To celebrate my 50th birthday in May, my husband David and I joined up with our friend Tillie to visit London, Leeds, and Haworth, the...Read More
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.
Just 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.'”
We 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!
Then 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…
… Olivier 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.)
For 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.
It’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.
And then, the best part of the evening…