By Pete Kane
By Anna Roth
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
By Max A. Cherney
By Anna Roth
By Alex Hochman
By Anna Roth
The soups were fabulous (house-baked rye bread, dark and light, and sour cream were sweetly included). The borscht had a lovely balance between sweetness and citric tang; the delicate spinach soup boasted a wedge of white-and-gold hard-boiled egg, pretty against the clear broth and green floating leaves; the rassolnik, full of fat barley grains, was earthy, with bits of kidney as well as sharp pickle juice.
Our favorite among the piroshkis was the enormous, greasy fried one stuffed with crumbled beef, and we also enjoyed the flaky-pastried spinach and feta version (both the mushroom and the still-green-and-crispy cabbage seemed a little underseasoned -- a frequent comment on traditional Russian cooking, which is much less spicy than, for example, Georgian food).
San Francisco, CA 94118
Region: Richmond (Inner)
Meat piroshki $2.15
Siberian meat pie $2.50
Pelmeni in broth $8.95
Blini with smoked salmon $6.95
Open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday until 7 p.m. Closed Monday.
Muni: 31, 44
Noise level: low to moderate
The main courses were, uniformly, less interesting than the starters: The slightly gloppy stroganoff was undistinguished, though its sauce was nice on a fluffy mound of kasha (aka buckwheat groats, chosen from a list of five sides, including french fries and rice); the two long cabbage rolls in a fresh tomato sauce were pleasant, but again underseasoned (and the mashed potatoes alongside seemed innocent of dairy); the one slice of leg of lamb had a good lamb flavor, slightly obscured by its surprising topping of creamy sauce, and we loved its boiled new potatoes topped with fresh dill. The coleslaw was first rate, as were the sliced pickles.
The best of the three pastries was the slice of several-layered almond cake, with fragile crumb and suave frosting; the firm pastry of the vatroshka was a little unyielding, and the rum roll, bizarrely, had no flavor of rum at all, "though it's a very good, rich chocolate cake," my mom said.
I yearned for those missing pelmeni, however, which were the first thing I ordered when I returned for lunch in situ with my hungry friend Joyce (and her two-month-old, Violet, who snoozed through the meal). But they weren't the first thing served. That would be the blini with smoked salmon, two large, supple crepes, accompanied by three long strips of the excellent-quality fish, sour cream, and (after I asked) a little pot of feathery snipped fresh dill: divine. As was the fat square of Siberian meat pie we shared, a glossy pastry filled with clear noodles and crumbled beef. And the pelmeni, sturdy beef-filled dumplings with perfect pasta dough (Cinderella also offers veal, chicken, and turkey ones), which came in chicken broth, sprinkled with more fresh dill and served with, yes, more sour cream. (Luckily I never get tired of either; in fact, I think sour cream improves everything it touches.)
For dessert we continued with the boiled dumpling theme: crescent-shaped vareniki, in slightly thicker dough than the almost-translucent pelmeni, stuffed with sweetened farmer's cheese, and served with raspberry jam and sour cream. (Also available: potato vareniki, topped with fried onions, and sour cherry vareniki.)
This was a perfect, perfect, perfect meal. (Joyce said, "I'm coming back!" after her first taste of the blini; when I pointed out that there was considerably more to come, she said she had fallen in love with the place on entering, as I had. And she had wanted to proclaim her inevitable return earlier, after an initial bite of fresh rye bread slathered with butter.)
On the way out, we bagged a square of vatroshka and a kartoshka for Joyce ("Tell me if you taste the rum flavor," I asked her), and a fat little chocolate éclair and a few cookies for me. We were also taking home leftovers from lunch. I scored half a dozen pelmeni, which reheated beautifully in their broth, completely intact, just as I thought they would, despite the wacky earlier warning. (It was as nutty as when a pretentious French chef told me not to reheat my leftover choucroute in a microwave; "I don't have one," I replied, automatically, but then wondered what possible damage could be done to sauerkraut, smoked meat, and sausage, items that seem rather microwave-proof, on consideration.) I only wished I had more of the pelmeni. As I did the lovely simple buttery cookies. The next time I went to Cinderella, I would be taking home a great deal more of both.
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