By Aram Arkun
QUEENS, N.Y. — Manhattan does not have the plethora of Armenian restaurants that diners enjoyed several decades ago, but there are still a handful of such restaurants in other parts of New York City and its suburbs. The only one in Queens is in the pleasant neighborhood of Oakland Gardens, not far from the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside. It is named Sevan Armenian and Mediterranean Restaurant, and can host some 85 people at one time. The owners, a couple from Armenia, Artur Matevosyan and Karine Baghdasaryan, run a small Armenian grocery also called Sevan adjacent to the restaurant.
The restaurant provides a variety of Armenian and Middle Eastern dishes. Familiar appetizers include the cured meat pastirma/basturma, various types of dips, yalançi (stuffed grape leaves), spinach and cheese böreks, and meat pizzas called lahmejun. Main dishes such as several types of kebabs, manti (small pieces of dough stuffed with meat), Georgian khnkali (ground beef dumplings) are showcased. Russian dishes such as pelmeni dumplings, French items such as languet from tenderloin and Mediterranean foods are on the menu. Many types of meat are grilled, such as specially-marinated steaks, lamb and pork chops and quail, along with seafood such as branzini, trout and shrimp. The lule and lamb kebabs that we tried during our recent visit were tender and flavorful, as was the manti. There are occasional specials such as khash, and Matevosyan is planning on starting harissa nights.
Matevoysan explained that he brings many of his spices and herbs directly from Armenia and that this allows him to give an authentic flavor to his foods. Most of the items on the menu are made at the restaurant, though as the business expanded, some things such as lahmejun became too labor-intensive and were later obtained from others.
Tasty desserts include paklava, kadayif (walnuts in shredded dough with syrup), gata, simit cookies, helva and ice cream, and can be accompanied with Armenian or American coffee or tea. Most of the desserts are made in-house.
Although Matevosyan and Baghdasaryan are from the Republic of Armenia, they tried to incorporate into their menu foods beloved by Western Armenians and Armenians who immigrated to the US from various other countries and developed unique cuisines and tastes as a result. Baghdasaryan said, “Armenians here have come from so many different countries that they have differing cuisines and preferences, even psychologies. So it is difficult for any one Armenian restaurant to present each group with what they are seeking.” However, the two became familiar gradually with the different Armenian groups and how to cater to their requirements.