By Howard Jarvis.
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Elizabetes 85a, Riga
Mobile: 2202 6602
Working hours: Mon-Sun 11.00 - 23.00,
Serving up hearty portions of unpretentious American-style comfort food with Latvian elements, Zoste is situated at the edge of the upmarket outdoor shopping zone Bergs Bazaar. Fine dining this is not, but its dishes play inventively with seasonal ingredients. Coming here is always a treat.
Named after the scrummy sticky caramelized scraps you get at the bottom of a pan that no chef worth his salt would ever throw away, Zoste is run by a Karlis Celms, a young but experienced and enthusiastic Latvian-American chef who loves to give each of his dishes a taste twist.
On the day we visited there was a tempting €10 daytime menu of either curried haddock or bean soup and roasted vegetables, with a roast apple dessert. But we were salivating for Karlis’ lamb burger (€10), without doubt one of the most popular burgers in the city, which Karlis has honed while in head-chef jobs at other restaurants as well as on his mobile food truck, often spotted at Riga’s bigger public events.
We didn’t have to wait long. The generous, tender slab of Latvian-reared lamb was sandwiched between two buns baked by a local baker. The sauces exuded all kinds of flavors from tomato-and-fennel chutney to a zippy horseradish remoulade with a touch of coriander. Nettle cheese and Latvian pickles rounded off the interior.
A tumble of leaves sat on one side of the plate. Super-crispy fries adorned the other. The only thing not created locally, we were told, was the Heinz tomato sauce. We wanted to lick the plate clean.
Other eye-catching delights we’ll try another time include a 100% veal burger (€9) with bacon jam, caramelized onion and cheddar cheese, wild boar sausage (€16) served with celery-root mash and braised red cabbage, and the flaky, meaty, low-fat flesh of zander (€17), a plump fish caught in Burtnieks, one of Latvia’s largest lakes.
The little things also mean a lot at Zoste – free, clean, filtered tap water (or bottled if you prefer), American craft beers, and a coffee blend that’s roasted in Latvia and made on La Marzocco, the Lamborghini of coffee machines. Several amazing desserts include pumpkin bread pudding with cardamom-spiced ice cream (€4). Tall arched windows make the place cheery even on the grimmest winter days. In short, at Zoste it’s all about the simple things done exceptionally well.