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Published: Wednesday, 12/10/2008

Restaurant review: Naslada Bistro ***

In the thicket of bars, banks, restaurants, florist shops, convenience stores, and other businesses standing cheek by jowl along Bowling Green s Main Street is a unique eatery that serves up comfort food, the likes of which surely will make diners swoon with delight.

How unusual is the place? Think casseroles and soups and ancient Byzantine monasteries. Think beef goulash stroganoff, pork loin steeped in burgundy wine, chicken and noodles in smoked cheese sauce, and crusty bread.

Think Bulgaria.

Dobre Doshlil (Welcome) to Naslada Bistro, which serves not only the hearty, belly-busting foods of Bulgaria but also fare from its European neighbors near and far moussaka from Greece and Macedonia, panini sandwiches and bruschetta princessa from Italy, Russian potato salad, Czech rolls, Turkish coffee. Not to mention American and Cuban burgers and an array of omelets and other breakfast items.

Bulgaria, in eastern Europe, is specifically represented by the likes of shish kabobs; old-fashioned pork kavarma and gyuvitch, both heart-warming casseroles; and seasoned Bulgarian feta cheese grilled and served in tin foil with olive oil.

Naslada variously translated to mean enjoy, pleasure, delicious, satisfying is an apt description of the eatery, run by owner-chef Boyko Mitov. He immigrated to the United States from Bulgaria in 1999 and set up shop in Bowling Green s Woodland Mall in 2003. About two years ago the business moved to a more prominent location along Main Street.

The interior of the restaurant is fairly plain, with neutral walls and a jumble of tables and booths near the entrance and along a narrow corridor leading to the kitchen in the rear. Bulgarian folk costumes are on display, and Bulgarian folk music plays overhead. Flyers at the cashier s counter advertise belly-dance performances on certain evenings.

Also in the rear is a store that sells crusty European breads, jars of roasted red peppers, eggplant, and sauces, and dozens of fruit drinks and Turkish coffees.

Among the many appetizers are spinach pie, grape leaves, stuffed zucchini, and stuffed portabella mushrooms. Especially good were the bruschetta ($5.50) with cheese, black olives, roasted red peppers, and diced tomatoes on Italian bread, and the Czech roll ($3.95), a cold dish of Russian potato salad, called olivie, wrapped in a slice of ham.

Bulgaria is noted for its many Byzantine monasteries, which would account for the monastery bean soup ($2.75/$3.95), a national vegetarian dish, and the monastery salad ($4.95), a combination of hearts of romaine, mozzarella, radishes, black olives, and banana peppers. Other soups include lamb, chicken noodle, lentil, potato leek, tomato, and chili.

The entrees, however, are what caught my fancy. The aforementioned old-fashioned kavarma ($7.95) combined pork loin chunks marinated in wine with vegetables and a tomato sauce that delivers a bit of a kick. The goulash stroganoff ($7.95) was simply addictive, with lots of cubed steak, leeks, mushrooms, and curly noodles piled high on the plate. Ditto for the pasta rasta ($10.25) featuring grilled chicken strips over whole wheat penne and luscious spinach-portabella alfredo sauce, and gyuvitch ($7.95), rife with beef, green onions, mushrooms, black olives, and tomato sauce over rice.

Still to be tried, and worth heading back for, are the moussaka, stuffed peppers, spinach pie, baked tomato and cheese, and such desserts as apple strudel and caramel custard creme.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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