In my search for international cuisines around Los Angeles, I look for mom-n-pop style restaurants, where I know I'll find authenticity and warmth. But as I focus my spotlight on Russian cuisine, I've made an interesting discovery: the mom-n-pops are difficult to find. In fact, it was explained to me that Russians tend to eat at home and that dining out is reserved for special occasions. And for a special occasion, you can expect to drop some major bucks.
Finally I discovered Kalinka, a Russian teahouse in Encino, that serves breakfast and lunch as well as dinner. Affordably. I also wanted to step back from the Armenian influence and focus more on those regions further north. Kalinka fit the bill on this score as well, so I popped in for lunch.
The beverage of the day was Kvas, which is sort of a near-beer kind of thing that doesn't belong in stemware. It tastes like a partially flat beer with almost no alcohol, about one percent. It is made through a fermentation process involving rye bread, and in addition to being a beverage, kvas is often used for cooking. I didn't care for it much, but I'm betting it's one of those things that if you drank it often, you'd develop a taste for it. And it's easy enough to make at home, so you can tweak it to suit your individual taste.
Since dining at home is the norm, I figured I'd best do the same. I crossed Ventura Boulevard and checked out Rasputin Market to see what I could discover. Hearty breads, meats and lots of pickled herring--lots of pickled everything, in fact.
All of the "borscht belt" references I've heard over the years made me assume that borscht was strictly a kosher item. But then I found a Ukrainian borscht recipe that calls for pork sausage... porcht? I made an enormous pot of it and froze the bulk in pint-sized containers. It's really fine stuff, rich and flavorful:
And then we sleep!