This week I tried out two downtown spots that were written up in the WW Cheap Eats section.
Cafe Voila is in the City Club at SW Washington and 9th. They have a daily hot plate special; various salads; sandwiches; soup; and, some savory and sweet turnover-like and bread-like things. It's small with a few tables and the food is pretty high quality. The specials will run you about $6.25 or so - I had salmon in a creme fraiche sauce with dill and shallots with a side of arugula and grape salad with a vinaigrette dressing (there were about 6 salads to choose from - some leafy, some mayonnaisey). It came on a real plate and there were metal utensils which I appreciated. It was very good - salmon cooked perfectly, just enough sauce, etc. Dining companion had soup (I think it was a curry soup of some kind) and 1/2 sandwich (tuna, unremarkable) with salad (same as mine). It wasn't as good a deal as the hot plate, it was about or over $7 but with a different sandwich choice, it might have been good. If you sign up for their e-mail list, you get the menu for the week mailed to you. One of the other choices this week was pork roast with apples, or something like that, which really sounded good. I'll be back at some point to try other things - this is a good find.
I have been trying to get to JavaMan (the coffee shop with Russian food on Taylor betw. 5th and 6th - 3 tables for 2 there, its very small) for a while now. The menu is limited: pirogi (potato/mushroom, cabbage, meat, cabbage and meat), borscht (beet soup), golubtzi (cabbage rolls stuffed with beef and rice), siberian pelmeni (meat dumplings), vareniki (dumplings filled with cheese, potato or cabbage), blini (crepes filled with either sweet cheese or chicken/cabbage/veggie mix). The pelmeni, varenki, golubtzi, and blini all come with a generous blob of sour cream and a side of an interesting cabbage salad that was slaw-like and seemed to have a vinaigrette on it - they are all under $7. The borscht comes with a pierogi and is $5.25 for a generous bowl. The pirogi are $1.85.
The food is heavy and satisfying and some things are good - dining partner and I tried pirogi, pelmeni and blini. The pirogi were odd, looked to be made with a dough like a raised yeast donut and tasted like it too, except not sweet or glazed (no, I'm not kidding). The filling was not too flavorful though you could see dill in it, but it wasn't bad, it was just kind of bland and unlike any kind of pirogi I have ever come across. The pelmeni are heavy starchy dumplings filled with meat and cooked in a broth. Neither of us could finish the order we split (there were more than a dozen on the plate), but the taste was good, if a bit salty. The blini were the overall winners. Great crepes, flavorful filling that was not overcooked - really tasty, a good execution - and three of them on the plate, a good sized serving. I'll bet that if you get them with sweet cheese they'd be very tasty as well (and just like cheese blintzes, because that's what cheese blintzes are...). I'd go back to try the vareniki and the golubtzi, for sure.
The pelmeni were probably the kind you can get frozen in a bag at one of the Russian/International food stores around town (see extraMSG's tour of them on his site and here), but they were good, and it was a nice touch that they were cooked in something other than water. I think that the blini were made fresh to order.
They guy who runs the joint is really nice and was a one man show. He was happy to see us enjoying his food. He carries some Russian candy and stuff in the store, too. What a nice addition to the downtown food scene (though he's been at it for over a year, really). Is it the best Russian food, no, probably not, but it isn't bad and it's a good value and it's nice to eat something different for lunch once in a while.
Next up to try from that list for me I think will be Ford's on 5th. Anyone been? What's good there?