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Posts from the ‘Eastern European’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Isan, Umami, Venison

larb ubol lunch

Larb Ubol Typically, one mediocre Thai meal and I’m done with a place. Yet, I still have a good feeling about Larb Ubol, despite the papaya side salad that was all lime and sugar and the crispy pork that was properly lush but lacking any heat to balance the fat. Lunch specials are never a prime showcase, so I will cut some slack, especially since there are eight different som tums, some using pickled fish and preserved crab, and ten larbs. This Isan restaurant can’t be only catering to office workers spilling over from Times Square–though they are certainly trying to cover all bases:  you can have your larb made with liver or tofu.

louro group

Louro  I can’t guarantee that anything pictured here will be available–at least in this exact form– because it was part of one of chef David Santos’ Monday night Nossa Mesa Supper Clubs (I was a guest, full disclosure). The theme was umami so there was lots of in-house pickling and fermenting (the walls are lined with glass jars containing many of the fruits of this labor) with standouts including thick, custardy chawanmushi with crab and aged soy sauce distilled on site,  a yogurt cake with thyme ice cream that appeared to be surrounded by an intense salted caramel that was actually made from peach umeboshi, and bone marrow stuffed with a chunky blend of beef brisket and mussels and served with a kelp cracker.  The next Nossa Mesa will be Octoberfest-themed.

Kristophe is the fancier venture from the owners of Krolewskie Jadlo, which means fresh stonework made to look aged and wine barrels instead
of suits of armor.  There is also duck in the pierogies, chanterelles in the mushroom sauces, and a kale salad apropos of
nothing. I just had a burger, though, because that’s what I was in the mood for. It might have been wiser to have just gone traditional instead of with venison
patty covered in brie, walnuts, caramelized onions, portobello mushrooms and a chipotle cranberry relish. Too much. I just wanted the pretzel roll really.

Bar Tartine

I managed to take part in Bon Appetit’s so-called “Germanic cuisine boom” in San Francisco despite having a contender two blocks from my apartment (two more days in Portland and I totally would’ve ended up at Gruner too). These things happen.

Bar Tartine struck me as more Austro-Hungarian than purely German. Some might say Cal-Hungarian. I wouldn’t, but that’s my aversion to the Cal prefix. James took to calling the hey-that’s-cool Bay Area style “Cal-tude,” which started getting on my nerves (him saying it more than the practice) but the service here was so careless and forgetful—we were given a free blueberry dessert, to be fair—that I kind of had to agree in this case. Cal-tude is not the same as the haphazard style that’s rampant in aggressively homespun/quirky Brooklyn restaurants because the venues—Bar Agricole was another practitioner—are polished in other regards.

I can easily say that I’ve never eaten food like this in NYC (maybe I should check out Hospoda?). The flavors—lots of hot paprika, offal, rye, quark—hewed traditional yet everything I sampled managed to be fresh and light instead of stodgy. And a little daring; I don’t picture goat meatballs or beef heart tartare being common in Budapest.

Bar tartine dinner

Bottarga, grilled bread, butter, radish. At first I thought the butter had been smoked Extebarri-style, the flavor was so prominent, but I think it was simply the heavily grilled bread. A simple open-faced sandwich was made special by the translucent slices of fish roe.

Grilled tripe, fennel, cabbage, coriander. This dish almost never came, but I wasn’t about to say, “oh, never mind” because I have a thing for cow’s stomach in all preparations and like to see how it’s handled in different cuisines. These tender strips were also given a serious grilling, and despite the presence of fennel and cabbage had a vague menudo quality thanks to a spicy broth and cilantro.

Kapusnica – smoked blood sausage, pickled cabbage, cherry, chili, hen of the woods. I’ll also always order blood sausage if I see it (I’ve never seen one quite this obscene) especially when paired with unusual mushrooms, a hit of spice and cherries (which I encountered time and again on this trip—you know you’re eating seasonally when the same ingredient shows up on your plate in numerous restaurants). The richness of the sausage still dominated, but wasn’t overly heavy.

Halaszle – Rock cod, Hungarian wax pepper, smoked broth, purslane, fennel, onion. Hmm…if they can smoke broth, maybe that butter was smoked, after all?

Bar Tartine * 561 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA


Krolewskie Jadlo

I’m not biased against Eastern European food; it just never occurs to me to seek it out. I lived in a Polish/Bosnian/Croatian/Romanian neighborhood for three years and didn’t sample the local fare even once. (That had more to do with not being able to afford going out to eat in the late ‘90s-early ‘00s, though. I think that’s why I originally started a dining diary. Restaurants were more of a rare treat and I liked to keep track of where I had been even if it meant no more than typing a short awkward paragraph. New Green Bo was my initial entry back in 2000, and no, it’s hardly illuminating (and I'm still not much for illumination but now I have photos to lean on) but the librarian in me likes documenting and archiving. These oldies have actually been helpful, if for nothing more than jogging my own memory.)

Krolewskie jadlo exterior
 But while looking for something quick and cheap before attending an Oscar party in Greenpoint (that had food—I’m just spazzy about squeezing in a choice meal because I never know what might be served at a party and I don’t like taking chances. It’s kind of like how many years ago a friend, a recovered alcoholic who thought I drank too much, asked me if I drank before going to parties, as if that were a serious warning sign. Uh yeah, I did and still do and my liver is fine.) I was moved by the Krolewskie Jadlo’s regal kitsch. I’d always wondered what went on inside the restaurant with two suits of armor standing guard at the entrance.

In this case my pre-party drink was a $5 glass of cheap Shiraz (which I followed with some nice fizzy Lambrusco at the party). Maybe I do have a problem because I’m not terribly bothered by plonk; it’s what it is. Beer might’ve been a better choice than wine but at least I didn’t succumb to one of their chocolate martinis.

Krolewskie jadlo bread

I will admit that I'm not sure what this spread was, though I suspect that chicken fat played a major role.

Krolewskie jadlo pork cutlet

I really wanted the Polish plate (potato pancake, stuffed cabbage, pierogis and kielbasa). It was only $9 but still being the most expensive item on the entrée list, I knew it would be a gut buster. That’s not what I was looking for on this particular evening. Instead, I tried the $7.50 pork cutlet. Ok, pounded, breaded flaps of meat aren’t exactly light either but it felt like a concession. There’s never anything revelatory about a cutlet but the crust was appropriately crisp and the meat wasn’t dried out. And who hates mashed potatoes?

Krolewskie jadlo beets & cabbage

You can specify the starch and vegetable you want but I made no requests wanting to see what the default accompaniments might be. It looks like a beet puree and a cabbage salad. I love root vegetables and pickled things so both of these sweetly vinegared slaws worked for me.

Krolewskie jadlo interior

Krolewskie Jadlo means king’s feast, which in turn means portraits of men in crowns gracing the walls. If these were actual members of royalty, I’ll never know. I liked this touch, as well as the Polish language music sampler that seemed to be a pastiche of ’90s styles. There was an alt-country ditty and a Liz Phair-like number, yet no Macarena, unfortunately.

Krolewskie Jadlo * 694 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, NY


*At some point Eurotrip renamed itself to Korzo.

There seems to be an Eastern European culinary renaissance going on. I used to practically equate the post-3am East Village with pierogies and it’s not like cabbage and dumplings have ever gone out of style in Greenpoint and Ridgewood. But that’s old world. 

Recently, schnitzel and goulash has shown up at places like Fort Greene’s Catherine’s Caffe, Draft Barn in Gowanus, and Eurotrip in South Slope giving nearby Café Steinhof some competition. You could even toss in Ost Café, even though I think they only serve Hungarian pastries not hot meals.

I’ve been curious about Eurotrip, as well as its location choice because it fits in with the smattering of Slavic holdouts in what some people like to call Greenwood Heights (technically Sunset Park starts at 16th St. but everyone seem averse to calling it like it is. Ack I sound elderly when I get tough about neighborhood boundaries). Slovak/Czech Milan’s is just down the street, Smolen, a Polish bar, is on the same block and Eagle Provisions is also in the vicinity (it’s a little musty and overpriced but they do have a good beer selection—I used to buy chopped liver and poppy seed sweets there on my way home from the gym, sabotaging my workout and then some).

Honestly, I’ve never had much interest in Austro-Hungarian cuisine because it seems so bland and heavy (as opposed to Scandinavian fare, which I unfairly ignore because it seems bland and light). And I’m still not convinced otherwise. At least I chose one of those nearly-single-digit-degrees nights to find out for sure. 

My goal to try and not bulk up over the winter was not helped by the langoš, a.k.a. fried pizza. Yes, yes, I could’ve ordered the quinoa with flame-grilled paprika shrimp and microgreens but doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of even going to an Eastern European restaurant?

Eurotrip langoš

The fried dough was good in the way that fluffy, yeasty batter crisped up to goldenness should be. Instead of the purist butter and garlic version we tried the simply named pub style, a totally americanized treat oozing with Edam, tomato sauce and spicy German sausage. Just like I believe Sriracha goes with pizza, I can get behind pickled cabbage too. This condiment would never be right with thin crust, but the pillowy richness needed some bite.

Eurotrip chicken schnitzel

While the chicken schnitzel took up much of the space on the plate, the accompaniments hidden in the photo were more interesting. The breaded chicken cutlet was kind of dull, not dried out, thankfully, just not exciting. Beneath the splayed out poultry were wedges of red potatoes and a pile of soft sauerkraut (I do love sauerkraut) that I thought were studded with juniper berries. Hard on the teeth, but the nuggets turned out to be crispy pork bits. Nice. Sugary, pickled cucumber slices rounded out the dish.

Eurotrip krušovice lager

There was also a plate of geographically diverse sausages involved. Poland, Germany and Hungary were all represented. All of this combined with a pitcher of Krušovice, the house lager, make dessert an impossibility. I wouldn’t mind knowing what’s included in the $5 tray of homemade cookies, though. 

Eurotrip * 667 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY


Oh…Odessa. This place has been a bright star on my map since I first
stepped foot in this godforsaken city. Open 24 hours, it's always there to
serve fried, heavy, greasy food when you need it most. When I first opened
the gigantic menu to page one and was faced with a concotion called Disco
Fries (covered in cheese and gravy), I knew I was onto something good.

I've rarely ventured beyond the pirogies and powerhouse combo plate (1
blintz, 4 pirogies, and a potato pancake). My foray into monte cristo
was a bit of a let down, but that just may be a west coast/east
coast misunderstanding.

I had the opportunity to dine there recently since friends were visiting
from out of town. It's not every day your stomach can handle Odessa, you
have to pick your moments. My latest excursion brought up the question I've
always pondered–what's the difference between the two next door locations?
The one on the left is dark and one on the right is newer and bright. I've
always eaten at the light since the early days when I tried the wood paneled
version only to discover the monte cristo was absent from the menu (though
on this visit it appeared to be back). One is more like a bar and the
other…I'm not sure. I guess the choice depends on whether you want to show
off your haggard, drunk self or hide in the shadows.

Odessa * 119 (or 117) Ave. A, New York, NY