CLOSED: Aragvi (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 832 Sheppard Avenue West
Type of Meal: Dinner

Having never heard of Georgian cuisine, I was inspired to visit Aragvi after Chef Matt Blondin tweeted enthusiastically about his dining experience.  After some research on Wikipedia, I learnt that Georgia is an independent country located on the Black Sea coastline, neighbouring Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Their cuisine is a combination of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences filled with bold flavours and fresh herbs.

Aragvi is located in a small run-down plaza off of Sheppard Avenue sandwiched between a salon and computer store.  I’ll admit, I had my doubts about the restaurant based on its appearance and less than ideal looking neighbourhood, but am glad we ended up eating there.
The most interesting section of their menu, to us, was the appetizer pages where dishes sounded exotic and offered a chance to try something new.  So, we decided to order a few appetizers and one main to share.

Our first dish, was the Georgian-style eggplant roll ($7.50), located in the cold appetizer section.  The dish was beautifully presented with deep yellow pan fried (?) eggplant rolls topped with vibrant pomegranate seeds and tons of chopped coriander.  Inside the eggplant was a flavourful paste made from walnuts, loads of garlic, more pomegranate and other spices.  To be honest, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the filling was walnut if it weren’t written on the menu; it was smooth and almost had a thick babaganoush consistency to it.  Being a garlic lover, I thoroughly enjoyed the flavourful filling and loved the contrast of the sweet bursts of pomegranate.
We had to try the adjarian hachapuri ($8), a Georgian cheese bread formed into a football shape and topped with a raw egg.  The bread arrived piping hot and just crisped up around the edges.  Our friendly waitress advised us to scramble up the egg while everything was still hot and then break off bits of the bread and dip it into the gooey mixture.  The bread tasted more like salted pizza dough, light from the air pockets, yet still had some chewiness to it.  In the middle, the bread was filled with a suluguni cheese which is the consistency of mozzarella but has the salty brininess of feta.  It’s a very heavy dish that definitely needs to be shared and was delicious but a bit too salty for my taste. 
The Georgian version of perogies is a khinkali ($1.35 each; minimum order of 5).  They are steamed and arrive looking like large versions of the Shanghainese soup filled dumplings (siw long bow).  Our waitress advised us that they should be eaten with our hands by grabbing onto the pinched top and biting into the side and sucking out the juices. Filled with seasoned minced meat (based on Wikipedia is usually beef and pork or sometimes lamb), the khinkali was delicious and one of my favourite dishes of the night.  The dough was like a thicker dumpling wrapper which kept in the lovely juices.  Meanwhile, the meat mixture is tender and well-seasoned with a hint of spiciness to it.  
Chanakhi ($12) a veal stew with potatoes, onions, garlic, eggplant and coriander arrived next in a traditional clay pot.  It can be made with any type of meat with the most popular being lamb.  Aragvi’s version was made from tender veal that was bursting with flavours.  The slow cooked stew let out such a wonderful fragrance.  Next time, I’m going to order it with their plain Aragvi bread so that I can dip and soak up the magnificent sauce.
Aragvi has a small dining room consisting of about six tables.  Unfortunately, because of the small establishment, the dining room gets a bit smoky. So, don’t make plans to go anywhere after dinner as you’ll end up reeking from the food.  Nonetheless, there is a lovely home cooking feel to the place as the women bring out the dishes and converse with you.  Their friendly hospitality was great for someone who has never had Georgian food as they were able to explain the dishes and make suggestions as to what you may prefer.  With their extensive menu there are still so many dishes I want to try that a return visit will be required.   
Overall mark - 8 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System
  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!
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