Thursday, June 13, 2013


There is always a little bit of adjustment to be made when returning to Atyrau wine and food after California.  And when I say "little bit" that is an English "little bit" which has a special meaning!

Sandra was kind enough to let me adjust slowly with a first night pizza in the Zhetti Kazyna restaurant.  The restaurant is quite acceptable for most day to day eating and like most people we would eat there more often if the prices were not so high and if it was less Italian.  One of the interesting features of a lot of Italian food is that it can be prepared quite quickly, so going out for pasta, is not so much a convenience as an inconvenience.  It is as easy and far cheaper to make it at home.  So pizza is about the only thing I eat from that menu, and that is when I am too lazy to make my own dough.

However it is not possible to easily make draft beer so that is a definite attraction of the clubhouse, except it ran out just after I returned and it took over a week for it to be replenished...EFES and Bavaria, nothing exotic, so I don't know what the problem was.  But I ramble, and I mustn't bite the had that occasionally feeds me!
Sitting outside at the Clubhouse with A BOTTLE of beer.  Proof positive that the draft had run dry.

The next night we went to Gadji and had the shashlik, which I covered in the last blog.  I like this restaurant because its food is good and good value, one can sit in a private room without a TV playing some fashion channel and without music, and look at a menu that does not have pizza and pasta on it.

I bought a piece of beef and a piece of pork which I vacuum packed and put in my big pot to cook sous vide at 131F (I started at 130 and then turned it up a degree) 
Beef in a vacuum bag and the water bath, this improvised technique is known in culinary circles as "The Atyrau Method"!
I had planned to try 48 hours but then I translated the description on the package to English and decided it would be too long!  This was my guide...

The piece that I had was "cube roll".  A name I was unfamiliar with so I googled it and it discovered that it is a term used in Australia and New Zealand for rib eye, quote...

"Whole Beef Cube Roll...

Whole Cube Roll Scotch fillet or Rib Eye depending on where you were brought up but this is melt-in-the-mouth tender great NZ beef"

So I decided that 48 hours might me overdoing it a little and rescued it at 24 hours instead.  It war nice and pink and juicy, so I threw it in a very hot pan for a couple of minutes to give it a bit of "Maillard" flavour, took it out, rested it and carved nice pink slices to go with our stir fried rice and vegetables.  This is what it looked like.

It was too tough to eat!  It was no more a piece of rib eye than it was calves liver!  I dont know how the labelling works, or doesn't work but I am back to treating meat on instinct and not labelling.

So in the spirit of fighting back, putting it down to experience and getting even and not mad, I went and bought another "cube roll".  This time it got the full 48 hour treatment and it was good!  Not super tender, but quite acceptable and with good flavour.  
This one I dared to serve to friends on Sunday when we had a cheese and cold cuts light evening meal, and I didn't have to blush with embarrassment.  

Oh! I forgot to mention the 48 hour piece of pork, well it was not a great success, actually it had become rather too tender, quite edible but better transformed into rillettes and served on toast.

We have been eating out too, but I have to confess that after a few years the appeal of the menus at Petrovski's, Hugo's, O'Neil's, Winter garden, Guns and Roses and even the more expensive, Samcek is wearing rather thin so the routine has changed and I now usually take Sandra her lunch and we eat it together in the NCPOC staff dining room.  Quite often colleagues will stop buy and share a little of our extra so it make a pleasant social break in Sandra's work day.

So our eating out choices are getting harder.  Champions (Renaissance) is still on my black list after their awful chicken wings and soup with packaging in it, Zhetti Kazyna is saved for Thursday Happy Hour, which is actually Partially Happy Evening, ie a fixed price buffet with one drink included. We do go to Venezia for lunch sometimes at weekends.  I don't think I have mentioned this little place very often before.  It is a small hotel, run, I think, by an Italian exile, and usually occupied by Italian oil guys. The food is simple and, not surprisingly, Italian.  However it seems far more authentic than the other Italian restaurants and is much better priced. 

We had another shot at eating at this restaurant in Ardagar Mall.  I cannot read the the name so will have to ask someone to do so for me.

We had some pickled fish to share as a starter.  It arrived as shown below on the left and was removed from the table as shown below on the right.  It was very very fishy and not very pickley, and obviously not very popular with either of us!

I then had a bowl of soup and baursak (the unsweetened doughnut type breads.
The soup was fine but and very muttony.  I then had manti stuffed with meat and pumpkin and Sandra had shashlik.  It was not great but satisfactory when consumed with lots of cold beer (and that is my excuse and I am sticking with it!)

Our conclusion though is that restaurant is no longer on our list.  I have been making the Chris bread (recipe in an earlier blog) since I got back, but occasionally forget as it needs a 24 hour rise and then I have to revert to using the bread maker, which if used on the slow 6 hour cycle makes a pretty good loaf (better than the fast version).
As I have written many times before, pizza is on the menu of most of the restaurants in Atyrau that aspire to international cuisine.  many claim that the best pizza is at the Renco as it is the home hotel of the majority of the Italian community and has a good oven.  However there is a break away sect going for Petrovskis.  I am quite in favour of the less well known Venezia pizzas, which have the uncharacteristic feauture of being good value for money, and made in an Italian owned place.  Unfortunately our local restaurant at Kheti Kazyna (7K) is making pizzas with thicker and breadier crusts so doesn't rate very highly on my scorecard.  We had some people over for an informal Sunday Lupper (unlike brunch between Breakfast and Lunch, Lupper...I think you have got the picture!). We served some of the cheese and cold cuts that we brought in from the US, as well as some pizzas that I decided to make.  Unfortunately with a domestic oven and no pizza stone we were a bit disadvantaged, but the 4 different small pizzas came out fine and were all eaten.

As it is summer I have also been making salads or more specifically a Greek style salad.  It is only Greek style because the feta cheese that we get from President brands is a strange version of Feta that has a cream cheese type texture to it.  But it tastes fine and with tomatoes, cucumber, finely chopped red onion and olives, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and sprinkled with a pinch of dried oregano, serves its purpose.  The one ingredient that I rarely use in salads here is lettuce.  I find it difficult to pay the local prices for a vegetable that is so tasteless and watery.

Above I mentioned the 48 hour pork.  I retried it at 24 hours and it was pretty good.  I also tried the beef for longer, 48 hours.  I had two pieces, same cut, same size, same shop but not apparently from the same beast as one was way overcooked, too tender and the other was a little overcooked.  I used them cut in chunks in a stew and it was very good, so I can do that again and will have to rethink the rare roast beef.  Meantime it is back to simpler things...

Like baked macaroni cheese with a layer of partially oven dried tomatoes in the middle.  

Actually, if the truth be told, I am not coming clean.  We were fortunate enough to "come upon" some caviar a few days after I got back.  Despite the Caspian being the home to the sturgeon this industry has all but disappeared due to overfishing and poaching, so the copious supplies of caviar that were once the childhood diet of now the now thirty-something year olds are no longer here.  I made some blinis, and put together some light accompaniments and we enjoyed a wonderful treat!  Thank you very much xxxx.

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