Georgian restaurant Askaneli opens in downtown Fort Lauderdale – Low Calorie Diets Tips

On the eve of the opening of his new Georgian restaurant Askaneli in Fort Lauderdale, Ukrainian owner Oleksandr Uvarov faced a family crisis in Kyiv.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February forced Uvarov to act quickly and evacuate wife Victoria and daughters Alisa and Vanya to the United States when missiles began hitting the capital. With his family safe in South Florida, Uvarov sponsored five Ukrainian refugees and rented them homes in Broward County.

Some already had culinary experience, so Uvarov hired them as cooks, dishwashers and waiters, trained by Askaneli’s Georgian-born chef Lali Mosia.

Now Ukrainian and Georgian immigrants work side by side at Askaneli, which quietly debuted on May 15 on the first floor of Fort Lauderdale’s NuRiver Landing condominium complex overlooking the New River. Uvarov’s 5,000-square-foot restaurant is an opulent postcard of white and slate gray framed by an ornate water fountain near the valet drop-off area, with marble terrace tabletops, a hookah bar, and a raised bandstand in the dining room.

But this is no fork-and-knife eatery, and its suite of traditional Georgian cuisine insists—or, to be more precise, Askaneli’s waiters will insist—that customers eat with their bare hands.

“The most authentic Georgian food should be eaten with your hands,” said Uvarov, a first-time restaurateur who doesn’t speak English but spoke through his translator, Askaneli’s manager Nataliya Bobadilla. “There are steps to eating our food properly. In this place you should have a comprehensive experience.”

So why did Uvarov decide to open a Georgian restaurant instead of a Ukrainian one? There are two reasons, Bobadilla said. First, Georgian food is Uvarov’s favorite cuisine, “his best friends are Georgians” and his “dream was to own a restaurant”. When asked about his other business interests, she replied that he is a “strong, independent individual who has worked his entire life to achieve many goals.”

The other reason Uvarov opened Askaneli: to hire Mosia, an accomplished chef whose 100-year-old family recipes form the backbone of Askaneli’s extensive menu. Mosia previously worked at Georgian restaurants in New York including Cheeseboat and Guest House in Brooklyn and Chama Mama in Manhattan.

“Eighty years ago, my great-grandmother owned a coffee shop in Georgia,” Mosiah said says by Bobadilla. “My Grandma continued the tradition and kept her box of recipes hidden and safe over the years until I was tutored by my mum.”

With these recipes, Askaneli honors the rustic simplicity of Georgian cuisine in dishes that are different and familiar at the same time. There’s rich Adjarian khachapuri ($24), a bulging flatbread shaped like a dugout with a runny egg yolk amid a pool of melted, salty cheese called suluguni. At Askaneli, the egg yolks, cow’s milk cheese and heaps of butter are stirred into a delicious mixture at the table, and customers then dip pieces of bread into the mixture.

And then there’s Khinkali ($25), a quintet Baseball-sized dumplings that have to be eaten a certain way. Kseniia Saenko, Askaneli’s head waitress, says these doughy dumplings are best held by the topknot and nibbled on the bottom so the broth inside spills into your mouth first. Biting into the hearty veal and onion filling that follows completes the experience, she said.

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“It’s the only way to eat this,” Saenko insisted, biting into the bottom of a dumpling. “No two chefs will hand mold khinkali and khachapuri the same. If you eat that, you know it’s from Lali.”

Other dishes include eggplant buns ($16), which consist of chunks of eggplant brushed with walnut paste, garlic and cilantro, then rolled in blintz and topped with pomegranate seeds to be one of Askaneli’s lightest appetizers. Askaneli also serves Cornish chickens ($20) that are flattened and then cooked in cast-iron pans called tobaccoas to give a crispier skin. Alongside salads and seafood platters, steaks and kebabs, there’s chakapuli ($25), a meaty stew made with veal, scallions, and tarragon in a simmering white wine broth.

If the name Askaneli sounds familiar, it’s actually a popular high-end Georgian vintner for fermented wines and chacha (a type of strong grape brandy). Bobadilla says the brand has international recognition and Uvarov received permission to use the Askaneli name from the winemaker’s two owners, brothers Jimsher and Gocha Chkhaidze.

Georgian wines are fermented underground in cavernous terracotta jars called qvevri for six months, a technique dating back thousands of years, according to UNESCO. At Askaneli, bottles of the eponymous brand range from $30 to $1,000 (off-menu) and are poured into wine glasses from qvevri.

The restaurant’s happy hour — Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. — serves $5 wines, $4 Georgian beer, and $10 cocktails. Live bands perform daily during dinner.

“There are so many Georgian restaurants in New York and DC, but very few established restaurants in South Florida,” Bobadilla said. “We are not afraid of competition. People just haven’t tried our cuisine yet.”

The Askaneli Restaurant, 101 511 SE Fifth Ave. (at NuRiver Landing), Fort Lauderdale, is open Monday through Thursday from 12:00 p.m. to midnight and Friday through Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Call 754-200-5917 or go to UOIGroup.org.

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