Renata's Bakery & Cafe Caucasian Russian Tarragon soda
You see Renatas long sweetbread poppy seed rolls at many Bay Area markets.
It turns out that Renatas has a café and bakery in San Jose that serves Russian soups, snacks and pastries. There are some Caucasian Russian dishes from Russias Georgian region.
Out of the three Russian cafes Ive tried in the area, Renatas is way above the rest and has a loyal following by Russians. From what I understand, quite a few Polish people stop in for the dill flavored stuffed cabbage ($2). I know I always take one home with me.
The owner is Armenian and went to college in Russian Georgia. He said that Armenia borders Russia and some of the cuisine is similar.
There is a bakery case with cakes, pastries and éclairs. Of course there are the poppy seed rolls which also come in walnut, apricot and prune varieties.
Renatas cakes are more elegant than the usual Bay Area heavy Russian cakes that will clog your arteries if you just look at them. Renatas cakes are layered like Napoleons. On my last visit there was a Napoleon cake that was topped by a thick layer of chocolate like a Boston cream pie. A Russian woman tried a piece, stopped mid bite and said this is very, very good. She then ordered one for a major party. I get diet points for not ordering it on the spot, though I was practically drooling.
I have had most of the soups and some appetizers. The piroskis were the winners in my South Bay piroski crawl. Food sells out early on the weekends.
There are tarragon, pomegranate and pear-apple sodas imported from Armenia. The brand name is Gazoz. The tarragon soda is a pretty Jell-O lime green and has a pleasant herby smell and faintly herby taste. I havent tried the lovely red pomegranate or pear-apple sodas yet.
The owner did try to talk me out of buying Kbac Kvas, a dark brown molasses colored soda from Russia. It in fact does have molasses in it as well as coffee powder, chicory root extract, St. Johns bread extract, prune juice, carbonated water and the usual sweeteners and preservatives. I would say it is an acquired taste, a VERY acquired taste and I can see why the owner hesitated before selling it to me. No on in the house wanted it after a sip and we tossed it. Something that tastes that way and has all those ingredients must be healthy though. There has to be some saving grace.
Stalyanka was my favorite soup described on the menu as consisting of small pieces of ham, beef, sausage, pickles, tomatoes, and different spices. It came with small package of fresh dill and chopped black olives. I inhaled the soup, smoky from the sausage with a little sour pickle taste. All ingredients are finely chopped. I had this soup at a different Russian café and it was tasteless. .
Klarcho is described as a hot soup coming from the Caucasian region made with Georgian spices, onions, rice and lamb. I liked the thin tomato based broth with cubes of tender lamb. It is a light soup.
The Borscht is a version with tender cubes of beef and finely shredded cabbage and beets which had the texture of a slaw. There were little pieces of beet greens. There were also a few big chunks of potato. It was good, maybe a little to fatty for me. I prefer the beet only version
Kachapuri is a traditional Georgian cheese filled puff pastry. There is a mixture of a sharp hard cheese with a curd like farmers cheese. It was wonderful when micro waved which brings out the flaky butteriness in the pastry with the warm cheese oozing in each bit.
Adjap-Sandal is Russian Ratatouille. It is described as sautéed eggplant with oriental spices, green peppers, tomatoes and other secret ingredients. Traditionally served cold, but if you catch the kitchen just right it is hot. On my last visit it was hot from the kitchen and all the Russians at the café were ordering it served with thin slices of brown bread. It was very nice with a little spicy heat and more character than ratatouille. The owners son said not to heat it, but I liked it a lot more micro waved. It was very much a comfort food warm.
Not all dishes on the menu are available because the owner said there isnt enough interest to justify the expensive ingredients. What they do have regularly in addition to the above dishes is as follows:
BTW, this is a very Asian area with Mitsuwa market down the street. So the Russian dumplings get described on the menu as pot stickers.
Olive salad made of potatoes, green onions, pickles, mayonnaise, peas, eggs and carrots.
Vinigret Salad made of beets, green onions, potatoes, red beans, and pickles.
Eggplant stuffed with walnuts and herbs.
Eggplant with garlic, Tbilisi style sautéed with Oriental spices.
Pelmeni, the Russian pot stickers
Khinkali described as pot stickers similar to pelmeni, but large and with many different spices.
Chebureki Ground meat with onions and herbs in a deep fried shell.
Dolmas must be the Armenian influence.
The Okrosha, a cold soup with yogurt, potatoes and cucumbers is only available in the summer.
Renetas sour cream cake which is a layered cake with sour cream and walnut filling.
Ptichie Moloko ((bird milk) cake, a Russian white crème cake covered with chocolate. This must have been the cake I mentioned earlier birds milk?
Ideal cake a European crème cake
Cigars are pastry rolls with minced walnut filling
Pahlava Middle Eastern puff pastry with honey, raisins and nuts.
It is a shame that many of the delicious dishes on the menu are not made. I would love trying Satcivi (Georgian chicken dish with a sauce of walnuts and herbs), Julian (mushrooms baked with cheese and herbs), chicken or beef schnitzel, Chakapuli (Georgian dish made of tarragon, lamb and green onions) or Cha-khokh-bili (a meat dish from the Caucasian mountains).
This is very much coffee shop décor with 5small tables. A TV broadcasts Russian cable stations. There was a version of what appeared to be Russian Beach Blanket Babylon playing on one visit. It had a Russian cast dressed up as various pop celebrities including a Russian Michael Jackson. One girl, wearing a white tennis outfit, sang Besame Mucho. in Russian while whacking tiny plastic bottles with the racket. A chorus line with tennis rackets backed her up.
I was never found of the poppy seed roll. I like the food at this café. It is not only different, but delicious, fresh and well done. I might give the poppy seed roll another try.
5175 Moorpark Ave
San Jose, CA 95129
Mon Fri 7:30 8:00
Sat 9:00 8:00
Sun 10:00 6:00
Heres a link to recipes for Russian soups which has recipes for some of the soups mentioned.
Have you tried the borscht at Babushka Russian Deli in Walnut Creek? It is made with beets only. They also have stuffed cabbage rolls. Your description of the borscht with cubes of beef, cabbage and potato is what I imagined borscht to be when growing up: my Chinese mom would make this beef broth with cabbage, potato, tomato and cubes of beef which she called "Lo Sung Tang" or Russion soup. So when I tried the borscht at Babushka, I was a little puzzled that there was no beef. Somehow, the Georgian recipe made it to China. This was one of the few beef based soups my mother made.
Babushka Russian Deli & Cafe - 1475 Newell Ave, Walnut Creek, 94595 - (925) 210-0779