We had a fabulous time...Usually, it's equally about the food AND the company, but the cafe seems like a place where a lusty crowd is required, and luckily, we brought one!...The atmosphere is charmingly pre-revolution, tables set up in someone's parlor,and the staff is amazingly welcoming and patient; putting up with the questions of 8 hounds who had already started sampling the cranberry vodka had to be challenging, but Vladimir, our waiter, handled it all with aplomb, and did his best to educate us to the various intricacies of his mother-cuisine...
Think of this place as your spot for Russian tapas and flavored vodka tastings, because this is where their strengths lie...We opted for 3 appetizer, or "Zakushka" platters..The vegetable version featured 2 kinds of eggplant; a piquant eggplant caviar, with tomato and spices, and the intriquing Georgian eggplant, mixed with walnuts and pomegranate juice, one of the night's high points. So tart, what a tongue awakener! These came with various other pickled veggies, all brightly flavored. Our fish zakuska included 2 kinds of herring; one chopped with eggs, onions and apples, and the other pickled, and served with boiled potatoes. They were unsullied by cream or dairy..Smoked salmon and salmon caviar were scooped right up.. Our meat zakuska included the Russian version of carpaccio, with pickled beets, satzivi, or chicken in a walnut cilantro sauce, and several preserved and jellied chicken items that bore a strong resemblance to the preserved meats at a Chinese banquet...
We tried 3 different flavored vodkas, that were a wonderful match to the spicy, tangy foods. My particular favorite, the horseradish flavor, could go head to head with any smoked fish, and had me dreaming of combining it with my favorite sushi. The table favorite seemed to have been the cranberry flavor, which was sweeter than I expected, but emminently drinkable (and lethal!!); we decided by the second carafe..The lemon version was a slightly less sweet version of limoncello...All were served straight from the freezer in frosted carafes, their chilled texture enhanced by frosted thimble-sized shot-glasses..A lovely presentation.
We proceeded to Blinis, their signature dish.. Slightly sweet, butter-rich crepes, ("This is like butter-toast, I could just keep eating these", says Ben..), filled with smoked salmon and salmon eggs...I took'em straight, but everyone else adulterated theirs with sour cream. We also loved their plump potato varenikis, served with fried onions(perfect!) and sour cream. Smaller meat varenikis were sprinkled with fresh dill.
Okay, this is where you should stop. Main dishes did nothing to shake my preconceived ideas about Russian cuisine. There WAS a chicken dish, called Chicken Tabaka, a take on the pressed chicken under a weight one finds in Chinese and Italian cuisine, but, I didn't sample it...The Pokzharski Cutlet, or as the hounds translated, chicken snitzel, was an adequate, juicy version. The Sturgeon Tzar, or steamed sturgeon with spinach dill sauce, "Topped with Juienne fries", was basically a big potato pancake with a miniscule amount of fish hidden underneath..Clearly, the tzar didn't like sturgeon..
We definitely had some of their best, but we also ordered a large variety..When pressed for what he'd order if he brought a date here, one hound said he wouldn't... It's a lovely place to enjoy an evening in the company of friends, with live piano music, and earthy drinks, but it's not about fine dining.. Go with your friends, drink vodka, eat nibbles!
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