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Chopin Café part 2 – Polish food better than Chicago & my babci’s

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Chopin Café part 2 – Polish food better than Chicago & my babci’s

rworange | Sep 25, 2005 01:40 AM

... in addition to being so good that someone who isn’t Polish will like it. I know because I took a friend to dinner tonight who never ate Polish food before and he loved it.

Ok, not every dish is the best is the country, but there are some real standouts here. Here’s what we tried in order of greatness.

Borscht
Mushroom crepes with sautéed mushrooms
Blinces with raspberry puree and whipped cream
Beef Roulade
Cream of mushroom soup
Sauerkraut salad
Apple square (brought this home for Roberto)
Herring in oil served with finely sliced onions and pickles
Cucumber salad with traditional Polish dill dressing
Potato dumpling
Pickled mushrooms

The first three dishes define everything good about Polish cooking and you don’t need to be Polish to love them.

The borscht was classic Polish at its best and even outdid my grandmother’s version. A clear ruby broth had a few large pieces of beet and potato and beet greens. A dab of sour cream was on top and a tiny sprinkle of dill, but I could have done without these because the broth was so pure tasting and I loved the clarity.

This place knows how to make crepes and they are not only good for Polish cooking, they are probably the best crepes in the Bay Area and up there with the top crepes I’ve ever had. This also beat my grandmother out .. and she was one great cook.

The square crepes were very brown and I thought they might be overdone. These exploded with flavor, texture and juiciness. We couldn’t determine at first why the mushroom filling was so wonderful. They were in the most delicate cream sauce that was obviously not immediately detectable but made the mushrooms magnificent.

The blinces we split for dessert. By this point we were really stuffed and planned to split one and bring the other home . ..nope, we were almost fighting over these. Same lovely, delicate wrapping as the crepe but filled with sweet hot creamy cheese with a not overly sweet raspberry puree drizzled over the top and whipped cream on the side. This is the food they must eat in heaven.

My friend had the mushroom soup and let me have a taste. It was fine, but that beet soup was just on another level . If you don’t think you like beet soup, try it anyway. It will change your mind. The borsht is almost always the soup of the day the server said because people always want it. Occasionally they have pickle soup.

I suggested splitting the beef roulade since it seemed the dish that might appeal most to a non Pole. The menu says rolled slices of beef stuffed with onions and peppers but there was some bacon in there too. These were just fall apart tender, wonderful. The woman at the next table got these and started to moan in pleasure (a non Pole). Her husband had a similar opinion of the goulash.

This is serious Polish food though. The hearty food of the deep Polish winters. Primal Polish feelings overcame me and I could feel the winds sweeping down out of Siberia. What! Was that a Cossack outside? No, just the Walnut Creek police. (This is the type of post I regret later).

Anyway, I don’t see how one person could eat this plate alone. A LOT of food.

It came with sauerkraut salad which both of us liked surprisingly enough because it was actually light and had shredded carrots, scallions and lots of pepper. Not sauerkraut or cabbage like at all.

I was curious about the potato dumplings as my family didn’t do these. Surprisingly they had a texture like mochi with about as much flavor. Not sweet though, like some sort of BIG dim sum dumpling. There is a choice of mashed potatoes or dumplings. Next time it will be the mashed potatoes.

The dumplings and beef were on a bed of mushroom gravy which was fine if not outstanding. I might order the gravy on the side next time as there was quite a bit. There was also two nice pieces of Polish pickle cut and arranged to look like a heart.

The herring salad is something only someone who likes herring already should order. Lovely pieces of herring, outstanding white pickled onions, tasteless tomatoes in the center and really weird pickles – the type that you find on hamburgers in diners. Ignore the pickles. The pickles brought this dish down in the ranking.

The cucumber salad in sour cream was nice and dilly, but it was sweet which I didn’t like. My friend thought it was fine. Since he wasn’t a herring fan, he worked on that while I had the fish.

The pickled mushrooms were the only dish that was a real loser. They tasted like canned button mushrooms in a harsh white vinegar. Skip them.

I strained Roberto’s taste buds last week with Persian food, so I thought I would let him rest a while and chow down on his own cuisine a while and not strain the relationship by following with a week of Polish. He did like the apple square. The restaurant mistakenly calls it strudel, but it is a shortbread crust topped with applesauce and a cobbler-like topping. It was fine, but not in the same class as those crepes.

The restaurant is crowded at night and there is one server, so service is slower but cheerful. At night there is a candelabra with real candles glowing. There are about a dozen decent wines, nothing spectacular, but nice enough for dinner.

So I’m really ecstatic to find excellent Polish food at last and then I hear the server tell the table next to me that the owner has been in the restaurant business for 28 years and is 63 years old and thinking of retiring. That is just the story of my life … attaining bliss and having it snatched away. I guess it is better to have blissed and lost than never to have blissed at all. Hopefully she won’t retire immediately.

Well, after that substantial dinner, I’m off to hibernate for the rest of the season.

BTW, the restaurant is in Walnut Creek, and IMO, those crepes are worth a drive from SF.

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