Wednesday, January 13, 2016


So THAT'S what all the fuss is about.  It's been on like, EVERYONE'S hit list for the last year-ish or so, but somehow the menu (combined with some unfortunate Russian preconditioning) was making it hard for me to believe Kachka was all that.  My loss, until now.  All that press is for good reason.

Kachka is a simple dining hall, with deeply striated bare wooden floors and benches, not particularly comfy metal chairs and Russian banners and artifacts hung on the walls.  Our server arrived promptly and enthusiastically to help us figure out the menu, his  pronunciation of the Russian words convincingly accented, despite his plaid-flanneled, blue-blooded American appearance.
"They trained us well", a conscientiousness that applied to everything at this restaurant, from borscht to nuts.

"Will we be drinking?" is the first issue to address, and your answer should be in the affirmative.  Vodka is part of the fun here, although the food holds its own so deftly  that sober consumption has its own merits as well: your call.  

And although we didn't get the borscht (theirs is a lusty concoction bolstered with short ribs, and the menu purports that it's "nothing like the stuff in the jar from the store"),  we got our share of beets in the Herring Under a Fur Coat, a dish that every review of this restaurant raves about.  We couldn't not try it, despite it's sort of unappealing list of ingredients.  How they managed to make herring, potatoes, onions, carrots, mayo and eggs along with those beets into the delicacy that they do is astounding.   There is a cool lusciousness about it, tangy zips from the beets and creamy sweetness from pureed carrots.  The herring element is subtle, adding a funky brininess rather
 than the potential signature fishiness.  Another cold zazuski is the Moldovan eggplant, a tangy compote of the vegetable roasted with prunes and tomatoes, like an oliveless Russian caponata, served with warm triangles of chewy, fresh-baked lavash for scooping up.  It sweet and sour with a flutter of freshness from parsley and mint, fat toasted pinenuts atop for crunch.  It would make a most excellent picnic dish or an accompaniment to cold roast chicken, or here, with a selection of smoked treasures (mussels, steelhead, etc.)  from the Fish Board.    Hot zazuski are heartier: this is where the borsch shows up, as well as a crispy beef tongue.  Kachka doesn't cater to delicate palates, although there have evolved some more concessions to them on the menu than when they opened.  That said, Mushrooms Julienne might sound daintier than they are in execution,
arriving in a scorching clay cauldron cloaked in Litovski cheese- a chewy, stringy relative of Edam that wonderfully enriches the varied assortment of fungus below.  A crispy-chewy lattice of spaghetti-thin julienned potatoes nested the cast iron pan like the soccorat of a perfect
paella underneath juicy, salty mushrooms cloaked in a thin layer of oozy melting cheese: this is what poutine wishes it was.

Dumplings constitute their own section of the menu, served classic or pan-fried, and with a choice of fancy garlic broth.  We skipped straight to mains, choosing Chicken Tsimmes that included dumplings in it so as not to miss out.  A
gargantuan plate of stew it is, the tenderest hunks of stewed poultry, and an avalanche of carrot knobs ample enough to bring any faltering vision back to 20/20 in a snap.  The dumplings themselves ("by way of the shtetl"... the menu itself is very amusing) are toothsome and plush, creating a dish I can't describe any better than they do: "like if your Kentucky grandma were actually KGB."  My grandma wasn't from Kentucky, definitely wasn't KGB and never fixed chicken stew for me at all, so Kachka right then and there endeared itself to me for eternity.  I toiled decide between the pan roasted trout and the rabbit in a clay pot, but since I normally order fish, and I was already SO out of my element here, I rode the tide of novelty and went with the bunny.  I am SO glad I did.  Braised in smetana, a Russian sour cream, it suffered none of the gristly boniness that sometimes afflicts rabbit.  The meat, just gently gamey, fell easily off the bone into rich creamy gravy studded with porcini mushrooms
and tart, dried sour cherries.  Four potato cakes called draniki orbit this deliciousness, elevating the humble tuber from peasant food to a remarkably decadent disc, fried crunchy on the edges, tender and chewy inside, much like those beneath the mushrooms.   I couldn't come close to finishing all four, but they suffered not at all held over a day later, a wonderful accompaniment for eggs scrambled with some of the leftover mushrooms.

I had to save some of the food to eat later, so as to ensure even a modicum of appetite for dessert.  The food was so satisfyingly original to me that I wasn't missing the opportunity for the full experience.  Full I was, already,  but what harm could a little lingonberry parfait do?  It is probably the lightest of the options, discernibly, layering farina mousse with delicately floral rosewater whipped cream with the pureed lingonberries topped with crunchy candied pumpernickel nuggets.  You had to scoop deep to colligate all the elements successfully: the berries on their own were too acerbic.  I might've been happier with sour cherry vareniki or apple ponchiki (so fun to say), or most likely, the Bird's Milk Cake with amaretto and chocolate.... 'cause, you know.  It's Portland.  Put a bird on it.

No reservations for parties smaller than eight, but if your party is of that size, and
"you are running late, please don’t hesitate to call us at 503.235.0059.  Lenin waits for no one!
Team Kachka "

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