When Salt and Bread opened a couple of years ago in Taipei, the excitement raised by the introduction of a new kind of cuisine quickly dimmed with the realization that the place is about as Russian as Sarah Palin.
Now there’s a real Russian restaurant in Taipei, and it’s so new that it doesn’t even have an official English name.
The tiny restaurant on Jihe Road (基河路) near the Shilin night market is for the time being known as “Russian Kvass” because its cook, Oleg Feklinov, sold kvass, a beverage brewed from rye with a mild beer flavor but little to no alcohol content, before opening his first restaurant two months ago. Kvass is on the menu and diners can get a glass for NT$55 or a pitcher to take away for NT$250.
Russian Kvass is true to the peasant traditions of Russian cuisine, offering borsch, mashed potatoes and meat gravy, salmon-filled pancakes and other staples. It aims to introduce authentic Russian food to Taiwan while providing a comfortable retreat near a popular nightspot, and it does so at affordable prices.
Savory pancakes are one of Kvass’ signature dishes. The restaurant serves chicken, mushroom and rice-filled pancakes (NT$50) with a side of dill pickle-and-sour cream relish. The salmon pancake (NT$90) is another treat, and for the more extravagant a caviar pancake (NT$160) can be washed down with a swig of kvass. There are also sweet pancakes with banana and chocolate (NT$50) or fruit (NT$45).
On a visit last weekend, a bowl of borsch (NT$65) containing beef, beetroot and a dollop of sour cream was ready in minutes. However, with sometimes only one person (Feklinov) acting as cook, waiter and cashier, the service, especially if you order a pancake, can be slow. Fortunately this provides an opportunity to imbibe a couple of Taiwan (NT$45) or Belgian beers (NT$150) while enjoying the Russian music on the radio.
And it’s worth the wait. Most of the food is made fresh — the beetroot salad with walnuts (NT$45) was particularly good — with only the mashed potatoes with beef (NT$50) and borsch prepared ahead of time. The service is friendly, and Feklinov is willing to explain the background of the dishes on the menu in Chinese to customers.
Russian Kvass is a small operation. A half-dozen people nearly fill up the main dining room and overwhelm the skeleton staff. The lighting is dim, the music on low volume, and a wide-open door gives diners a view of an alleyway. Feklinov says that next month he will start opening from 11am to 2pm for lunch.
Address: 1F, 28-1, Room B, Xiaoxi St, Shilin Dist, Taipei City (台北市士林區小西街28-1 B室)
Telephone: (02) 2881-6608 Open: 5pm to 11pm Average meal: NT$100 to NT$200
Details: Chinese and English menu; credit cards not accepted
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