Atlas House

Uzbekistan's cultural crossroads is reflected in Atlas House's diverse offerings

On entering the Atlas House restaurant, I was surprised to see that the Uzbeks here weren't the wild, vodka-swilling rabble-rousers that SCTV had led me to believe. In a memorable episode, the fictional Second City Television network's satellite is hijacked by the Russkies, so instead of Bob and Doug McKenzie, joyless Soviet programming airs – game shows, sitcoms and public service announcements – all chiding Uzbeks for their decadent habits, penchant for pyromania and being "the weak link in the great chain of socialism." But there were no bonfires raging in a corner of this restaurant; there were no telpek-crowned ruffians sloshed on Stoli and battery fluid dancing to some ancient Cossack war dance. No!

In all seriousness, the fine Uzbeks running Atlas House made those preposterous depictions even more laughable – you won't find more friendly and welcoming servers anywhere, and the menu shuns decadence for simple, straightforward preparations of their home and native land, Uzbekistan. Reflecting the owners' Muslim faith, the food served at Atlas House is all halal, but the dishes draw influences from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia. We marveled at the wealth of dumplings listed on the menu – dumplings that looked no different than ones you'd find at a Chinese or Vietnamese restaurant, but were worlds apart on taste.

Large steamed dumplings called manti ($9.95) came filled with beef cubes (no pork served here) along with a beguiling mix of such seasonings as cumin and coriander, and a healthy garnish of dill. A dollop of sour cream gave them a Russian edge. Smaller wonton-like dumplings called chuchvara ($9.45), filled with ground beef and onions, had one of my companions hooked and bent on making them part of her weekly eating regimen. The fun-sounding funcheza ($7.45), a sautéed dish of cold glass noodles, beef, bell peppers and carrots, would seem right at home at Ming's Bistro or Tasty Wok, if not for the dill.

Yes, the aromatic herb is a popular ingredient in many of the dishes served, and on this unusually hot winter day, the cold soup known as okroshka ($8.45) made for an unusually gratifying starter. Along with plenty of dill, the yogurt-based soup teems with bits of egg, diced potatoes, wee cubes of boiled beef, cucumber and cilantro. We enjoyed slurping the chilled soup with pieces of tandir non ($3.95). While it is baked in a clay oven like its Indian counterpart (naan), Uzbek non is a dense circular loaf that's ideal for sopping.

When it comes to meat, Uzbeks are big on kebabs. You won't find mutton on the menu, but lamb kebabs ($6.95) are here for the taking. While the ground beef lula kebab ($6.95) was a humdrum disappointment, the chicken kebab ($5.45), brushed with an egg wash and then grilled, is worth a taste, even with its largely forgettable sides of cold rice and pickled onions. The duo of lamb ribs ($9.95) were nicely seasoned and perfectly charred, and clearly proved that the only fires being started here are in the kitchen. The Russian honey cake medovik ($4.75), begged to be enjoyed with a pot of proper Uzbek tea ($3), but another dessert called chak-chak ($4.75) had us intrigued the moment we perused the menu. I'll say no more, but I'll leave you with its mysterious description, which also summed up our experience here: "very authentically prepared nothing like you have ever tasted before."

Atlas House

11901 International Drive


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