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Bargain restaurant meals that you won’t want to pass up in Astana

17 november 2011, 14:32
7

I’m one of those single guys whose cooking is so bad that even a starving wolf would turn up his nose at it.

So I’m always excited about finding a good restaurant meal for a bargain price.

After a year in Astana, I’ve got a decent list of tasty, reasonably priced dishes – and I wanted to share it with you. At the end of this blog, I’ll ask for your suggestions for bargain meals in Astana and other cities.

Let me start with a good steak.

My Canadian businessman friend Glen Kehler and I recently stumbled upon what we think is the best steak in Astana at the incredible price of 1,600 tenge, or about $11.

The purveyor of the steaks isn’t a restaurant but a friendly neighborhood pub – Beerhoff at 44 Kenesary Street near the intersection of Valikhanov Street. It’s in the same shopping center as a Mon Ami cosmetic store. You can’t miss Beerhoff because above its streetside sign includes a depiction of a bulldog.

My apartment is only three minutes from Beerhoff, and I had eaten pasta and other dishes there from time to time. But I’d never tried steak because, frankly, I’d never had good beef at any restaurant in Astana that wasn’t astronomically pricey.

But Glen dived into a Beerhoff steak one night – and I realized when I joined him what a mistake I’d made by waiting so long for one.

Beerhoof offers a half-dozen varieties of steak, from pepper steak to ribeye, and all are spectacular. They are about two inches thick, tender and moist – even if you get them well done, as Glen did.

I grew up in Nebraska on corn-fed beef that’s internationally famous, and I think Beerhoff’s steaks are as good as the ones there.

In fact, I was so impressed that I asked my favorite waiter, Ruslan, who speaks excellent English, if Beerhoff’s beef was imported. “No,” he said, “it’s from Kazakhstan.”

I asked him where it was grown, and he didn’t know. A message to whoever is growing this magnificent beef: A tip of my hat to you.

Beerhoff is a comfortable place for a foreigner to hang out in because there’s an English menu and several of the waiters and bartenders, speak English, including the friendly barkeep Vova.

If you’re a single guy, please refrain from chatting up the stunning blonde officiant named Christina. She’s Ruslan’s fiancée.

The venue of another great restaurant bargain in Astana will surprise you -- it sure did me. It’s the food court at the Keruen shopping center near the Baiterek monument.

The fast-food venue is called Sakura, which of course is Japanese for cherry blossom. I’m not sure why it’s called Sakura because there’s nothing Japanese about it. In fact, the food servers wear Chinese garb.

What Sakura does have is an incredible grilled trout for 900 tenge. For $6, you get a full fish, head and all. And it’s yummy.

A few years ago, I was a professor in the western Ukrainian city of Lvov. The Vienna Café there had brown trout for $6. It was such a bargain that I ate it three times a week.

I never thought I’d see a similar price in Astana, which has a much higher cost of living than Lvov, but it’s here. If you bought it at another restaurant, it would be four or five times as much.

My only regret is that Keruen is off the beaten path for me – far from both my home and workplace – so I don’t get there often enough. When I must go to the area never Keruen, I try to arrive at either lunch or dinner time so I can have the trout. I think it’s the best entrée bargain in all Astana.

As for breakfast, try the three eggs, ham and tomatoes at Corso Coffee on Imanov for 650 tenge.

What you get for your $4 is a plateful of food that’s guaranteed to get your day off to an energetic start. A bonus is that Corso opens at 9 a.m., a full hour ahead of many restaurants offering breakfast.

Corso Coffee

Corso Coffee offers diners a slice of Bavaria – and a hearty breakfast for $4.

Corso, which is at 10 Imanov, four minutes’ walk from the intersection with Respublika, has been around for 15 years, I’m told. I don’t know what the original décor was like, but the interior was redesigned about three years ago.

What you get now is a slice of Bavaria. There are German-style knickknacks on the walls, lots of potted plants and fresh-cut flowers, and even hand-crocheted white tablecloths.

It’s a truly relaxing place to hang out – and It has wifi if you want to work or surf the Net.

Corso also has excellent lunches and dinners, starting with big salads.

When it comes to desserts and drinks, you can’t beat the prices at Books & Coffee, the combination bookstore and coffee shop near the intersection of Kenesary and Valikhanov Streets.

The owner, Martha Peake, a friend of mine, has long loved the American company Barnes & Noble’s bookstore/coffee-shop format. When she moved from south Kazakhstan to Astana a decade ago, she decided to open that kind of shop here. Both expats and locals are glad she did.

Books & Coffee’s coffee bar features such American dessert staples as pumpkin pie, apple pie, carrot cake, lemon cake, chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies. It also offers a full range of European-style coffees, including cappuccinos and café au laits.

More often than not, you can get a dessert and drink for less than 500 tenge – about $3. If you order a fancy coffee, the dessert/drink price is a bit more – but not much.

If you’re a reader, you’ll find a new-books section and a library where you can check out books. I recently bought a biography of the American writer William Faulkner and an eye-opening autobiography of Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, whose family was one of millions to suffer under Josef Stalin’s forced collectivization of Kazakhstan agriculture during the 1920s and 1930s.

Books & Coffee is a delight both for expats who want a touch of home and for locals – particularly students – who want to practice their English with native speakers.

You can find Books & Coffee by walking behind a fast food restaurant on Kenesary Street near Valikhanov. If you’re in front of the restaurant – whose streetside sign includes the words “Fast Food” and a cartoon bear – you’ll notice an alley. Turn into the alley and you’ll see Books & Coffee.

Let me change gears for a moment from bargain dining spots to a full restaurant resource for you.

“Edge” is an “about town” magazine in English that includes feature stories on subjects such as entertainment, travel and fashion and listings of restaurants, night spots, shopping venues and the like.

The restaurant section offers a comprehensive look at the dining-out scene, from bargain spots to ultra-pricey venues.

You can find hard copies of the magazine at many hotels in Astana. It’s also online at www.edge.kz.

Now let me ask you, faithful readers, for your tips on bargain meals.

Please tell me about great food at reasonable prices that you’ve had in Astana, Almaty, Kostanai, Shymkent or wherever.

Let’s define “bargain” as 600 tenge or less for breakfast, 2,000 tenge or less for lunch or dinner and 700 tenge or less for dessert and drink.

With your help, we can come up with a good list for locals and visitors alike.

Bon appetite!


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