The ajaruli khachapuri isn’t so novel around D.C. anymore. The warm bread boat hailing from the Republic of Georgia, a vehicle for melted cheese, butter, and eggs cracked tableside, is still a visual and gustatory feast. But the variety of khachapuri has been popular in the District since at least 2014, when Compass Rose opened, and traditional takes can be found throughout town. That’s why the owners of Tabla, a new Georgian restaurant in Park View, felt free to start futzing with it.
Since opening in Park View in July, Tabla (3227 Georgia Avenue NW) has introduced one ajaruli khachapuri brimming with Maryland crab dip, and another containing a cheesy blend of spinach and artichokes. The casual sibling restaurant to Supra, a Shaw standby since 2017, also has a flat imeruli khachapuri with pulled pork and pomegranate barbecue sauce
With Supra established as a place for traditionalists to enjoy khachapuri, khinkali (soup dumplings), and Georgian wine in a setting decorated with white wool hats called papakhi, owners Jonathan and Laura Nelms felt their second restaurant could be more experimental. Located in a more residential neighborhood than Surpa, across the street from hit bagel shop Call Your Mother, Tabla sells the greatest hits from their first restaurant along with more transgressive items that recently got a thumbs up from Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema.
“Imagine your Georgian grandmother comes here and she loves to cook Georgian food,” Jonathan Nelms says. “You let her try local produce here. Let her try tacos from a taco stand and kimchi from a a Korean market. What would she do with all that stuff?”
Zoeller also came up with a catfish po’ boy that uses khachapuri dough as the bread, like sort of a Georgian panuozzo. The culinary director and chef de cuisine Alfredo Martinez have already cycled through some seasonal specials. Martinez, who oversees day-to-day operations at Tabla, brought on an imeruli khachapuri with all the makings of Mexican street corn that enjoyed a summer run.
“It’s not like Georgian cuisine is inadequate and we have to improve it with elote,” Nelms says. “The point of it is we love khachapuri and we love elote. Let’s see if they work together.”
For the winter, Zoeller and Martinez are working on a traditional achma, a Georgian dish of layered noodle dough and cheese that brings about natural comparisons to lasagna or a savory kugel. Because Tabla has proven popular with vegetarians and vegans, the chefs are also workshopping a winter squash satsivi, a dish based in a rich walnut sauce that typically blankets chicken or turkey. Chashushuli, a beef and tomato stew, could end up inside an ajaruli, Nelms says. A version of chili or clam chowder could go into an ajaruli in the mold of a San Francisco-style bread bowl.
Nelms, who first visited the Soviet Union as a high school exchange student and spent 30 years living and working as a lawyer in Eastern Europe, says Georgian cuisine has not undergone many changes since the 1930s. He credits chef Tekuna Gachechiladze with pushing the now-trendy cuisine forward at her fine dining institutions like Cafe Littera in the capital of Tbilisi.
Although Tabla appears to be the first restaurant of its kind in D.C., places like Tony Khachapuri in Los Angeles and Cheeseboat in Brooklyn have been been inventing khachapuri with everything bagel spice or Italian meatballs for a few years.
Like Supra, Tabla sells exclusively Georgian wines, including amber varietals, by the glass and the bottle. Tabla has garage doors that allow for airflow throughout the restaurant and outdoor seating with large planters and plexiglass to block wind. It also offers online ordering for pickup and delivery. It’s open six days a week (closed Mondays) with brunch and lunch available Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.