Moldova could be the only Moldovan restaurant in New York City. A small republic sandwiched on a rocky forested plateau between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova has a population of around 2.6 million; the official language is Romanian. Situated in Brooklyn’s Midwood at 1827 Coney Island Avenue near Avenue O, the restaurant was founded in 2012 by Radu Panfil, who was born and raised in the capital of Chișinău.
Inside the restaurant, the massive premises is decked out for banquets, with lines of tables hugging parallel walls extensively decorated with embroidered blouses, ceramic candle holders bearing folk motifs, statuettes, picket fences set into the walls, and, curiously, several abacuses. Behind the main dining room is an enclosed backyard, dark on the Saturday afternoon I visited, with about the same number of tables.
The food of Moldova bears a resemblance to that of neighboring Romania, but with Ukrainian flourishes. Nothing is more Moldovan (or Romanian, either) than mămăligă. This cornmeal porridge is often served for breakfast, while at the restaurant it’s an app with feta cheese and sour cream, or a side with main courses like rabbit with cream sauce, or fried chicken livers. But the most extravagant use is in one of the entrées: mămăligă trapeza ($15).
Two scoops of cornmeal porridge are separated like twin peaks by a snowy heap of crumbled feta; along with a small bowl of sour cream, chunks of pork are surmounted by a fried egg, and flanked by a salad that seems to be missing its dressing. This is a feed of major proportions. In fact, all the entrees come with copious sides, as we found when we ordered the grilled pork neck — tender and smoky, flanked by potato wedges and mushrooms that are wonderfully greasy and salty.
There are over 20 other main courses, including — if you need evidence of Ukrainian influence — pirajoale ca la Tiraspol, which alludes to the capital of the breakaway Moldovan province of Transnistria. With two breaded and stuffed chicken breasts, the dish mirrors chicken Kiev. And the menu offers kielbasa, too.
In some ways, you’re better off skipping the entrees completely and assembling a full table of starters and smaller dishes (some of which are quite large). Mititei are bouncy skinless sausages of ground beef and pork bound with egg, similar to Balkan cevapi, only bigger. Instead of ajvar, the Balkan red pepper paste, the sausages are served with grainy mustard with masses of shaved onions and cold peas on the side. The (likely canned) peas are surprisingly sweet and refreshing.
There’s stuffed cabbage, too, here called sarmale ca la mama ($10). Served with sour cream, these stuffed and steamed leaves are smaller and more delicate than other Eastern European versions; a grape-leaf version is also available. Soups include ciorbă de perișoare ($8), beef meatballs in a light broth flavored with dill and bay leaves.
One of the best starters at Moldova is placinte ($9), which may have descended from Roman placenta — a flattened flaky pastry whose shape and appearance inspired the modern usage of the word. The Moldovan version comes stuffed with potatoes, cheese, or cabbage; I recommend the latter that’s moist and sweet.
On my visit with two Romanian friends from Middle Village, Queens, there was only one wine available, a Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) from Asconi Winery in Puhoi, Moldova, 20 miles south of the capital. The wine, bottled in 2016, was a low-key expression of the distinctive grape, and it went well especially with the grilled pork neck, which turned out to be our favorite dish of the afternoon.
The dessert list is a long one, and since we had room for only one, we picked a doozy. The crepes cake called cusma lui Guguta ($9), referring to a folkloric figure and his conical fur hat, is a series of rolled crepes stuffed with sour cherries thrust into masses of whipped cream, tart and tasty.