If there’s one thing the Richmond does right, it’s dumplings. The Avenues are littered with noodle houses and dim sum joints that dish out some of the best in the city. And there’s no better time to enjoy these pillowy pouches than during the seasonal holiday intermission, when we could all use a little break from turkey. But instead of the usual XLB or har gow, I had a hankering for something a little more European.
Walking into Cinderella Bakery & Cafe on Balboa Street and Sixth Avenue is like stepping into the kitchen of the Russian grandma you never had. Unlike any other corner cafe serving c, the 65-year-old Cinderella is like a factory. Equipped with a massive kitchen, what seems like hundreds of Russian bakers walk around, kneading dough, and prepping pastries. The yeasty aroma of rye bread baked daily wafts out of the propped-open back door and down the street. Giant glass cases are full of cakes, pastries, and tarts — but also piles of piroshki with cabbage or beef and potatoes, and rows of croissants made with almonds, chocolates, and raisins. Above the wonderful display of baked goods and behind the coffee counter is a chalkboard with an extensive list of Russian delicacies from shuba (a traditional herring salad) to blinchiki with caviar (Russian-style crepes), plus dishes like borscht and beef stroganoff.
Although Cinderella’s menu would take many visits to explore in full, it’s the boiled dumplings that will keep you coming back. Pelmeni are similar in size and shape to traditional Chinese jiaozi, and at Cinderella, they’re filled with beef and pork, served in a chicken broth with a side of sour cream and sliced rye. Floating in the clean salty broth, these dumplings are soft and savory with a splendid, meaty chew. The other options are the vareniki, filled with either potato, cheese, or cherries. Also served with a side of sour cream, these are similar to pierogis or potstickers, but with a starchier texture. These tasty morsels are not only delicious, but they are the perfect happy-hour snack to enjoy with a beer while sitting on a sunny sidewalk by the park.
Although Maldonado family squabbles at La Victoria left 24th Street without its beloved Mexican bakery, Cinderella owners Mike and Marika Fishman recently announced — and not without some pushback — they’ll be taking over the 3,000-square-foot space, with a wholesale and retail component. I’ve been visiting Cinderella’s first location since moving to San Francisco and thankfully it hasn’t changed a bit. Walking by in the morning just to smell the fluffy fresh loaves can easily cause you to walk home with one under your arm. What can I say? I’m only human.
Cinderella Bakery & Cafe, 436 Balboa St., 415-751-9690 or cinderellabakery.com