For my birthday lunch, San Diego son Scott offered to take me anywhere in the city. I knew exactly what I wanted. Russian food. Prep for the Big15Trip.
I’ll continue to be up front about the fact I’m a foodie failure. I tried—to cook innovatively; love kale; pay attention to the ‘in’ restaurants; read and love and plan to visit NOMA; and, not least, to enjoy foodie conversations with kids, grandkids, and friends who pay attention to the more glamorous aspects of what we put in our stomachs to stay alive.
Me, still the failure. As mentioned ad nauseam I have been to 95 countries and rarely found anything to eat that excited me. Not the fault of the world’s food purveyors, I am just not a good eater. Here’s my complete list of food recommendations for world travelers. All over Asia…Udon noodles. All over Africa…South African Bobotie. All over the Middle East…Umm Ali. All over the U.S….biscuits. All over Western Europe…Swedish meatballs. All over South America…I remember liking Peruvian food but not why! All over Australia and New Zealand…I was sick all of the time and pretty much subsisted on Dunkin Doughnuts (with sprinkles). All over North Africa…some kind of Tunisian egg dish cooked in a thin pastry thing.
I’ve saved the Best for Last. All over Eastern Europe. First time I found a regional cuisine to embrace. Especially borscht. Polenta and sour cream. Meat fat drippings spread on brown bread. Light clear soups with a bit of tang, fresh-tasting herbs and lots of sour cream.
Since my visit to that part of the world, I’ve tried to make creamy polenta (with limited success) and, with the help of my foodie son, have made very fine borscht.
Back to my birthday lunch at San Diego’s Kafe Sobaka/ Restoran Pomegranate (www.pomegranatesobaka.com) was our choice and a good one it was.
We are just in time for a celebratory noontime shot of vodka, not part of my typical Friday lunch—certainly not pomegranate-infused in any case—but you’re only 76 once. A lovely lunch followed. Borscht, fresh and crimson (or maybe I mean Beet Red) combining those lovely attributes of healthful and delicious. Scott and I shared a few other dishes which I won’t describe since I’m including both their menu and address. I had intended to describe everything in detail on Yelp but since it was two weeks ago can I just say freshly prepared, beautifully seasoned, rich, authentic, and prettily presented.
The food was only part of this perfect luncheon experience however. I did mention the restaurant itself is charming didn’t I? Character it has. And most especially, friendliness it has in large quantities. On this day it was due to Irina, the bright and beautiful girl from St. Petersburg who was our server and guide to all things food and Russia. Upon hearing that I would be in St. Petersburg in August, she gave me her mother’s telephone number in case I have any issues and her email in San Diego where she is a student at SDSU if I have any more questions. Besides all of this she wrote out a whole personal guide to her home city while we were eating.
If Irina and Alla at Real Russia are examples of the people I’ll meet on my Russian journey I will want to visit often.
Here are a few of my photos followed by a portion of the menu just to share Café Sobaka’s quirky and inviting sense of humor.
Kafe Sobaka/ Restoran Pomegranate
We offer a casual peasant menu shaped by seasonal produce, faraway spices, fine dining techniques, and foraged ingredients that we learned at the knees of our babushkas.
4 possibilities for dining sizes: Communist (priced for the people at $2.87), Socialist(S), Imperialist(I), and Anarchist(A-amount and price change daily.) Ask your server for pricing on the different sizes.
*To those paying in cash we offer a glass of free tea from the village of Gusevka or a bone for your dog to encourage financial responsibility.
Zakuski sampler platter: For those who left their GPS in the car, allow our wait staff to orient you to the possibilities. (A)
Misha’s favorite: fresh nasturtium or arugula leaves wrapped around your choice of cheese, sausage or fried onions that makes a perfect papirosiy (Russian cigar) for eating not smoking; a zesty introduction to your main course. $9
Guruli Kapusta: White cabbage pickled with beets, garlic, dill, and spices makes a pleasant accompaniment to a hearty meat dish with beer. (S) $5.50 (I)$7.50
Lobio: Pâté style red beans with herbs, walnuts, tomatoes, and onions. The Georgians are blessed with a superb overabundance of bean recipes. (S)$5.50 (I)$7.50
Pkhali: a well known Kavkaz Mountain appetizer of finely cut vegetables & herbs married with lemon & garlic. Sometimes the mountain folk add beets & walnuts to this sprightly peasant dish. (S) $5.50 (I) $7.50
Ajap Sandali: A traditional Georgian vegetarian ragout. Expect eggplant, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, a bunch of herbs, and khmeli-suneli seasoning, our improvement to Western civilization. (S)$7 (I)$10
Salat Vesna: Salad made of fresh cabbage with berries, herbs, and serious love. This dish is as rare as chastity.(S) $5.50 (I) $7.50
Zharennaya Tsvetnaya Kapusta:Fried cauliflower in spicy bread crumbs is a nice accompaniment to a glass of wine for Urbanzia people. (S)$5 (I) $7
Vareniki: Potato-onion or potato-cheese dumplings made by tender women’s hands will soothe your soul because we value in women not their weakness but their mightiness and durability. (S) $6.75 (I) $9
Khinkali: A mountain dweller from the Caucasus will have this dish which is meat or vegetarian dumplings. If your feet are tired eat these dumplings and your daily troubles will be forgotten. Beef/Pork (S)$7 (I) $10.50 Lamb (S) $8.50 (I) $13
Zharennyi Syir: Fried cheese served with lemon, tarragon, red hot pepper, and a drop or two of brandy will be a subtle suggestion for you to have a glass of wine. Decadence and wine is inside our souls that is why you should try this dish. $9
Khachapuri : Cheese pie, “Life without khachapuri is a pure waste.” – Evokes passionate praise from the lips of any Georgian. A medley of cheeses folded into a dough crust. (A hot samovar tea or a glass of light wine will put you into an agreeable mood.) $8.50
Pelmeni Siberian Meat Dumplings: Life is no goodski without these. (S) $6.75 (I) $9
Borscht: Always a meal in itself. If you are feeling really indulgent you should treat yourself to this hearty soup. Vegetarian version: All borscht to all people!(S) $6.75 (I) $9
Kharcho: We prepare our kharcho like the last will! Georgia’s most popular beef soup with rice, tomato, lemon, onion, garlic and cilantro. After this dish with a glass of wine you will sing like a starling. (S)$6.75 (I)$9
For a Fistful of Rubles
Pirozhki: Russian savory pies, which are our regular comfort food, delicious by itself or paired with a bowl of soup. Ask what flavors are available. Pirozhki are set up to offer a range of possibilities, try them all and pick your own favorites. (S) $7 (I)$11 with a cup of soup
Welcome to the Gulag: Times are so tuff here they pile your tray with FAKE meat and cabbage!!!!! $11
Golubsti : Cabbage or bell peppers stuffed with herb, spices, ground meat, and different grains. (S) $9 (I)$13
Derevenskaya Skovorodka: Golden fried potatoes/onions/mushrooms/herbs fried in duck fat served in a cast iron skillet. This sets the stage for gulping beer. For this dish I could easily kill my older brother. $10
Respublika Kalifornia: Our version of a French dip sandwich with a vegetarian spin and a whole lot of Georgian herbs. Give a dude his due! $11
Vegetarian’s answer to shashlikRoasted vegetables served with vegetarian satsivi (Georgian walnut sauce.) $10 add $2 for vegetarian chicken