Monday, April 23, 2012
Ukus - Best Hidden Balkan Secret
After a fun time at SITE's 5th Anniversary party, Meg and I went to get some grub at Ukus Balkan Grill, which was entirely her idea. Only too happy to oblige, I can never say no to delicious meat on a stick, especially when other Eastern European delicacies such as potato pies and sheep's milk cheese is also involved.
There's not much to say in terms of the atmosphere, as it's pretty much no frills and small, yet still intimate and welcoming. Even though lots of people come by for take-out, there's also table service available and this is how we chose to dine that night.
The casual, low-key setting was just the perfect thing after a long week, and we loved lingering around and chatting, while our food was being prepared in the small kitchen area up front. As we sat there, we noticed other people (from what it seemed, regulars) come in and enjoy a leisurely meal. You got a lot of native Croats and Serbs, but having said that, Meg and I felt right at home, fully immersed in the wonderful ethnic surroundings. Meg did say she was channeling her Eastern European obsession, so there ya go... :)
After taking a good look at the menu, it didn't take us long to decide on a serious meat dish, which was their mixed grill plate with various proteins you see above, as well as a lighter salad and a not so light cheese roll to go with it.
Salad (Ukus Salata) - Although it was a basic lettuce, tomato and sirene cheese (similar to feta) salad, it was deliciously fresh and juicy. I loved that it was dressed really simply with olive oil, a little bit of vinegar and some lemon juice too. The sirene was crumbled finely so you can really appreciate its soft texture, melding beautifully with the veggies. It reminded me of summer.
Potato Roll - When we first saw these on the menu, we noticed they came in packs of 3. Not knowing what to expect, we asked for this, but got a strange look from our waiter. "Nooo...you'll just need one," he said with confidence that we couldn't question. Once it arrived, we totally understood, as it was a huge snail roll of beautifully flaky filo dough filled with mashed potato. It was quite delicious and not overly salty, which was nice. Meg and I tried to make a dent in it, but the salad alone nearly filled us up, and we needed to save room for all the meat that was still coming.
Mixed Grill - We couldn't wait for the meat extravaganza to begin and ordered a whole platter of assorted meats, including smoked beef sausage, steak kebob, veal liver, chicken and of course the cevapi (or ground beef links). All of this came with the traditional Balkan sides of bryndza (an amazing sheep's milk cheese, which is also used in my beloved halushky), raw onions and ajvar (eggplant/sweet pepper chutney). Simply said, the meat was amazing, and I enjoyed each cut of meat, with the sausage and the beef kebob being my favorites. Meg loved the sausage as well, as it was amazingly smokey and reminded me of of the klobasa from Slovakia that we ate on really good, crusty bread. The beef was really juicy and cooked perfectly. I loved stuffing it into the fat, white pita we got as a side, and further topping it with the ajvar, onions, and the tangy bryndza. YUM!
Service and Cost:
Overall, we thought the service at Ukus was friendly and personal. The man who was serving us could've been its owner, and we exchanged some friendly banter. He broke our chops a bit about taking pictures of our food, but I think that was an off-handed way to say that he liked the attention.
Costs are super affordable and for the food you see here, we paid a total of $30, $36 with tax and tip.
3 Meaty Mmmms
Ukus - 42-08 30th Avenue, Astoria NY 11103
N/Q train to 30th Avenue