Our waiter at Tumanyan Khinkali Factory, or TKF for short, told us there are three TKF's in the world. One in Armenia. One in France. And now one in Glendale.
Tumanyan is a town in Northern Armenia, not far from the Georgian border. It is also the name of a beloved Armenian poet, Hovhannes Tumanyan. Khinkali, filled dumplings the size of tennis balls, are purportedly just as beloved as the poet in that part of the world. Seeing photos of the dull looking lumps, I couldn't exactly understand the adoration. After tasting a few and appreciating the social aspects connected with eating khinkali, I feel the love.
Tumanyan Khinkali Factory just opened a few short weeks ago in the old Notte Luna space in Glendale. They're planning their grand opening in April with Glendale dignitaries in attendance. Until then, there should be plenty of tables but be prepared to deal with uneven service until they figure out a system. Still, the most important aspect of good service, a welcoming attitude, they have in abundance. I admit when I saw the cavernous, overly lit restaurant, I almost turned and ran. But when we peeked around the side toward the patio, a couple of waiters greeted us with warm smiles and enthusiastic encouragement.
The outdoor area is the place to be, especially on a balmy night. They've taken down the plastic walls and ficus trees from Notte Luna days, letting only a low wall separate diners from walkers who use this little back alley of Glendale. It feels very Parisian, especially with the warm glow from mountain lodge light fixtures. More than once, fellow diners, most of them bearing Georgian, Russian or Armenian looks, called out to friends walking by, inviting them in to sit down and share a khinkali. This is what I mean about the social aspect of TKF. It's not uncommon to stay for hours, ordering more and more khinkali along with extra glasses of beer, a shot of infused Russian vodka or crisp white wine. When you first sit down, they practically insist you stay all night by presenting you with a large bowl of crispy, salty garbanzo beans and aromatic croutons. "They taste great with beer," he explains. He was right.
We then moved on then to ich salad ($12), a plate of fine bulgur wheat, moist from fresh tomato sauce and scented like my spice drawer. The only vegetable was baby romaine lettuce canoes for scooping. Our mixed olive order ($6) came out as olives from the bar (whoops) and our pileli soup ($9) was forgotten. Then we received our neighbor's khinkali order. We didn't care, but our neighbors did. I liken a soft opening of a restaurant to a preview of a play — they're working out the kinks. The crowd on this Saturday night clearly took everyone by surprise.
Finally we got our khinkalis and sour cream ($1.50 extra). Imagine soup dumplings from Din Tai Fung but much bigger and heartier. You grab the knotted top and carefully bite into the saggy pouch below, carefully, because a little hot broth typically comes out. The beef variety is spiced in the classic Georgian way with caraway and pepper. The mushroom is dark and earthy with a blast of dill. When you add butter, sour cream and pepper (as is the custom), they taste to me like my mom's amazing goulash with buttery noodles. The Georgian cheese khinkali we ordered fried instead of steamed which makes the experience more like a cute little Caucasus calzone.
I wish I'd known at the time you're supposed to leave the thick top knob of dough on your plate, supposedly to display your consumption prowess. I ate one and it wasn't exactly pleasing.
Which brings me to my one complaint about TKF — the overabundance of carbs. Between the croutons, the khinkali, the ich salad and the pileli soup made with ravioli and topped with phyllo dough, you've eaten a pound of white flour.
If I were to come back here — and I will — I would do TKF this way: Garbanzos with a glass of wine; Mediterranean salad, especially in summer with ripe tomatoes and cucumbers; pileli soup; maybe an infused vodka; then khinkali till we're full, especially the mushroom ones.
And I'd bring lots of friends.
Where: 113 N. Maryland Ave., Glendale
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week
Prices: khinkali, $2.50 each; appetizers, $5 to $11; soups and salads, $8 to $13; spirits, $6 and up
Contact: (818) 649-1015