307 E. 5th St.
Austin, TX 78701
Happy Hour: 4:30pm-7pm
Sat-Sun Brunch: 9am-2pm
One of the more consistent knocks against Austin dining has been its lack of ethnic diversity in the culinary scene. And no, Tex-Mex does not count on this front. But we’re here today at The Russian House at East 5th and Trinity. Owners Vladamir and his wife Varda are the real deal. Both are Russian transports, and they’ve brought to Austin a much-needed infusion of Russian life and cuisine. Many Americans know little about Russian culture except perhaps for what they’ve seen in James Bond movies. It’s time we all took a second look.
The Russian House is a fun, tasty, and occasionally raucous dining and drinking establishment where dozens of vodkas flow along with authentic offerings from the kitchen. My own experience with Russian food has been limited to several trips to the Russian Tea Room in New York and private dinners with friends. But after several visits, I must say that I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve tasted here at the Russian House.
The Classical Julienne is a great appetizer initiated of course with a shot of vodka. The wild mushrooms baked in a sour cream sauce are very tasty and the flavors linger on the back of your palate. The Russian Blini (or crêpes to we Texans) is a light and ancient Russian dish. I tried the salmon blini, and it was stellar. Beautiful texture (almost gossamer thin crepes) and subtle, lovely flavors. Another appetizer that digs deep into the culinary history of the Ukraine is the Salo, which is essentially cured and salted lard with caraway seeds and garlic. Doesn’t sound like your cup of tea? I was equally cautious until I tasted it. Kind of like a Chicharrón without the deep-frying. And always served cold. The famous Pirozhki was good but not great as the buns were a bit on the stale side, thus detracting from the ingredients within.
The entrees at the Russian House run the gamut from festive and hearty soups to savory meat and cabbage dishes along with, of course, fish. The famous Borsch, a Ukranian soup with the beet at its core is exceptionally flavorful and finished with a dollop of sour cream. Then we tried the Golubsty, a hearty cabbage dish stuffed with beef, pork and rice. Reminds me of a stuffed cabbage dish my Hungarian grandmother used to make.
I went nuts over the Lamb Shank in sweet and sour sauce. The lamb was fall-off-the-bone tender and the sauce was exquisite. The sweet and sour description does not really do it justice. The housemade Pelmini is a simple dumpling dish made with minced meat and a herb butter sauce. Russian Ravioli? Probably the closest analogy I can draw but the taste was excellent.
There’s another thing that Americans will have to get used at the Russian House. Most of us who have had Beef Stroganoff, for example, are used to having it served over noodles with a sour cream sauce. The Russian house serves it as they do in Russia: with truffle cream, and mashed potatoes or buckwheat instead of noodles. Is it not good? No, just different. Took me a while to get used to it. But now I’m a fan. Another dish that may take some getting used is the Ukah. This was said to the the Tzar’s favorite meal. It’s made of rooster, small fishes, crawfish, sturgeon, and perch. Served like a soup/stew, this one too will grow on you.
Some say that the word vodka comes from the Russian word for water. Whatever, they sure have plenty at the Russian House. In fact, the Russian House has a vodka club which I would highly recommend you join. I also highly recommend a visit to this cool restaurant for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch.