In hindsight, perhaps we should have stopped short of the testicles.
You see, things were progressing nicely during our dinner at Uzbekistan, a Northeast Philly restaurant where we were recklessly devouring an unfamiliar cuisine that was turning out to be pretty fantastic. But as the contents of our of BYO bottle of vodka dwindled, our bravado increased at roughly the same pace. And we were reminded of a note in the Phildelphia Inquirer’s review of Uzbekistan: “Lamb testicles are also available for aficionados by special order.”
This sounded like a challenge; and we in the Society are nothing if not rubes for a foolhardy challenge. So we asked our waitress if they were available that night and after a check with the kitchen we were good to go.
That is Franck, our group’s most ardent seeker of testicles, clutching a skewer of the lamb’s nads. We passed them around the table and gave them a sample. And the verdict was as swift as it was harsh. The best description of its taste was “a grilled urinal cake” while the texture was something close to a non-hollow racquetball. All in all, it was one of the worst foods I’ve ever consumed. Henceforth, I shall refrain from putting testicles in my mouth.
(I’ll pause so you can internally say “that’s what she said.”)
But the testicle adventure should not mar an otherwise great meal, where a rapid succession of dishes came to our table and our shot glasses were frequently filled with vodka, a task made easy with an ingenious table setting that included an empty wine glass next to a shot glass. The fairly tight restaurant has a jovial feel (see also: vodka shots), as our party of 8 was one of the smallest of the night. We were also the only non-Russian patrons as well. A trip to Uzbekistan feels a bit like a trip, well, to Uzbekistan, as servers speak broken English and the menu has few English translations. As such, it’s hard to even know what the hell we were even eating, but rest assured, most of it was pretty good.
Before the vodka really took hold, we stored up on the awesome bread they serve, a circular ring of warm bread with a slightly sunken center that slightly resembled an ariel view of Veteran’s Stadium. We had a great Greek salad that had some delicious prosciutto-esque cured meat atop of it and sampled some of their hearty soups. There were also several rice based dishes and some really good dumplings that were topped generously with dill, an herb that is met with consternation by Franck, the aforementioned seeker of lamb’s balls. For those scoring at home on his tastes: yay to gonads, nay to dill. No one ever said the guy made sense. We also sampled some chilled veal tongue, which could have passed for decent roast beef at a deli, just with a far grosser sounding moniker.
While we were passing around the apps, a TV that was tuned to what seemed like the Russian version of MTV brought forth an unexpected surprise: nudity!
The Eastern European flesh was certainly a bonus, but flesh of another sort quickly grabbed our attention: numerous meats, grilled on skewers over an open flame. We ordered pretty much one of everything on their kebab menu and were greeted by a heaping plate of lamb, lamb ribs, chicken, flank steak, liver (animal origin unknown), and chicken hearts:
The lamb was really the star of the show, as it seems to be the meat of choice of Uzbek food. The chicken hearts were a source of debate at the table, as there were as many guys who enjoyed them as those who didn’t. I found myself in the favorable category, as I thought they blended the flavor of dark meat chicken with the tenderness of white meat. My opinion may not carry much weight, though, as I was not only sporting a ridiculous mustache for the occasion, but I was also compelled to pay tribute to Brian “Weapon X” Dawkins with a skewer-filled Wolverine pose:
As things began to get out of hand, we were greeted by one final surprise of the night: the check and its paltry total.
Yes, eight gluttonous guys ate for $20 a person after a tip, and were well-lubricated on vodka, beer and wine. The back of the check added to the comedy, as it showed the ridiculous food we had consumed:
As we were leaving, we weaved through a crowd of middle-aged, vodka-soaked guys in track suits sporting haircuts that resemble Jerry Seinfeld, circa 1991. They were inexplicably accompanied by young blonds, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. After all, this was a typical Friday for them.