06 September 2006

From Poland, With Love

I was so charmed by Warszawa that I walked away from dinner wanting to be Polish. The meal was like sinking into a soft feather bed—warm and cozy, while also luxurious and indulgent.

My gentle seduction began with a shot of vodka, which I know sounds contrary, but this was no ordinary vodka. Our waiter swore by it. He said it was something special and gave us a money back guarantee if we weren’t taken by it, too.

I haven’t had straight vodka since college, but this drink was unlike the party shots of my school days. Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka is Polish vodka favored with herb grass, i.e. Bison Grass—the bottle comes with its own blade. Imbibing it was more like experiencing a sensation than drinking alcohol. The clear liquid seemed to vaporize in my mouth, leaving a bracing warmth that rose up my nose and went down my throat. Sipping it through out the meal both cleared and simulated my palate.

I have a thing for Beef Stroganoff. I don’t know why but the combination of beef and mushrooms in a cream sauce is something I can’t say “no” to. I love it even when it’s bad—from a box. I was willing to be taken advantage of when I ordered the dish, so it was no surprise my entrée had its way with me when it arrived at the table. The beef was tender and the sauce, rich and creamy without being heavy. It came with egg dumplings that were as light as air. It was like eating soft, fuffy clouds; they melted in my mouth. With every bite, I sighed with pleasure—this stroganoff was the best I ever had.

Plates were passed around the table and I got a taste of S’s Pierogi and D’s Chicken Schnitzel. The pierogi were a selection that included: white cheese, potato purée, and caramelized onions; wild mushroom and shredded cabbage; chicken and herb with sorrel sauce; and braised beef, carrots, and onion. They were finely made and subtle in favor; unlike pierogi I’d had before which were starch bombs in comparison. I appreciate a good dumpling from any country and these were worthy of high praise. The schnitzel was equally good and well prepared. The chicken was lightly breaded—how I like my breading—and fried just right, making a cutlet that was tender and juicy without being heavy or oily.

S also ordered cold borsht. The soup was a pretty pink that tasted as lovely as it looked—utterly refreshing, too. Its ingredients were a study in contrast and achieved a balance of flavors in a cup. The cucumbers brighten the soup with their crunchy texture, while the chives added sharpness and sour cream finished everything with a slight tang.

Not wanting the pleasure to end, I prolonged the evening by ordering desert. The dessert selection was limited. Two of the 6 were vanilla crêpes, and we got both of them. S and D shared the lemon cheese one that was served hot, and I got the other with strawberries in a cream sauce. The lemon cheese was soft and silky with a touch of tartness that underscored its creamy favor. Warm desserts are soothing, and this one was no exception. My strawberry-filled crêpe was sweet and fresh, a nice, light grace note to end the prefect meal.

It’s a good night when you can walk into a restaurant and have a meal that makes your day. Warszawa was a good night for me—an amazing night, in fact. Not only did I eat well, but I was also transported by the food to another land.

I have a new favorite LA restaurant—a Polish place in Santa Monica!

1414 Lincoln Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA


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