Mix of influences meet in Armenian cuisine

February 10, 2012 8:31:31 PM PST
The sight of kebabs and rice on a menu typically signal Lebanese cooking. But they also show up on Armenian menus.

The little-known country now has an ambassador in the northern suburbs cooking up the dishes from his homeland.

Armenia is uniquely positioned to benefit from a range of influences: to the north and east Georgia and Azerbaijan; to the south and west, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. So it's no surprise that an Armenian menu reflects its surroundings.

When kebabs dominate a menu, the restaurant in question is usually focused on Lebanese or Middle Eastern cuisine. But at Siunik, in a former hot dog joint on a side street in Glenview, the emphasis is on Armenian home-cooking, which is quite a bit different.

"When you grill it, it's always on a stainless steel skewers. Meat goes there; the way we marinate it, is very different from a Lebanese restaurant or Middle Eastern restaurant," said Levon Kirakosyan, owner of Siunik.

The beef, chicken, steak and pork kebabs are all made in-house, as is just about everything else there: the puffy, round, totally dippable bread and pita chips; sides of hummus and assorted tomato-based sauces. But the biggest difference between Armenian and Middle Eastern appears to be what arrives alongside the kebabs. Buckwheat kasha with yogurt for one thing, plus red onions dressed with sumac, cabbage salad, even tabuli appears very different from the Lebanese standard.

"If you noticed we call our tabuli 'Armenian tabuli' because from a traditional tabuli there's a little distinction. We use a lot more vegetables," Kirakosyan said.

Two kinds of pilaf are available, including one with mushrooms.

"Its mom's special recipe she developed that," he said.

For dessert, just a couple of options: layered honey cake or gatta - a sweet doughy bun. The owners realize Armenian food may not be as familiar to most people yet, but they're hoping with some strategic expansion, that they're able to convince even more people to give it a try.

"People love it, people come back, people tried the food. So, we're very thrilled about that," he said.

Siunik Armenian Grill
1707 Chestnut Ave., Glenview
(847) 724-7800

Also: 4839 Oakton St, Skokie