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Pelmeni Charming: in praise of Cinderella Bakery

Windy | Feb 20, 200301:51 AM     7

Some friends and I went to see Russian Ark tonight, the new art film, shot all in one 100-minute, 200-year take at St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum, the winter palace of the tsars.

In tribute, we decided to get ourselves some borscht and headed out to Cinderella Bakery on Balboa & 6th. It was 7:20, parking was hellish as usual, and the room was dark and seemed to be closing when we drove by. The smell of the freshly baked loaves of bread stacked by the door drew us in though, and promising to settle our bill by 8 p.m., we ordered a small feast:

Superb $2 cups of rich cabbage & tomato borscht and mushroom barley soup, accompanied by slabs of wheat bread and small bricks of fresh butter, with dollops of sour cream thrown in for good measure. We probably should have stopped there.

This is a city of often great soups, and yet it's too rare to find soup that reminds you of your grandmother's home cooking and doesn't manage to somehow disappoint in the process. (Or maybe the problem is that I didn't have a Thai or Malaysian grandmother.)

I ordered a plate of pelmeni, delectable beef dumplings that are surely the xiao long bao of the steppes, served with a bowl of sour cream. They may be Russian Jews at Cinderella, but kosher, they are not. My vegetarian friend got the vareniki with sweet cheese--chewy and tender stuffed crescents, although I regretted that she hadn't ordered them with cherry sauce too.

Her mother got the stuffed cabbage, which resembled the cabbage rolls I helped my mother make as a child from Great-Grandma Rose's recipe; filled with meat and rice, topped with a sweet tomato sauce and accompanied by cole slaw and a pickle. Not quite the same as Grandma Rose's (no raisins), but we left with our plates cleaned, grateful we had two long blocks to walk in the cold night to work off the calories.

We also took home several bags of pastries--poppyseed hamantashen, honey cookies, a chocolate eclair for good measure--but those will have to wait for another report.

Cinderella's been around forever, since the 60s, according to the menu. The prices don't seem to be have been raised in 20 years. We spent $40 for three including wine and tip and enough dessert for the rest of the week.

The Russian festival is this weekend, btw, for those in search of more borscht and those killer shots of flavored vodka.

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