I've said before that I like to travel by the seat of my pants, tossing the guide book in the back seat and visiting whichever roadside attraction has the brightest lights but I've changed. Since the mishaps of last years American Road Trip I've learned that a flexible itinerary with details like addresses, hours of operation and alternatives can be useful and can avoid the dreadful vacation argument. I still find making an itinerary painful but it's not the planning that gives me anxiety it's seeing the attractions, hotels and restaurants written down that reminds me of the expense of the vacation and how ill prepared my wallet is.
We mostly kept to my colourful Excel itinerary during the Easter weekend trip to NYC but because of an extended stop at the Chelsea Market a lot of the shops in Brighton Beach were closed by the time we stepped off the subway platform. I was disappointed; browsing the selection of smoked fish, eating vatrushki danishes or pirozhki and making the boyfriend translate every single Cyrillic sign is one of my favourite things to do. We didn't leave Brighton Beach with empty stomachs though, the last item on that days itinerary, Café Kashkar, was still open and it's brightly coloured neon signs illuminated the dark Brighton Beach Avenue.
Café Kashkar is a small restaurant and one of the few serving Uyghur food in New York City. Food from the Asian Muslims who live in the part of the world where Asia reaches toward Russia is characterized by the use of lamb, handmade noodles and wonderful spices like cumin, chilli flakes, Sichuan peppercorns and garlic. We walked in and sat down at the last available table and awkwardly waited for menus while listening to loud, jovial Uzbek conversations. The boyfriend spoke to our waiter in Russian and put in an order for a variety of items. I could have ordered for myself in English but this made up for my opportunity to make him speak for me in the Russian-only markets that we missed.
We started with the colourful langsai salad, a mixture of cucumber, bell peppers, bean sprouts, glass noodles and thick pieces of raw garlic. The chilled salad is served drenched in vinegar and is very refreshing when served with some of the heavier spiced dishes. Next came the samsa, a flaky pastry heavy with chopped lamb, onions, salt and pepper; these could be a delicious meal on their own. More lamb arrived in the form of geiro lagman; this time entwined in hand pulled noodles with chunks of spiced lamb, onions, peppers and scallions. Before I could guzzle the remaining lamb broth from the serving plate a quartet of manti (dumplings, not men's panties) arrived, filled with lamb and soft onions. Stretching the limits of our stomach, our final savoury dish arrived - lamb kebabs; one made of ground fatty lamb, the other tenderloin. I don't know if it was the spice rub, the onions that were piled on top or that the meat was crusted with crispy fat but these were the best kebabs I've eaten and worth fighting for the last bite.
Having our fill of lamb we ordered the only dessert available - chak chak. Chak Chak resembles a rice krispie square but tastes nothing like it. Made with unleavened dough and hazelnuts they are made into balls, deep fried and drenched with hot honey. Honey and deep fried are both things I love but I would have preferred the rice krispie square - I found chak chak, although fun to say, a little bland.
We paid our bill which seemed small ($70 including drink, tax and tip), thanked our server and hit the empty streets of Brighton Beach to find a cab back to Manhattan. If I was more thorough in my planning I would have known that the only way to get a cab in Brighton Beach is to hire a fixed price driving service. It would have saved us from waving down cabs that were unavailable or waiting around a slummy office while our driver was given (bad) directions on how to get to our hotel. There's always room for improvements...