Before we begin the review itself, we would like to warn our readers about the disadvantageously placed decorative metal bars pyramiding up around the bottoms of trees along the sidewalk outside Noah's Ark. They are stealth-ninja metal bars that you may not see at first glance, but be careful, they may jump up out of nowhere, causing you to trip, or perhaps lose your balance, and crash to the ground. Mind you, these bars do not differentiate between people who are sober and those who have enjoyed a libation or two. If you are unable to avoid the evil metal bars and consequently end up in a pool of your own blood, never fear, the doormen have seen the metal bars attack many times and will kindly help you back up.
Once we were inside and had brushed ourselves off, the manager gave us a tour of the restaurant and a brief lesson in Armenian history. He began by showing us "the gold room," which is on the bottom floor. It is much smaller and more intimate than the main room upstairs, and features plush half-circle sofas instead of your typical wooden furniture. (If you want to impress someone, make reservations for this
The owners of the restaurant have devoted a great deal of attention to the furnishings, decorations and details on both floors, made of metal, wood, fabrics, canvas and stone, nearly all imported from Armenia (although the chairs were from Italy). Even the fish pond at the entrance is shaped as a miniature Lake Sevan, which is apparently Armenia's most beloved body of water.
The main guest room is quite different from the gold room - it is more dimly lit, there are more people and there is just much more going on in general. If you have a larger group or a special occasion, you can reserve a special curtained area for more privacy. An open grill is set up directly across from the main arc into the second-floor dining area, so that you may verify the freshness of your shashlik
, or so we were told. We were seated and given a complimentary warm drink of rosehip tea with honey and cinnamon. There were quite a few large parties, but none of them were overly loud, and the spaciousness of the restaurant meant that the place didn't feel hectic or crowded.
After confirming that we would indeed prefer to make our own choices as to what we would be ingesting that evening, we were given menus. They do have menus in English, but if you read Russian, we recommend getting the Russian menu since the English menu is more confounding than it is amusing. (Not so for the dessert menu, but more about that later.) The menu is long, one of those notorious 'tomes' that it will take at least a good 15 minutes to browse through before you've narrowed it down to 5 pages. If you are planning ahead, you might consider checking the menu online at www.noevkovcheg.ru, where you can find a list (and some pictures) of the menu selections.
After much page turning and mulling about, we decided to try Armenian beer (Kilikia, Kotayka, and Erebuni, 110 Rbs). Surok wanted to try the most unpronounceable item on the menu, the tzhvzhik, or veal liver (480 Rbs). Unfortunately for her, they were out of tzhvzhik that night. Instead she opted for kabachki s tarkhunom
, or squash rolled with minced beef and walnuts (200 Rbs) and chose the sturgeon in a clay pot (580 Rbs) over the assortment of 5 different types of shashlik (720 Rbs - pork, lamb, veal, chicken and veal liver). I decided to try their spinach salad with walnuts (250 Rbs), the burum v lavashe
(290 Rbs) and the tolma (350 Rbs).
The spinach salad was not a spinach salad as Americans know it - it was spinach cooked in matsun
sauce (sour milk) with finely grated walnut, served cold. The flavor was very mild but fresh. It was quite a contrast in taste when compared with Surok's squash; to say that she was highly impressed with it would be an understatement. I also tried a bite, and was surprised to find something akin to tex-mex spices used in all the right ways in this surprising southern dish. (It almost
made my spinach seem kind of boring) Surok noted that the matsun-tarkhun
sauce really made the dish - the combination of sweet meat, strong herbs and the sour milk was just perfect.
The burum v lavashe
came next. This dish is basically bits of beef, mushrooms, spinach and cheese rolled up in flat lavash bread. It seemed like a good idea. That is not to say that it was a bad idea - all of the ingredients were nice enough. But in the end, we both decided that none of the ingredients really did anything for the other ingredients. It was good, it was filling, but it didn't knock our noski
Next came the main dishes. Surok's sturgeon came in the pot as promised. The clay pot was sealed shut with lavash, an interesting touch that initially made it a bit of a challenge to actually get to the food. Inside was a hearty stew of fresh sturgeon, potatoes and mushrooms in a sour cream and sweet pepper sauce. It was a tasty, warm and filling dish, great for the wintertime. But again, the ingredients didn't complement each other 100%, and Surok noted she could have done without the mushrooms.
The tolma, or minced beef mixed with rice and wrapped in grape leaves (also called dolma by other nationalities), were a very pleasant surprise. I had been of the impression that there wasn't really much you could do for a tolma. True enough, this is fairly simple fare, but Noah's Ark really, really knows their tolma. I have never had finer tolma. The leaves were tender, not chewy or tough, and the meat inside was perfectly juicy without making anything soggy. The texture was just right, and the simple matsun
sauce was the perfect complement.
We were then offered the dessert menu, in English, and proceeded to enjoy ourselves immensely. All of the ice cream is proudly noted as Baskin Robbins brand. You can opt for a "splendid potion" of various flavors, or fried Baskin Robbins ice cream, complete with a "testy crispy crust" (210 Rbs). There is also honey fondant, featuring a "light honey mouse" (220 Rbs). The muravejnik
, or honey cake, was described as "a dessert made from short" (110 Rbs). Other noteworthy items include Italian "Philadelphia" cheese and Eral Gpey tea. The dessert menu was very sweet indeed.
Surok made her selections, which I promised to try, but I was too stuffed to order anything else after the tolma. Surok made the very wise decision to try the walnut preserves and quince preserves with some black tea. Anyone who is not allergic is urged to at least try the walnut preserves, which were not too sweet and not too nutty but actually just really a surprisingly nice, and rather unusual, treat. It is served with four young walnuts that don't budge if you poke your spoon at them, but are actually very chewy. Due to certain familial circumstances, Surok is a bit of an expert on quince preserves. While she had expected this to be something more like jam, and it was actually preserved fruit, she found it quite nice. She also tried one of the cognacs on the menu, the 6-year "Ani" (200 Rbs / 0.05L), which she found to be a fairly good, basic Armenian cognac, although she does tend to find Armenian cognacs a little sweet for her taste.
We found the service to be excellent over the course of the evening. There was no hovering whatsoever, which quite frankly I had been afraid of after the very informative "tour". The timing was right on, and our waiter was able to answer all of our questions. The manager kindly presented us both with a copy of Noah's Ark's own CD music mix, which is called something like "The Armenian wind instrument [duduk] in the music of world-renowned artists
In conclusion, we enjoyed the evening and the dinner at Noah's Ark. Despite some slight culinary inconsistencies, this place gets a solid recommendation for friendly atmosphere, freedom from ear splitting music, and informative wait staff. We left content and well fed, albeit perhaps slightly more bruised from our very dashing entrance.