Russian House Bday: A Story In Photos

We celebrated my May 1 birthday (and International Workers’ Day) at the Russian House restaurant with some of my favorite people.


Once upon a time…

The restaurant has an extensive gluten-free menu and is very paleo friendly (unless you indulge in the smooth vodka they serve up in alluring little shot glasses and the Staropramen — my favorite Czech beer — they have on tap). The Russian House is the work of restaurateurs chef Vladimir Gribkov and his wife Varda Salkey. They came to the U.S. from Moscow and, after considering New York as a location, found their home here in Austin.

bearJust inside the front door, we were greeted by a bear, who was also guarding an extensive collection of Russian hats, coats, and other costumery. According to this interview with the owners, “Every little detail has been shipped from Russia, ‘from the wallpaper to the very last piece of everything, we did ourselves.'”

diningroomWe ate in a private dining room — such fun! — that’s decorated like a babushka’s parlor: lace tablecloth, nesting dolls, old photographs, and other tchotchkes.

Before we’d even ordered, the waitress — pretty, of course, with an irresistible Russian accent — brought us all shots of smooth vodka and a wooden serving platter of brown bread, salt, sauerkraut, and scallions. She told us it’s traditional to follow the vodka shot with a bite of a little something and encouraged us to eat the bread dipped in salt. Na Zdorov’ye! Vodka down the hatch!

caviarThen we ordered caviar! More instructions: “Spread butter on bread, then caviar, then lemon juice.” Salty, sweet, creamy, cool, chewy… the flavors exploded on the tongue. We also had homemade liver paté and Ukrainian salo: thin slices of room temperature salted lard which we topped with horseradish, thin slices of garlic, and a little mustard and…

oliviersaladOlivier Salad. I’d read about Olivier salad before — a combination of finely diced bologna, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, and carrots in a mayonnaise dressing, topped with peas. The ingredients sounded so unappealing to me, I figured I would either love it or loathe it. I loved it! And I’m going to work on my own, paleo-friendly recipe to share with you. (I also love the 1970s food styling of that bowl of salad so much.)

lambkebabFor my entree, I had the Lula Kebab, very tender lamb grilled over charcoal, with perfectly-cooked rice, a big pile of tangy pickled vegetables (love those paprika peppers!), and adjika sauce, a spicy-hot condiment made from peppers, garlic, and spices. (Yes, I’ll be working on my own version of that, too!) Also on our table: beef stroganoff; a mixed grill of sausage, pork belly, and chicken; and adorable little dumplings, called pelmeni, stuffed with wild boar.

cakeIt’s been ages since I had my very own birthday cake with my name on it! Dave got me this beautiful baby at the Better Bites Bakery, where their cakes, cookies, scones, and more are made without peanuts, gluten, dairy, and artificial colors/preservatives. It was everything I hoped it would be: moist, rich, and super chocolate-y. The frosting… sigh.

cuttingcake1Look how happy the cake made everyone! It inspired me to break into applause.

And then, the best part of the evening…


The end.

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  • LauraPh says:

    Now THAT is how you celebrate a birthday! What a great time you must have had. Happy Birthday!

  • michele b. says:

    What an amazing celebration! Looks like stepping into another time & place…what a treat! The Olivier salad reminds me of the mayonnaisey peas and carrots that my husband’s Danish relatives serve with ham during their incredible luncheons!

  • Tara says:

    Pure awesomeness.

  • JeriO says:

    Such a great celebration! I love the idea that the last picture will be found many, many years from now and people will wonder about it’s story and the people in it…very fun! Happy Birthday!

  • Gaby says:

    What a great way to celebrate your birthday! Salo was my #1 favourite thing in my recent trip to Russia.

  • Lydia says:

    There is nothing not 100% awesome in this post and those pictures. That last one especially is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

  • Happy Belated Birthday!! Looks like you had an amazing night.

  • That is a phenomenal group photo. Seriously, if I could eat caviar every morning for breakfast I’d be the happiest person alive. I like straight up salmon roe, either on a Montreal bagel or piled on my scrambled eggs. Sigh….

  • Mel says:

    Thank you, friends, for the birthday wishes! Next time, we ALL have caviar and icy vodka together 😉

  • Matilda says:

    The group photo of you guys is awesome. I love it.
    Glad you had a great time, the food looks divine, although i’m not sure I could do the caviar.

  • This was such a fun and delicious evening! I was just looking through your site because I was missing you and I’m so happy I stumbled across this write-up. I missed it somehow before.

    • That was a really fun night, and I’m so happy you were there with us. I miss you so much already. You’re just going to have to come visit after you pop that little peanut you’ve got brewing. Love you, pretty face!

  • DashaEstalilla says:

    Omg! So jelly! I am Russian (born and raised there) and Olivier is my , by -far, most favorite food ever. And Borsch. And yes, the longer Olivier sits, the better it becomes. Note: in Russia it is never served with greens, but I get it, they were going for that 70s styling. Oh and Pelmeni!!!!! I wish there is a gluten free version of them…