Artur and Sandra Andronic came to Boston six years ago from Moldova so he could do an MBA at Suffolk. The terms of his visa were that he could stay for a year to work after the degree, then had to find a company to sponsor him for a longer stay. Or, he could open a business. Or, go back home. Home, they decided, wasn't an option because "it's more of a struggle at home to get yourself a living."
Their answer was Moldova Restaurant in the diverse Newton neighborhood of Nonantum, where they feel comfortable. Folk music plays on a loop (sometimes too loud and frenzied), Moldovan chef Victor Sorici is in the kitchen, moms and relatives helped with recipes, and Artur's own mother and sister, on vacation here now, are pitching in.
This is rustic, peasant fare from a small landlocked country close to the Black Sea, between Romania and Ukraine. The population is half that of Massachusetts. You may have eaten foods similar to Moldovan specialties — fresh salty cheeses, sour cream, hearty soups, savory pies, pans full of cabbage and potatoes — at other Eastern European establishments.
The three-month-old, 20-seat spot celebrates this hearty cuisine with dishes that taste like they might have been prepared in a farmhouse kitchen. A big bowl of bean paste ($6.95) is topped with golden caramelized onions and served with the house bread, which is like thick slices of a tender loaf you would use for a sandwich or breakfast toast. Eggplant spread ($6.95) has a rosy blush and is mostly smooth, flecked with peppers. A dish of crepes, stuffed with a creamy mixture of chicken and mushrooms ($8.25), comes baked or fried; baked have plenty of satisfying crispness on the skins and are more akin to homey Jewish blintzes than to French pancakes.
A bowl of chicken soup ($5.95), served with a single hot chile and a tiny pot of sour cream on the side, is real country fare, a savory broth flecked with diced tomatoes, shredded carrots, bits of yellow squash, fine homemade noodles, shredded chicken, and plenty of dill. You either dip the pepper into the soup to season it, Andronic says, or take a taste of the chile and if it's hot, eat some sour cream. The bowl is a remedy for anything that ails you.
Whatever else you decide to order, try placinte la tigaie (pronounced pla-chin-ta lah tih-guy-yeh). These are flat, crisp, pan-fried pastry rounds filled with farmer's cheese (called "cow cheese" on the menu) and fresh herbs, or potatoes, cabbage, cherries, or apples. These thin pies, which come quartered, are wonderfully crunchy and flaky, and quite rich, like much of this fare; cheese or potatoes balance the fried double crust.
Rice and chicken form the filling for tiny cabbage and grape leaf rolls called sarmale ($13.95), which are small, juicy, and heaped on the platter. The grape leaves might seem to have a Middle Eastern derivation, but they're traditional in Moldova because it's a wine-growing region and was once a major supplier of wine to the Soviet Union, says Andronic, who owned a wine store in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.
He has made the connections here so his country's wines can be imported and customers are given a coupon to buy discounted Moldovan wines next door at Silver Lake Liquor Co. This month, Andronic has a hearing with the City of Newton to determine whether customers can BYOB to his place.
A dish of roast pork with polenta ($14.95) features dry meat. The polenta is not like the soft Italian version you might be expecting, but rather a firmer round cake served with sour cream, of course, and a kind of grated sheep's feta. The polenta has plenty of corn flavor but the texture may be an acquired taste. A side of pan-fried potatoes ($5.45) are practically crunchy with lots of golden edges, and plenty of oil on the plate.
Plump beef and pork sausages with cabbage salad and a baked potato half ($19.45) seems like it should be a national dish. Spicy, juicy meat mixes with sharp bites of cabbage and tender pieces of potato topped with sour cream.
For dessert, a six-crepe roll filled with sour cherries and covered with cream ($8.95) is dramatic and quite pretty, but the homely alternative, crepes (think blintzes) with sweet cheese and raisins ($6.95) is more delicious. Accompany it all with an apple-cherry "compot" over ice, the most refreshing summer drink imaginable.
The restaurant has to survive and do well to meet immigration requirements for permanent residency. It takes years, and the Andronics are willing to work hard and be patient. The rest is up to us.
344 Watertown St., Newton, 617-916-5245, www.tastemoldova.com. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers, soup, salads, pies $5.95-$8.95. Entrees $13.95-$14.95. Desserts $6.95-$8.95.
Hours Tue-Sun 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
What to order Bean paste with caramelized onions, roasted eggplant mix, chicken and mushroom crepes, chicken soup, traditional pie with cow cheese, pie with potatoes, stuffed cabbage and grape leaves, sausages, sour-cherry crepes, sweet-cheese crepes, compot (fruit punch).