THE BITE: This week we try out another of the neighborhood’s kebab joints and dive into Aziza 7. I wonder where the other six are? Located at 2113 Avenue Z, Aziza 7 is a bit off the beaten path and its decor and lighting reminds me more of of hair salon than a restaurant, but I’ve been hearing good things.
Chicken tabaka ($7) is a Georgian dish where a spatchcocked chicken is cooked in a heavy cast iron skillet, or a ”tapha” as it’s called in Georgia. Poking around on the interwebs, tabaka translates from Russian to tobacco in English. Odd name for a dish, huh? Not very appetizing to this non-smoker. But don’t let the name fool you. This chicken tabaka is one mighty tasty dish.
To make chicken tabaka, one must first spatchcock a chicken. That’s not a sexual term, F_a_b_a. It’s a culinary technique where one removes the backbone and sternum of the chicken prior to cooking, which allows it to cook more evenly.
Once the bird has been spatchcocked, many recipes on the web call for it to be brined prior to cooking. Brining is a method where one soaks a food item in a highly salted liquid. What brining does is introduce more moisture and flavor to the meat. I don’t know if Aziza 7 brines their small chickens, but the chicken tabaka was very moist and flavorful.
Once brined, rinsed and dried, the chicken is further flatten and placed in a very hot skillet that is coated in a very hot fat. The traditional fat for chicken tabaka is butter, and I could taste that on the final product. The chicken is placed skin side down in the pan and a heavy lid or a “tapaka,” is placed on the bird to compress the meat further and press as much of the surface of the bird onto the pan. Don’t have a tapaka? Any heatproof lid or dish will work; just weigh it down with a can of beans or even a clean brick. The whole point of this cooking method is keep the pressure on the bird which allows it cook quickly. Once the skin is cripsy and the fat rendered from the skin, remove the weight and flip the bird over. Put the weight back on and continue to cook until the bird is cooked through.
Aziza 7 then serves the bird topped with some chopped garlic and dill. This was great. The first taste reminded me of the filling of chicken Kiev without the danger of the butter shooting out. The crispy skin of the chicken tabaka was perfectly rendered and would make the Colonel cry if he was alive today. The meat was moist and flavorful. Truly an outstanding dish.
I don’t usually talk about the service, as The Bite is not a full blown restaurant review. But, be warned, this Aziza 7 is not a restaurant for a quick meal. The service here is slow. With only one other table occupied at the restaurant, it took more than 30 minutes for our food to arrive. Add to that a major screw up with the bill (which was amicably and courteously resolved), what we hoped was going to be a quick lunch took more than an hour.
But, you know, I still have the taste of the chicken tabaka in my mouth. I just might clean my calendar and head back for dinner tonight.
Aziza 7, 2113 Avenue Z, (718) 934-0717.
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.