Monday, May 29, 2006

You Can Take the Girl out of Eastern Europe...

Happy Memorial Day.

Because our birthdays are exactly a week apart, Mary and I have made it a kind-of-sort-of tradition to go out to dinner together to celebrate both our birthdays at one time. Actually, last year was the first time we did it, but because of that it just seemed natural that we'd do something similar this year.

But where to go? What to eat? Last month when we were driving around Bucktown looking for Yamilett's moving sale, we were heading south down Milwaukee from Belmont when we saw a bunch of Polish shops and restaurants, and decided that might be fun. So after a little research, we decided to check out the dinner buffet at The Red Apple.

Since tomorrow's a work day for Mary, we decided to go on the early side so we agreed to meet at the restaurant at 4:00 so we could wander around a little, maybe browse a couple of the shops, and eat around 5:00. A lot of the shops were closed because of the holiday, but the markets were open. We found all kinds of interesting foods at the market,especially sausages and pickles and about 50 different kinds of mustards. I plan to go back soon for some serious shopping. We stopped to admire the knick-knacks, rosaries, and homages to the Pope in all the windows, then made our way back to the restaurant.

We may have been the only people there not speaking another language. I would imagine everybody else was speaking Polish, but wouldn't want to assume. At any rate, I took that to be a good sign.

The restaurant is relatively small, but the buffet was huge. There were several salad starters, about twenty different kinds of meats, blintzes, pierogis, potato and apple pancakes, and several desserts. The food? In a word: wonderful.

I took small amounts so I could sample as much of a variety as possible. Here's what I had:

Plate 1: a blintz with xx sugar and cinnamon, 1 meat periogi, 1 potato & vegetable pierogi, a stuffed cabbage roll, and a short rib.

The blintz was good, but a little different than the blintzes I grew up with. It was rolled more like a jelly roll than an eggroll, and the pancake was a little thicker and more spongy than I'm used to. But the cheese filling was good. And the unexpected side benefit of the cinnamon was that what was left on the plate ended up getting on the other dishes, and it complemented every one of them. While both pierogis were good, I Iiked the potato more than the meat one. The short rib was a little tough, but flavorful. And the cabbage roll? Just might have been the best thing there. It was the perfect blend of rice, beef, cabbage and tomato, and the spices brought it all together.

Plate 2: Pickled beets, Greek fish salad, ham salad, sauerkraut, polish sausage, meat ball in cream sauce.

Everything on this round totally rocked. The sweet beets packed a horseradish punch that kicked ass. The Greek fish salad, served cold, consisted of chopped stewed tomatoes, maybe some celery or bell peppers and some kind of whitefish and was delicious. The ham salad was julienned ham and peppers in a slight mayonnaise sauce--the peppers and mayonnaise were just there to punctuate the ham. The only negative thing I can say about the sauerkraut and polish sausage is I realized too late that I could have had some mustard with it. The sauerkraut was mild and it went great with the sausage. The meatball tasted exactly the way I thought it would, and the white sauce was perfectly seasoned.

Plate 3: This was the dessert plate. I'm not exactly sure what any of these were, but they were good. I had a pastry that was shaped like a small croissant (but it was definitely not a croissant) that had some kind of fruit preserve in it, but I couldn't tell whether it was apricot or apple. This was my least favorite, and I would definitely pass on it next time. There was another small square that seemed like a dry cheesecake, with a thin layer of chocolate on top. This was good, and not too rich. Next was some kind of fruit bar--I could definitely taste raisins, and maybe dates and/or prunes, in the filling. This was tasty. And last there were little squares of yellow cake with a light brown frosting. The cake tasted like sponge cake. The icing looked like it might be some kind of meringue, but it didn't have the right texture. It was fluffy and not too sweet.

But as good as the desserts were,
they weren't particularly great. Which is actually good news, because it means that next time I can give them a pass and try more of the other stuff. What I had today represents a scant quarter of what was on offer.

Coming from Eastern European peasant Jewish stock, there's something in my soul that sings at the sight of all that heavy, doughy, buttery, meaty fare. That being said, while there was certainly a lot of breaded, fried, and buttered food around, it didn't seem inordinately greasy, and it was possible to make slightly healthier choices. The only color that was not well represented was green. There were no green vegetables, and no salad greens. There was plenty of fresh fruit, though, and a lot of people were loading up their plates with grapefruit halves and watermelon and cantaloupe wedges.

I definitely plan to go back. And there are several friends I plan to drag with me.


misreall said...

The croissant desserty thing was a variation on a kolatchky. There are about a million different kinds in the Chicago area, too bad you ran into one you didn't like.

Deb-did you see Check Please this week? I really want to get you and the lads together for a trip to La Pena.

dejamo said...

Hmmm . . . it didn't look like any kolatchy I've ever had. But then again, maybe they're different in Texas :) It wasn't bad, it just wasn't enough for me to want more vs. trying more of the savory stuff.

And yep, I'd love to check out La Pena.

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