Inspired by rworange's ecstatic posts about the Polish food at Chopin Cafe, Francesc and I decided to revive the Pork-a-rama quest and sausage marathon sweeping through the East Bay's Eastern European hide-a-ways.
Our last stop was DJ's Bistro in Concord for Czech food (linked below). Next we met for Sunday supper in Walnut Creek to sample some Polish. Francesc, the Don of Walnut Creek, said he had passed up Chopin many times when shopping at Lunardi's. The lace curtains had been a barrier for him.
We started with a cup of soup. Francesc's borscht was as good as described. But even better was my vegetable soup of the day, a light yet very flavorful potage of fresh vegetables. I didn't want to fill up on liquid, but I had to drink it all. The light tanginess in the aftertaste was refreshing and restorative. The dinner rolls were good, and we appreciated that the four rolls were all slightly different shapes and sizes, showing that they were handmade.
We ordered an assortment of pierogi, two of each kind. These were topped by lucite-like, dark brown carmelized onions and some chopped fresh parsley. The crimps on these handmade dumplings were just like the ones made by a potsticker mold. We didn't know which was which, so we established a protocol of cutting a dumpling into halves and sharing it so that we could be sure we'd both tasted the same thing. The filling in the meat ones were a little dry and lean but tasty nonetheless. The potato and cheese didn't do much for me. The sauerkraut/cabbage was good, and the best one was the mushroom filled with a variety of dried and fresh mushrooms.
Francesc had the kielbasa, shown in the upper right of the photos below. Somehow the arrangement of his plate reminded me of Groucho Marx. The pair of sausages had the fancy cutwork as described. These are housemade and we loved the freshness of the cure and the balance of the subtle seasonings even though adulterated with chicken and not pure pork. Later when Eva came out from the kitchen, Francesc complimented her on her skill with this saying that he makes sausages himself and could recognize a masterful recipe. The accompanying sauerkraut was almost too fresh, not having much fermented character, and was still crisp.
I had the bigos shown on the lower right. While it won't make me forget Alsatian choucroute, it did turn my head. My first bite was a soft piece of pork skin and it got better from there. The chunks of pork and sausage were tender but still held onto their own flavors and each mouthful tasted different from the next. Paprika tinged the sauerkraut orange and added a smoky back note. The mushrooms used were very good quality and packed with flavor. The sauerkraut and cabbage had very good texture, just yielding to the bite without being mushy, and the mild tang was welcome contrast to the porcine flavors. The overall dish had many layers of meaty and earthy tastes with good depth yet was surprisingly greaseless and left a light impression. I hadn't imagined that something called "hunters stew" could feel so healthy. The mashed potatoes were good too.
I'd brought a wine from my cellar, 1998 Domaine Heresztyn Morey-Saint-Denis, 1er Cru, Les Millandes, a souvenir of a visit to the cellars in Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy. The family immigrated from Poland in the 1930's and is one of the top producers of "Les Millandes". I had been stumped as far as what wine to drink this evening, and the finesse of this red Burgundy was matched step for step by our two entrees.
For dessert we had the crepes with raspberry sauce. I loved how the hot molten cheese oozed out of the crepe packets. The raspberry sauce was nice but I could do without the canned whipped topping.
There was only one other party in the restaurant the whole time we were there. With the small size of the room, it just felt all that more intimate rather than isolated. We enjoyed the Chopin piano concertos played softly in the background. All in all, it was a fine meal and a good experience, particularly for the price.
Chopin Cafe & Restaurant
1574 Palos Verdes Mall
Walnut Creek 94597
P.S. The rest room has a nice reading library though I didn't spend enough time in there to make use of it.