Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cinderella Story

After watching Nick and Norah for the millionth time and watching plate after plate of Ukranian food get eaten at Veselka, I decided that it was about time I hunkered down and explored my very own neighborhood.

Yes, the Richmond is largely Chinese, but there are seriously just as many Russians up in there. When I first moved there, one of my roommates and I randomly picked up some pastries from a bakery near our apartment. Not knowing what to get, we just randomly pointed and somehow managed to get something similar to an apple turnover. Maybe it was an apple turnover and we just thought it was supposed to be Russian. I don't remember. Regardless, that experience pretty much left no desire to venture down that route much longer. I dabbled here and there over the years with my close attempt (but not really) at a pierogi tour of nyc and a visit to Crixa, but that was really it.

With this newfound curiosity, I turned to the interwebs to do a little research (and no, I don't mean yelp). Among the many options on and around Geary, Katia's and it's kitty-corner competition, Cinderella Bakery, were to be my first tries. Both locations are sit-down restaurants, but since Cinderella also had a side bakery, Stacy and I picked a few things up then walked a few feet to get ridiculously fed at Katia's. There were so many things we wanted to try, so we did the most logical thing: ordered all of them. We thought we were going to have lots of leftovers, but the portions were small enough that there wasn't anything to bring home. So much for being healthy! Here's what we had:

- borscht: OMG out of this world. I would return solely for this. Such deep flavor... it really is the solution to a cold night
- cabbage piroshki: small, nice flaky crust...not too out of the ordinary
- pel'meni: little, really little, dumplings in broth, these really tasted just like won ton, except 10x more expensive
- blini platter: I've never had any blini before, but I had always imagined them in the canape form, much like the kind we always see on Top Chef. Well, heh. Not quite. Pretty much a cross between crepes and pancakes, filled with sour cream and fishy goodness.
- shashlik: really tender marinated lamb. This dish was pretty tasty (a bit on the sour side) at first, until I realized that it tasted exactly like black bean stir fry, except 3x more expensive. No joke!

The service was really great, which I'm sure would've still been the case even if the restaurant was more full. I read that Katia always greets her diners, and she did, and was very warm and chatted with us for awhile. The food wasn't as hearty as I had imagined, but was also way more expensive than I thought it would be. Also, who knew that Russian cuisine could be so similar to their commie neighbor??

Cinderella, on the other hand, had much more reasonable prices (just the bakery/deli). Piroshkis at both places were $2.50-3, but Cinderella's were at least double the size. The fried ones were even bigger, but super greasy. The baked cabbage and meat ones had a generous amount of filling, and a bit more flavor than Katia's. They could really be a meal on their own. The famed honey cake was $4 a slice, and you could see the work that went into the many even layers of light coffee cake and sticky honey cream. This cake was just too much for both me and Stacy... I took a few bites and already felt sick. I can see why people like it though - it's uber rich, creamy, and sweet. What's not to like, right? The vatrushka, a cheesecake-like cottage cheese pastry, was crumbly and dry, which would've gone down better if I had coffee.

I think I like Cinderella's piroshkis better than Katia's, which is largely due to the value. So far, so good!

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