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Aug 8, 2010 10:22 PM

REVIEW: Rasputin International Grocery, Encino

I was headed out to the in-laws' house in Calabasas, and it was late, and I was starving, and I wanted Middle Eastern food. I figured I'd go hit up Itzik Hagadol, but when I got there I realised I couldn't take the leftovers of their huge portions with me (my father-in-law keeps a strictly vegetarian house).

Alcazar still hasn't opened after the fixing-up, though they're close.

I'd already fed the meter and was exploring the plaza, desperately trying to ignore the Chili's sign across the street, when my eyes lit on the word "гастроном". Without even translating it, I started to hunger for Russian food. As I entered, I noticed a sign on the automatic door that said (translating from Russian), "The door opens automatically for nice people."

The service? Unbelievably kind. I was given samples of red borshch, green borshch, okroshka (cold vegetable soup with kvass, a slightly fermented liquor made from bread), solyanka (mushrooms, in this case), and ukha (fish soup). While my not-fluent-anymore Russian was more useful than English, non-Russian speakers won't have a problem.

I eventually decided on a chicken cutlet (small enough that there wouldn't be leftovers), fried potatoes, and green borshch. Smiles all round, helpful people; people who are justifiably proud of their food.

The cutlet, even reheated in their microwave, was juicy, tender, and just a little bit springy; the fried potatoes had that "grandma" taste that comes from butter, dill and parsley; I wanted more of both.

The zelyonii (green) borshch I ate cold with a drizzle of smetana (Russian sour cream, which is closer to Mexican crema than regular American sour cream); it had hard-boiled eggs and tiny cubes of potato mixed in with the sorrel; very refreshing, and it was as good hot as cold.

I also bought two packages of Popkoff brand frozen vareniki, one filled with sweetened tvorog (what the Germans would call quark) and one filled with sour cherries. They have frozen sour cherries as well, in 250g packages, which I was very tempted to buy. Boiled until they floated and then eaten with the included kirsch syrup and another drizzle of smetana, it was a perfect dessert.

The place reminded me of my favorite little deli down here in OC, Moscow Deli, but without the sausage sandwiches that make Moscow Deli such a destination. It's well worth going and I intend to hit it up next time I need to make Russian food in the Valley.

Rasputin International Grocery, 17159 Ventura Blvd. (same plaza as Itzik Hagadol and Alcazar), Encino; (818) 905-7557.

Rasputin International Food Company
17159 Ventura Blvd, Encino, CA 91316

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  1. Sweet I'm in the area for work this week. Will hit it up along with CiCi's and Itzik. Really have not had good Russian fod before so exited.

    2 Replies
    1. re: chris2269

      Bear in mind that it's a grocery store. They'll heat your food for you, but this ain't a restaurant. You can eat at the tables in the courtyard (just don't go past the barrier for the Red Square restaurant).

      Red Square
      17209 Ventura Blvd, Encino, CA 91316

      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        totally cool I'll be in a hotel for 4 days with a microwave

    2. I discovered this market a month or two ago when I had a wait for Hirosuke to open. It is a delightful little market, with good produce (for far less than the local supermarkets) and a lot of unique items. This will become my go-to place for caviar, and I plan on sampling some items from the deli case.

      FYI, I'm pretty certain that Alcazar in Encino is closed for good. During the same visit that I discovered Rasputin, there was a sign on the door at Alcazar thanking people for their patronage and referring everyone to Alcazar Express in Westwood. And the website no longer lists the Encino restaurant. It really is a shame to lose such a great restaurant.

      1. So they don't have Sausage sandwiches. Do they have Sausages at all for sale?

        2 Replies
        1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

          In this old thread about the market, there is a mention of sausage.

          I don't recall seeing them, but I know they have a pretty good deli case with smoked fish and other items. The phone number is (818) 905-7557, so you could give them a call.

          1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

            They do—dozens of kinds—and they are happy to give you samples in order to help you make up your mind. They also have an astoundingly delicious makoviy rulyet (poppy-seed roll).

            There was a banner on Alcazar trumpeting the reopening, but there was still work to be done.

          2. Just out of curiousity, why would anyone want to name a grocery after Rasputin? Or is that also a common name there?

            (Had to ask. We were in Russia several years ago and in the building where they atttempted to kill him.)

            Have never heard of green borshch - what's it made from?

            6 Replies
            1. re: Joani Macaroni

              It's sorrel soup with hard-cooked eggs and potatoes.

              1. re: Joani Macaroni

                A bit off topic but many Russians don't consider Rasputin the villain that he is portrayed as over here.

                1. re: ebethsdad

                  did you know that rasputin's daughter lived in the silver lake area for many years? i think that she died in the 70's. attended the russian orthodox church on micheltorena and was friends with my mom.

                  1. re: justanotherpenguin

                    This is probably a good time to bring up your find / review of Bazaar Market on Reseda Blvd. in Tarzana again since this thread is concentrating on Russian food in the SFV (and that recommendation sort of sunk quickly without receiving much play here).


                    Bazaar Market
                    6022 Reseda Blvd, Tarzana, CA

                  1. re: Joani Macaroni

                    This grocery store will never die...

                  2. Yes, this is a great place. We stumbled in there a couple of months ago, looking for some dessert to take home for later after stuffing ourselves on the salads at Itzhik Hagadol. It is as you describe. Maybe the deli and baked goods are not quite as refined as those at our favorite, Royal Gourmet next door to Traktir in West Hollywood, but it was all pretty swell, and that poppy seed roll is indeed wonderful.

                    Has anyone eaten at Red Square?

                    8151 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90046