I was headed out to the in-laws' house in Calabasas, and it was late, and I was starving, and I wanted Middle Eastern food. I figured I'd go hit up Itzik Hagadol, but when I got there I realised I couldn't take the leftovers of their huge portions with me (my father-in-law keeps a strictly vegetarian house).
Alcazar still hasn't opened after the fixing-up, though they're close.
I'd already fed the meter and was exploring the plaza, desperately trying to ignore the Chili's sign across the street, when my eyes lit on the word "гастроном". Without even translating it, I started to hunger for Russian food. As I entered, I noticed a sign on the automatic door that said (translating from Russian), "The door opens automatically for nice people."
The service? Unbelievably kind. I was given samples of red borshch, green borshch, okroshka (cold vegetable soup with kvass, a slightly fermented liquor made from bread), solyanka (mushrooms, in this case), and ukha (fish soup). While my not-fluent-anymore Russian was more useful than English, non-Russian speakers won't have a problem.
I eventually decided on a chicken cutlet (small enough that there wouldn't be leftovers), fried potatoes, and green borshch. Smiles all round, helpful people; people who are justifiably proud of their food.
The cutlet, even reheated in their microwave, was juicy, tender, and just a little bit springy; the fried potatoes had that "grandma" taste that comes from butter, dill and parsley; I wanted more of both.
The zelyonii (green) borshch I ate cold with a drizzle of smetana (Russian sour cream, which is closer to Mexican crema than regular American sour cream); it had hard-boiled eggs and tiny cubes of potato mixed in with the sorrel; very refreshing, and it was as good hot as cold.
I also bought two packages of Popkoff brand frozen vareniki, one filled with sweetened tvorog (what the Germans would call quark) and one filled with sour cherries. They have frozen sour cherries as well, in 250g packages, which I was very tempted to buy. Boiled until they floated and then eaten with the included kirsch syrup and another drizzle of smetana, it was a perfect dessert.
The place reminded me of my favorite little deli down here in OC, Moscow Deli, but without the sausage sandwiches that make Moscow Deli such a destination. It's well worth going and I intend to hit it up next time I need to make Russian food in the Valley.
Rasputin International Grocery, 17159 Ventura Blvd. (same plaza as Itzik Hagadol and Alcazar), Encino; (818) 905-7557.
Rasputin International Food Company
17159 Ventura Blvd, Encino, CA 91316