International travel may be curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but a newish Sarasota restaurant is giving you a passport to explore Uzbekistan through its cuisine. Chayhana Vostok, which opened last October in a strip along U.S. 41, serves a mix of signature Uzbek dishes in an intimate restaurant space, as well as through takeout and delivery.
Uzbekistan is located in central Asia, nestled among Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. For decades, the country was dominated by Russia and then the Soviet Union, which goes some way in explaining why you'll find herring prepared in a Russian style ($9) on the Chayhana Vostok menu, as well as borscht ($7) and okroshka (a cold soup, $7). But you'll also discover plenty of items from central Asia, like a lamb pilaf ($14), steamed dumplings filled with meat known as manty ($15) and lagman ($13), a rich soup packed with lamb and homemade noodles.
Chayham Vostok owner Rustam Lyukhay was born and spent most of his life in Kazakhstan, which borders Uzbekistan to the north. After he moved to Sarasota from Oregon last year, Lyukhay was struck by a lack of restaurants that specialize in central Asian food. He had to drive to Miami to find the Uzbek cuisine he enjoyed.
Lyukhay says there's a sizable population of people from Uzbekistan and nearby countries who now live in Sarasota and want to eat the region's cuisine. But the dishes can be complex and difficult for home cooks to get right. That's what prompted him to open the restaurant, which uses family recipes. Lyukhay says many people from the former Soviet Union, Russia and eastern Europe have been coming into the restaurant to try it out.
"Some of the people haven't eaten this food for many years," says Lyukhay. "Now they come and say, 'Thank you.'"
The manty (also often spelled "manti" in English) are fantastic. You get four large, round, wrinkled dumplings stuffed with ground lamb cooked with diced onion and spices and steamed until tender and served with a generous dollop of sour cream. Also impressive is the lamb shashlik ($15). Big cubes of meat are grilled on a skewer like a shish kebab, and served with caramelized onions and an assertive salad made with shredded carrots. You can also order the shashlik with beef ($14), chicken ($13), liver ($13) or salmon ($17).
To snack on, consider a cheburek ($5), a wide paddle of fried dough dotted inside with ground beef and spices. Lepeshka, a popular Uzbek bread, is thick and chewy. A plain version can be had for $3; add cheese for $2 more. You might also split a platter of pickled mushrooms and tomatoes and cornichons ($10).
Chayhana Vostok may have opened last fall, but it's only this week celebrating its grand opening. A party that starts at 6 p.m. this Friday, Feb. 19, will include drinks, plus entertainment in the form of a DJ and karaoke.
Chayhana Vostok is located at 4242 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, and is open noon-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. For more info, call (941) 923-5919 or visit the restaurant's website.