Upon arrival at our hotel, we immediately asked the guy at the front desk where to go for a good, traditional Bulgarian meal. He recommended two places and showed us where they were on a map. One of these, just down the street from the hotel, was noted as being particularly good. He started to write the name of it and gave up about halfway through, telling us “It doesn’t matter what the name is.” And he was kind of right, as it turned out to be the only restaurant (other than the rather characterless one attached to the Hotel Diter next door) on the block. But mainly, I think he didn’t feel like saying or writing the name, which is the title of this post. It’s a mouthful. “Manastirska Magernitsa” translates to “The Monastery Kitchen,” and the place is known for its in-depth coverage of obscure Bulgarian dishes.
When we showed up the next evening, sans reservation, we nearly didn’t get seated. Luckily for us, there was a last-minute cancellation and we got a great table on the patio. The restaurant was absolutely charming, and the patio was a prime location with its candlelight and lush foliage adding to the bucolic coziness. We were handed massive menus – seriously, these things had at least 50 pages – and almost immediately we were greeted by a server bearing a wooden stand with bread and spices.
The bread was soft and airy, not unlike challah, and we dipped it in the salt-spice mixture in the top level of the stand. The waiter explained that this was the traditional way to begin a Bulgarian meal. Most importantly, it gave us the quick energy we needed to get through the menu.
Nick quickly found a dish he’d been looking for: a sort of Bulgarian chile relleno, if you will.
Chushki byurek, as they call in in those parts, consists of a roasted pepper stuffed with the ever-present sireneh cheese, battered and deep fried. It was served with a garlicky yogurt sauce and was every bit as delicious as you might imagine. We also got a salad, piled high with fresh vegetables, olives, and cured meats. Yum.
When offered the wine list, we deferred to the waiter. We explained that we wanted to try some Bulgarian wine, but that we didn’t know much about it and would really appreciate his opinion. He suggested a couple of different red wines, and we ended up selecting a bottle of the “reserve.” It cost a little more than we expected, but could by no means be considered expensive.
The bottle came out, complete with religious icon, and I was offered a taste. It wasn’t bad, but I guess living in France is starting to spoil me.
Choosing our main courses was a little more difficult.
After much debate, and asking the waiter his opinion, I finally decided on a pork and onion stew, baked in a clay pot.
It was stellar. The pork was meltingly tender, and the deep sweetness of the slow cooked onions complimented it perfectly. Delicious.
Nick got a lamb dish that the menu described as “magical.”
It turned out to be pretty similar to the stewed pork, only with lamb and more kinds of vegetables. It was very good, but we both preferred the pork.
Up to this point, the service had been spot-on, but for some reason we were forgotten as soon as we had finished our stew. We had planned on ordering dessert, but our dishes and glasses were whisked away and we were brought glasses of water with lemon and parsley and small cloths to wash out hands. A nice touch, but we wanted sweets! We were then left completely alone for what felt like an interminable amount of time, and when we finally flagged down a waiter, he seemed surprised that we wanted the bill. Grrr. We settled up, for about half of what a comparable meal in Paris would have cost, and headed around the corner to check out the bar scene.
I had read about a hip little bar called The Apartment, which turned out to be a very cool, very large apartment with almost nobody inside. And no bar to speak of. And no apparent staff. Our patience already having been tried at the restaurant, we left without having anything. The place certainly takes “hip” to a new level – so cool you can’t even get a drink. Feeling frustrated and defeated, we had a nightcap at the nearest casino café before flopping into bed for a good night’s sleep.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.