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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. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/327551

          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 http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5276... on Reseda Blvd. in Tarzana http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5571... 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

                    1. A friend of mine says that they have awesome and gigantic blintzes stuffed with cheese

                      1. Just down the street at Tampa and Victory in the Loehmans Plaza is International Foods - Russian - which is a gold house of wonderful prepared foods, grocery, bakery. Also not a restaurant but you can eat at little tables. Very sweet people who are anxious to give you tastes.
                        We bought a whole lot of salads and chicken dishes for a picnic last year - guests loved it.
                        The Russians do stuff with chicken that makes it taste outstanding.

                        1. Does Rasputin (the grocery) sell interesting vodka, brandy, or other Russian liquors by chance?

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: hnsbmg

                            Yes, but whether they're interesting to you is a matter for your own discretion. :)

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              I have no discretion, only a weary lust for life ;-), but thanks -- I'll check their stock.

                            2. re: hnsbmg

                              I don't know what you call interesting, but when my mother and I were there last week, we saw some kind of liquor(s) in various firearm shaped glass containers. We did not examine them closely.

                              I did buy some yummy German partially whole grain bread, probably dark rye. The loaves were large and when I told the counter woman I live in a two person household, she cheerfully sold me a half loaf.

                            3. Thank you Das, for starting this thread. I was there is past Sunday, it was also my first time, after strongly recommended by my colleague, who is Russian. I usually go to The Bazaar and Fancy Food Store, both on Reseda,

                              It was Sunday (2pm) and there were only a few customers in the market. I was just like a kid in a toy/candy store when I saw the massive prepared foods on display. I have to restraint myself, lest I bought everything on sight.

                              The following was I got, and all of them were excellent in quality and taste. You can always ask to try it first before deciding to purchase.

                              1. Whole Duck - $25.00 - moist and tasty
                              2. Lamb tongue - $9.99/lb - not gamy at all, light in flavor
                              3. Chicken liver $4.99/lb - soooo aromatic
                              4. Plov - rice and veal (not sure if this Uzbekistan style)- the rice to me is too sticky, the veal w/ bone is just soooooooooooooo good. The Bazaar has a different rendition of this disk, rice and lamb. $6.99/lob
                              5. Beef lula and chicken lula kabob - so fragrant $5.99/lb
                              6. Stuffed Cabbage - I like the way they made them, like meatloaf - $4.99/lb
                              7. White mushroon spread - $5.99/lb

                              They are little bit pricey as compared to the other Russain stores in the Valley, but the quality of their products and the cleanliness of the place, made them all worthwhile.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jotfoodie

                                OK i leave for work in encino tomorrow...can not wait to stock the hotel fridge with Russian goodness. .....:)

                                Plus this is one of my favorite quotes ever.."The Russians do stuff with chicken that makes it taste outstanding."

                              2. Attention DasUbergeek and PayOrPlay:

                                Which Rasputin poppy seed roll do you recommend? I spotted two - one at $4.99 and another at $6.99.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Dogbite Williams

                                  There are individual rolls behind the counter for (I think) $1.99; just ask. The Russian word for poppy seed bun is "makoviy rulyet" (for the big ones) and "makoviy briyosh" (for the small ones). Though I have to say, any of the ones will do you fine.

                                2. Das,
                                  Thanks as always for the wonderful informative reviews. I just cannot say that enough but I will try.

                                  1. I have been shopping at Rasputin for about 2 or so years, and must say, I agree with the service comments, cleanliness, and variety. If you want a large selection of Eastern European or Russian juices, this is the place. It the Bulgarian jarred items are your thing, the selection is huge.
                                    Good produce as well, although I have never gotten anything from the deli. And a large bakery as well.
                                    on the Alcazar front, it will not be reopening, and the one in Westwood will probably close soon as well, as no one seems to be patronizing it.