The Moldavian dream
The Tirdeas bring a taste of home to Carmichael
Lilia and Gregory Tirdea moved from Moldova about a decade ago in search of—"What do you call it? the American Dream,” said their son Daniel with a laugh.
After cooking her whole life, Lilia had always dreamed of owning a restaurant—a dream realized two years ago when she and her husband purchased Firebird Restaurant in Carmichael. Lilia knew the restaurant, as she had been the head chef. Under the prior owner, Firebird served Russian cuisine. When the Tirdeas took over, they began serving dishes exclusively from the Slavic region.
“We make everything from scratch,” said Daniel, who came to America when he was 11. “We don’t buy anything pre-made or frozen. So it does take a bit longer for the items to come out, but they come out fresh every single time.”
Rich flavors dominate the restaurant’s fare. An example is the Ukrainian pork salo—a charcuterie plate of sorts that features pickles, garlic, horseradish and salted pork fat. Customers pick what they’d like and smear it on a piece of Russian black bread. Daniel calls it a savory chaser “for after you take a couple shots of vodka.”
To balance the stronger flavors, Daniel says, Firebird serves sour cream with several traditional dishes, including borscht (the sour, beet-heavy soup), vareniki (housemade dumplings filled with farmer’s cheese) and Golubtsi (baked cabbage rolls stuffed with spiced beef, one of Firebird’s more popular dishes).
“It’s cold with hot,” he said. “And you get that flavor of meat, but then you get that smooth taste of sour cream. It makes a good combination.”
The restaurant’s décor includes a rustic-looking hearth as well as mannequins dressed in traditional Moldavian clothing—which Daniel said have become the subjects of more than a few selfies.
When they took over, the Tirdeas also decided to emphasize banquets, offering prix fixe menus that range from $25 to $110. They host events ranging from fairly affordable team-bonding dinners to luxe wedding receptions featuring racks of lamb, vodka bottle service and black caviar.
More modestly, there’s red caviar on the everyday menu, served with eggs and crepes.
Although he thinks his cuisine compares closest to German, Polish or Romanian food, there’s another mainstay from French cuisine that migrated its way onto Firebird’s menu: escargot.
“It’s a good dish, but it’s by choice,” he said of the garlic-and-parsley-sauteed snails. “I like it. Some people don’t like it. You have to have a wild side for tasting different foods.”
But Daniel’s favorite Firebird offering is a bit more conventional: a rack of lamb dressed in a no-nonsense marinade of olive oil, garlic, onion, salt, pepper and lemon before it gets roasted and served alongside a salad and potatoes fried with herbs and garlic. The dish, like the restaurant, simultaneously offers a taste of home and America.
“For [my mom], it’s a dream come true,” he said. “For me, I feel proud that I’m able to represent my culture. It brings the memories back from my country.” Ω