers, but less so for lamb haters. For the one lamb-opposing member of my dinner party we got a chicken kebab, chunks of moist, spiced chicken impaled on a metal stick. The chicken kebab is worth ordering even without the need to order something non-lamb.
We ordered bottles of tarragon Chersi sodas throughout the meal since none of us had ever tried it before and we were drawn in by its radioactive-green color. Even when we mixed it with seltzer, it still retained its shade of green equivalent to lime Jell-O. We couldn't taste much of the advertised tarragon flavor, but it was fulfilled the expectations of a soft drink: sweet and bubbly.
1141 Brighton Beach Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11235 (b/n Brighton 14th Street and Brighton 15th Street; map) 718-743-3832
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