Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, with its 1.2 million inhabitants is by world standards small, but proportionally to the total population of the country of 3.2 million, is huge.
The main square Hanrapeptutiun (Republic) is surrounded by the national Museum, several ministries, the Marriott Yerevan and a few bookstores.
Located on the corner, under the ministry of defence, is the Ararat restaurant, claimed to be one of the best in the country dating back to 1950’s. It has three sections, the brightly lit main dining room, the Maran (cellar) outfitted in dark brown and red, and the cigar room.
The menu offered in both rooms is the same and trilingual; the menu is full of English spelling errors and incomprehensible translations.
Servers barely know what each dish contains, let alone speak any other language other than Armenian and Russian. Once you order the food (I was the only guest in the restaurant at 2 p m), you wait, and you wait some more.
At last the server appeared with the breadbasket announcing that he will be serving the cold yoghurt soup in a few minutes. Finally, the soup arrived in a tall glass with a soupspoon! It was refreshing, but lacked salt.
The main course was pan-fried fillet of pork with a side order of fried potatoes.
I should mention that in Armenia everything in a restaurant menu must be ordered a la carte. If you order a meat dish, this is what you will be served, much like in up-scale steak houses in North America. What I got was two slightly overcooked pork chops and terribly oily unevenly cooked fried potatoes. The taste and texture of the meat was acceptable, but certainly not memorable. I must hasten to add that traditionally, Armenians eat lamb, beef, chicken, fish and occasionally pork but during Soviet times they somehow took a liking to fatty meat, i.e pork. I suspect fat was so scarce that fatty meat of any kind was welcome.
Armenian cuisine’s most brilliant inventions, i.e stuffed grape leaves, soy beans in olive oil, stuffed tomatoes and peppers, baked eggplant in olive oil, tomatoes, and onion are missing.
Desserts are at best forgettable. The ubiquitous baklava was store-bought and fruit plate consisted of, due to seasonality (May), imported orange slices, kiwis from Iran (Armenia maintains good trade and political relations with Iran), year old apples and a few hot house grown strawberries.
Overall the restaurant looks inviting, the menu is long and ambitious, but delivery falls well short of standard presentation, cooking and service. Prices are reasonable even by Armenian standards. You can eat for US $ 10.00 – $15.00 satisfactorily, but not gastronomically.
The beverage list offers a few obligatory Russian and Ukrainian vodkas, Armenian brandy, a few beers and mineral water. Armenians like to drink mineral waters (local and imported from other CIS countries)
The wine selection is poor and very limited. Surprisingly, Armenians prefer semi-sweet or sweet red wines to dry white wine even for fish dishes, and believe it, or not, white wine is served at room temperature, and red, slightly chilled.
I suppose they follow a different gastronomic frame of mind.
For more information log on to http://www.cookery.am/