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Feb 9, 2011 06:19 AM

fine caviar, sturgeon, interesting smoked/cured salmon, pelmeni, stuffed cabbage...

Cooking a Russian dinner.
Anybody have good sources for any of the above?

Also, recommendations for Russian desserts...

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  1. The Richmond's the epicenter. Are you in SF?

    Europa Express
    1342 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

    Cinderella Bakery
    436 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94118

    5801 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA

    New World Market
    5641 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

    Europa Express 2
    728 La Playa St, San Francisco, CA

    European Food
    3038 Clement St, San Francisco, CA

    Moscow & Tbilisi Bakery Store
    5540 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA

    Royal Market & Bakery
    5335 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA

    17 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Yes, I'm in SF.
      I've been to one of those, pretty sure it's European food.
      they have stuffed cabbage that tastes exactly like my grandmother's.
      I was planning on an investigative trip there to see what else, I'm guessing they'll have good pelmeni as well.

      Are any of those a good source for caviar?
      I'll want some fine quality stuff for a caviar/blinis course, then a bunch more cheaper stuff to use in other places in the meal....

      1. re: pauliface

        You could ask at those Richmond places. You can get top-quality flying fish and salmon roe at Japanese markets.

        Has Tsar Nicoulai reopened at its new location yet?

        Tsar Nicoulai Caviar
        1 Ferry, Bldg San Francisco, CA

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I have a great Japanese place (Tokyo Fish Market, east bay) where I'm going to pick up my salmon to make gravlax. But the flying fish and salmon roe, I think, won't quite work for a Russian themed dinner.

          I bet the Richmond places have the less expensive stuff, which I'll need. And who knows, maybe one of them carries the good stuff too...

          Tsar Nicoulai is where I went last time I needed caviar -- and they also had a nice blini mix, I'll have to work from scratch this time.. Just got "The Russian Tea Room Cookbook" (out of print) in the mail and looks like I am good to go!

          1. re: pauliface

            Salmon roe won't work for a Russian themed dinner? I spent years working with a large number of relatively recent Russian emigrants. Salmon roe was one of the great favorites.

            1. re: wally

              Okay so maybe I'm wrong -- still researching.

              Most russian food I've had uses smaller size eggs.
              I'm thinking (I think) pollack, whitefish, paddlefish, etc...
              And I also think there are some prepared caviar salads that I'll be able to find at those places that Robert Lauriston suggested.

              1. re: pauliface

                Things may have changed after they moved here, these were recent immigrants not the White Russians that used to live in the Richmond District.
                By the way, on desserts, if they didn't have anything from Brighton Beach (friend coming out from there or fed ex), It was always meringue and buttercream, mad with dozens of eggs and pounds of butter.

                1. re: wally

                  I'm thinking of trying my hand at a pavlova for dessert, if nothing pre-made sings to me (yes I know it's supposed to be australian but I"m being very liberal with my interpretation here)

                  1. re: pauliface

                    nothing wrong with pavlova, only this is not served for "maslenitsa" (russian mardi gras). my grandma used to make individual ones she called "baisers" (kisses in french - the meringues do look like very large Hershey kisses); sandwich 2 of those with whipped cream in between, let sit for a few hours to soften the meringue, and garnish with strawberries if you like.

                    please don't serve flying fish roe. bleeeech... not with bliny ... my grandma would have thrown you out. if you can't afford the real stuff, buy nice salmon roe and make sure they let you taste. i've bought packaged roe that was disprespectfully crushed (probably during repackaging while it was still frozen); we ended up with a slimy slurry. good luck!

                    1. re: kz59

                      Well, for dessert I've settled on two. I'm going to make a Sacher Torte, for chocolate. It's not Russian, but it's in the RTR cookbook, and so more Russian than the chocolate cake I usually make. And the birthday boy requires chocolate.

                      Second, I'm going to get a Napolean cake from Cinderella bakery. As I wrote below, it's just incredible.

                      For caviar: I'm planning on having 3-4 small blini each with a different kind of black caviar for first course. I understand what you are saying, but there are 11 for dinner and it is a matter of expense. I'll simply have to have a progression from worst to best. I think the black tobiko is okay for #1 (lowest quality).

                      And, yes, part of why I bought some stuff last week was for research so I could taste. The only place I'd buy from without tasting first would be Tsar Nicolai, because I know they are highest quality.

                      I will do salmon roe, and I have a good source (highest grade from New World Market, I tried it). But this will be served in the second course on black bread with butter, along with other salads and smoked fish.

                      New World Market
                      5641 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

                        1. re: Windy

                          I'll try! The suggested theme for decor is the ice palace from Dr. Zhivago. White fake fur tablecloth, here I come.

                      1. re: kz59

                        "Don't yuck my yum." :) I love flying fish roe! Sorry, g-ma.

                  2. re: pauliface

                    Just buy enough vodka and sour cream. No one will complain.

                    Cinderella has good pelmeni. Generally I'm a fan of New World, especially the pickles. The best whitefish salad in the city is at Bi-Rite.

                    As noted elsewhere, Europa Express on Irving has hearty home-baked brown bread.

                    Russian Family restaurant in San Bruno has a bakery, but I've only had dinner and haven't tried the desserts.

                    I agree with wally that salmon roe will make everyone happy.

                    Europa Express
                    1342 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

                    Russian Family Restaurant
                    719 Camino Plz, San Bruno, CA 94066

                    1. re: Windy

                      Thanks, a lot of great and specific info here.
                      I'm gonna hit all those places except in San Bruno.

                      And while salmon roe may work for many, I happen to know that the birthday boy does not like the stuff, so it's probably out.

                    2. re: pauliface

                      Japanese salmon roe has a different flavor, it's cured a little differently. You will find 4-5 grades of salmon roe at New World or European Food. You can also get black caviar in bulk at European Food, ask at the counter. Still expensive but much less than Tsar Nicolai. I can't remember what other fish roe they have...

                      1. re: Armoise

                        Aha! Maybe that's the difference (how it's cured)

                        I'm gonna head to those two on Saturday and check out what they've got.
                        Plus, if they've got black caviar at lower prices I'll be happy. :-)

              2. re: pauliface

                How about Bevmo for caviar? Just wondering if those in their locked fridges are worth trying ..

            2. If you're on the Peninsula:

              Samovar Deli & Catering and Oakmont Produce Market are the places I go when I'm looking for Russian/East European foodstuffs. Oakmont is mostly produce and Russian goods; alot of the items are labeled in Cyrillic, so get help if you need it.

              Samovar Deli & Bakery
              1077 Independence Ave, Mountain View, CA

              Oakmont Produce Market
              19944 Homestead Rd, Cupertino, CA

              1 Reply
              1. re: mhuang

                Another good south bay resource for Russian goods is Winmart in Sunnyvale.

                833 W El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087

              2. Speaking of which, are there any restaurants around here where you can pig out on cold smoked and pickled fish? I'm not thinking of what you'd get at Bar Crudo or the French raw platter at Zuni, more like Scandinavian smorgasbord.

                Zuni Cafe
                1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                Bar Crudo
                655 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

                6 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  If you make friends with my buddy by next weekend maybe you can get invited to his birthday party.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Not a restaurant, but the best and possibly least expensive smoked/cured fish I've had is from La Bedaine. Right now he has mackerel ($4) as well as trout ($8), sold with pickled carrots and I think shredded fennel.

                    La Bedaine
                    1585 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94706

                    1. re: Windy

                      Whoa! Thanks for this. I work not far from there and will certainly check them out.

                      1. re: Windy

                        Just checked out La Bedaine. What a lovely little store. I picked up some herring, trout, lox, and beet salad (all house made) and will be trying them this weekend.

                        La Bedaine
                        1585 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94706

                        1. re: pauliface

                          Beet salad was another favorite of my associates.

                          1. re: pauliface

                            It's a gem. Worth sitting in Bay Bridge toll plaza for good.

                            I'm still working my way through my latest batch. Sunday: rabbit in mustard sauce.

                      2. Howdy pauliface,

                        The bar at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants has partially filled the void left by the departure of Tsar Nicoulai. Back in December, I enjoyed a flight of French Champagnes and caviars there. You might consider tasting a few caviars to see what works for you, have them source your favorite(s) and pick up a few bottles of bubbly.

                        Maybe the best homework assignment ever.

                        edited to add: the toast and accompaniments were pretty good. Maybe worth copying if you haven't gone down this road before.

                        Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant
                        1 Ferry Bldg # 23, San Francisco, CA

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: steve h.

                          You are an evil person :) That sounds fantastic. I also like caviar (maybe even better?) with martinis.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Ice-cold vodka and caviar go well together. Champagne, too.

                            Bar at the Wine Merchants is a decent place for wine and people watching. You can bring your own food or order off the short menu. They source most (all?) items from their peers in the Ferry Plaza. Been going there for years. Definitely not fancy. Give it a shot if you feel like hanging out for an hour or so.

                            1. re: steve h.

                              Oops, should have been sacriligious and said vodka "martinis." Don't have an SF trip planned anytime soon but will definitely check it out. BTW, I referenced Bar Crudo on another SF thread.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Best martinis I've had recently in San Francisco were at the copper-topped bar at Cotogna. It's always a good sign when your barkeep has a martini tatt (a life-size classic double martini) on his inside forearm. Gin and vermouth never tasted so good.

                                490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                        2. Update!

                          I've done some research and taste testing based on Robert Lauriston's wonderful list, and Windy's excellent recommendations based on those...

                          Sour Cream:
                          -- New World had 3 kinds, we tried two. The 'canadian' and regular styles that they load into containers from a vat. We liked both. 'regular' is thicker and less sweet, almost starts heading toward a fromage blanc. The 'canadian' is more like we expect of a sour cream, but delicious. I'll be using it for pelmeni, blinis/caviar, etc.

                          -- we taste tested Cinderella (home-made) vs New World vs European food.
                          -- clear winner was cinderella (wendi's recommendation)
                          -- note also, for the soup we thought swanson chicken broth was just fine.
                          -- served with canadian sour cream (see above)
                          -- served also with mustard sauce from Russian Tea Room cookbook

                          New World has the Nemirov brand Spiced Russian Vodka

                          Pickles -- Wendi recommend New World's pickles. tried the full-sour cucumber pickles. Best pickle I've had since moving to San Francisco. Reminds of the pickles from Squire Restaurant in Great Neck in the 70's. Perfect.

                          Brown Bread -- tried stuff from New World recommended by crazy Russian Customer Guy. Sliced, prepackaged. Great stuff. Perfect for chopped liver, smoked fish, butter and red caviar.

                          Chopped liver: European Foods by a mile. Just like my grandma's. Tried New World, too strong not good.

                          Beet Salad: close call, but Cinderella's beats New World

                          Russian Potato Salad: New World's beats Cinderella's "Salad Olivie"

                          Red Caviar:
                          -- You were all right, the red salmon stuff is great. Got the highest grade from New World, and this stuff is great on black bread with butter.

                          Black Caviar:
                          -- all the black ones go better on blinis with sour cream.
                          -- Black Tobiko from Toyko Fish Market (berkeley). Nice. Tiny and crunchy
                          -- Black caviar (cheaper version) from in the deli case at New World (about $17 for maybe 4 oz). Serviceable, nice texture, not very flavorful
                          -- Black Caviar, expensive in freezer at New World -- they wanted to sell met this but it was like $80 per 2-4 oz, and was all frozen and weird looking, did not try
                          -- Black Caviar from European -- they had a bunch of stuff in the little packages in a fridge, but the woman behind the counter gave me a hard sell on their $250/pound, buy what you want by weight, sturgeon roe. I tried a little bit and took it home, but it's not worth using, slightly ammoniac taste.
                          -- Net result: I'll use the black tobiko, and the packaged from New World. Neither of these ranks as fine black cavair though. I'll likely turn to Tsar Nicolai or check out California Caviar to get 1 or 2 really nice ones.

                          -- Russian Tea Room recipe, made from scratch. Perfect.

                          Napoleon Cake -- from Cinderella's. Put it this way. I was not really considering this for the party, but we got a small piece to try. I do remember opening the package and two of us being at the ready with two forks. The next thing I remember is coming out of a frenzy 2 minutes later surrounded by crumbs next to an empty package. I don't remember what happened in between.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: pauliface

                            Pauliface, thanks for the report back. Sounds like a great spread.

                            And no wonder I love the half-sour pickles at New World: my family ate an awful lot of dinners at Squire's in Great Neck when I was little.

                            I had to look it up, and here's this 10-year-old Chowhound post:

                            1. re: Windy

                              Squire's also had the best cole slaw. The cole slaw and pickles were in bowls on the table when you sat down, to take the edge off until you had a chance to order...

                            2. re: pauliface

                              What an amazing write-up. But I feel so sorry for you that you had to do all that tasting :) I've saved this.