Central Asia by the Sea
Doma Kitchen gives traditional Uzbeki comfort food a contemporary makeover
By Richard Foss (email@example.com)
Anthropologists believe the original settlers of what is now Uzbekistan were a nomadic people who ranged the broad grasslands of Central Asia. After staying a while and grazing their flocks, they would move on when scouts found an environment offering more natural resources.
Something about that heritage seems to have bloomed in the current generation, since the Westside’s only restaurant featuring Uzbek specialties has moved three times — each time winding up in a better location.
I first visited Doma Kitchen when it was a little bungalow surrounded by an open air patio, and then followed them to a hideaway corner at the edge of a Manhattan Beach shopping center. Both times they did everything they could to make the space pleasant despite its deficiencies, and both times they drew overflow crowds to unpromising places.
Doma Kitchen’s new location — the former Panini Grill space in the Marina Marketplace shopping center — is their best move yet. The bright space is decorated with a mix of original art and rustic kitchen tools, with eclectic ceramics and statuary in niches in a side room. The owners are proud of the fact that they arranged things themselves, and justly so — if they ever tire of cooking, they will have a second career in interior design.
The menu is an eclectic mix of Central Asian and Russian items with Mediterranean and modern dishes. While I’ve had good sandwiches and brunch items there, I tend to zero in on the things I can’t get anywhere else. Some of these are made in the traditional manner, while others express ancient ideas in a contemporary way.
An example of the latter is their version of shuba, a salad typically made with pickled herrings under shredded cooked potato, beets, carrots and eggs. Doma serves a deconstructed version that reverses everything: There are discs of cooked potato, beet and egg, and instead of being invisible at the bottom, the herring are near the top beneath a dollop of sour cream and dill. The dish looks like ones I’ve seen on high-end Scandinavian smorgasbords, and it is a delicious mix of pickled and fresh flavors. Shuba is best eaten alongside their Bavarian-style garlic bread, a stack of toasted rectangles of dark seeded loaf served with a yogurt and garlic sauce with a hint of horseradish.
If you like soup to start a meal, you might order their Ukrainian-style borscht, a beet and cabbage soup in lamb stock with lamb chunks and a dusting of dill. You probably associate borscht with the refreshing cold soup eaten during summer, but this hot version is even better — a winter warmer with a delicate sweet-and-sour flavor.
For our main courses we had two traditional items —lamb stroganoff and a rice dish called plov — and one eccentric fusion: an unusual take on the ravioli-like dumplings called vareniki.
The stroganoff is actually so authentic that many people won’t recognize it: In America this dish is usually made with mushrooms and served over rice, while in Russia and Central Asia there are no mushrooms and it is served with crisped potatoes. The version here is layered, with string beans and roasted pepper strips on the bottom, lamb in a tangy sour cream sauce in the middle, and potato chips sprinkled with dill at the top. All the lamb used here is quality grass-fed, which makes a difference. The multiple textures and flavors made this a far more interesting dish than the bland Americanized version, and it’s something I’d order on every visit.
That is, if I could avoid ordering plov, which is hands down my favorite item here. Plov is Uzbek-style rice braised in vegetable stock with vegetables and topped with a marinated tomato and onion salad, and I always order it with their grilled cumin-scented lamb on top. If the description of plov sounds like rice pilaf, that’s because the two things are essentially the same, though plov is made with
a more intense and interesting herbed stock.
Vareniki are a Central Asian variation on ravioli, one of the oldest ideas anywhere; it seems that as soon as somebody invents dough, they start wrapping it around meat or vegetables and boiling, baking or frying it.
This iteration is a mix of chopped spinach, feta cheese and spices wrapped to look like Chinese potstickers, then served in a fresh-tasting and slightly sweet tomato sauce. This sounds Italian but that’s not the effect here, since there is no detectable garlic and the herbs include dill rather than oregano or basil. It’s not quite like any variation on ravioli I have ever had, but it’s delightful.
There are several desserts on the menu, but my favorite is the seven-layer honey cake — an unusual item that has pancake-thin layers of sweet cake with a sour cream frosting. I can’t say anything about this except that it is so good I wanted to steal the recipe, but so much work to prepare I’d rather just order it here instead.
The ancient Central Asian nomads eventually settled down and founded magnificent cities. The modern Doma Kitchen has moved into a magnificent city, and I hope it will stay here.
Doma Kitchen (in Marina Marketplace) 4325 Glencoe Ave., Ste. 8, Marina del Rey (310) 301-0582 domakitchen.com