Kafana restaurant, New York City
A few nights ago, DW ate at Kafana restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village. The restaurant bills itself as serving “authentic Serbian food”. Having spent a lot of time in the various Balkan countries (Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and a lot of time searching out Balkan fare in the New York area, from the Garment District to Astoria, I can testify that Kafana lives up to its claim. The food is as good as found in Belgrade.
Balkan food is simple and hearty and draws upon Turkish and Greek roots in the centre and south of the region with Italian influences in the north and Hungarian flavours and dishes on the eastern front. It is good winter comfort food and grilled meat features prominently (and if you are at the coast, grilled fish replaces meat as the main course). The cuisine is not vegetarian friendly, but there are a few choices on the Kafana menu to satisfy vegetarians.
But, we are not vegetarians. For dinner, we had the cold meat meze which was a delicious selection of cold meats—air dried and smoked, pecena paprika (roasted red peppers with oil and garlic) followed by vesalica (smoked pork loin cooked on the grill) with red cabbage and sarma (stuffed cabbage leaves with ground meat and rice) accompanied by velvety smooth mashed potatoes. Not a dud amongst them. My particular favourite is the vesalica – not hard to do, but it is hard to get it right and always a good test for any Balkan restaurant.
As for the wine, we drank a Montenegrin white, Krstac Plantaze, which is dry and slightly flinty. Before and after dinner, we had dunja rakija. Rakija is a clear spirit made from various fruits: plum, apricot, apple, grape, pear and our choice, dunja or quince. It is dry, fruity and best served cold. Two fingers of dunja is a good way to start or end a meal, but beware—it is powerful stuff.
The restaurant is small and intimate. The exposed brick walls are decorated with historic photographs from various times in the Balkans. Kilim fabrics add a bit of colour and soften the edges making it a cozy and inviting place. Due to a lot of good reviews and a relentless hip location, bookings are recommended – when we left (before 8) others were waiting outside or sitting at the bar waiting for a free table. Cash only.