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The best seat at Tabla opening in Park View in late 2019 will be at the khinkali bar where diners can watch chefs hand-rolling the Georgian soup dumplings. The idea came from a trip co-owners Jonathan and Laura Nelms took to Georgia for their 5th wedding anniversary in 2011. They stopped at a little house on the side of the road. “This 100-year-old lady was in there making khinkali,” Jonathan recounts. “She was making them so fast, it was as if she made 100,000 in her life.”
Watching the meat-filled, black pepper-sprinkled dumplings being made added to the experience. “There’s a lot of folklore and culture and interesting stuff wrapped around the making of khinkali,” Jonathan continues. “Like how a mother-in-law watches her soon-to-be daughter-in-law make khinkali with 19 pleats in order to be a worthy bride. I like watching people cook.”
Tabla, going into the ground floor of a new apartment building located at 3227 Georgia Ave. NW, will be the Nelms’ second Georgian restaurant in the District. Supra opened in 2017 in Shaw. “Supra is the flagship restaurant where you get the full range of Georgian cuisine,” Jonathan says. There are more than 40 dishes to choose from there, ranging from cold salads to stick-to-your-ribs stews.
The menu at Tabla will be tighter and will zero in on two of Georgia’s greatest culinary exports—khinkali and khachapuri. The latter refers to buttery, cheese-filled breads that come in several shapes including round (imeruli) and canoe-shaped (ajaruli). Expect a variety of each of the two comfort foods. “The idea is that the chefs can be a little more inventive,” Laura says. “Like using non-traditional fillings or playing around a little bit more than at Supra.”
A range of salads, other starters, and kebabs will round out the streamlined menu executed by Chefs Lonnie Zoeller, Alfredo Martinez, and Georgia native Ani Kandelaki. Drinks will include an all-Georgian wine list, Georgian-inspired cocktails, local and imported beer, and Georgian soft drinks.
Tabla, which gets its name from the large outdoor table used for hosting Georgian feasts known as supras, will have 75 seats including the khinkali bar, additional bar seating, and a community table that seats 16. Garage-style doors open up to a side patio, which seats 25 people and faces Call Your Mother.
Look for artwork from one of Tiblisi’s top street artists, LAMB. Because the cartoonish sheep depicted in LAMB’s works are often eating khinkali, the Nelms had to get a hold of the artist. Jonathan found LAMB’s contact information on a forum for European street artists and got him to sign on. It helped that the Nelms previously worked with Georgian street artist Gagosh at Supra.
With Tabla, the Nelms are doubling down on a cuisine they love. Jonathan first connected with Georgian culture when he struck up a friendship with an exchange student in 1990. Later in life, he and Laura lived in Moscow for three years where they frequented the city’s many Georgian restaurants beloved by locals and expats.
Eating a Georgian meal often feels like a celebratory, boisterous affair full of toasts of bottomless glasses of amber wine. That’s part of what draws the Nelms to the cuisine.
“The flavors are different and interesting,” Jonathan says. “The wines are so unique and go with the food. All that is wrapped up in great memories of enjoying this food and wine with friends mostly in Georgia and in Moscow at Georgian restaurants. It all goes together, the food, the wine, and the culture of enjoying it together.”
No, the Nelms didn’t seek out a Georgia Avenue address for their second Georgian restaurant. It was a coincidence. “When we were talking about the property with a broker, we knew the building was called The Lamont,” Jonathan says. “I didn’t now it was on Georgia Avenue until we got there.”
Tabla, 3227 Georgia Ave. NW