This past week, my husband was participating in the Steans Institute for Young Artists jazz program at Ravinia, so my parents and I headed up to Chicago to see him over the weekend. We had a great time...and I thought I would share some of the culinary highlights here. There was one restaurant in particular, called Russian Tea Time, that just made the trip for me. My mother's family is Polish, and although the cuisine is different, there are certainly similar flavors in Polish and Russian cooking. For that reason, we were all just reeling from the cabbage and beets and potato dumplings...it was so good and very reminiscent of some of our family favorites.
We started out the right way - with vodka shots. They serve them ICY cold with a piece of black bread, a slice of pickle, and very specific instructions on how to take the shots. I won't go into all the details (it is on their website), but they were the best shots I have ever had. With over 60 different vodkas to choose from, it was a lot of fun, and something you could do all night if you were up for it. Among those tasted at our table were the house-flavored Stoli coriander, lime, horseradish, ginger, and black currant tea (pictured below).
Then, I warmed up with a cup of Ukranian borscht, which is very different from the cold beet-based variety that I was expecting. It was a delectable vegetable stew of beets, cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes, served with just a little bit of sour cream. The vegetables were chunky and substantial, and the flavors were robust with Ukranian goodness. As good as it was, I can't lie - it didn't compare with the vodka. After that, my mom and I split a combination of potato and pumpkin vareniky, which are half-moon shaped dumplings (similar to pierogis) that are boiled. The pumpkin dumplings were filled with a mixture of pumpkin, farmer's cheese, garlic, onion, and then sauteed lightly in a cinnamon butter; the potato had a very simple potato filling and were also sauteed lightly with butter. We also split a kartofelnik, which is a baked potato patty that was stuffed with cabbage, onions, and mushrooms...ohhh...it was good. My dad had golbtsi, which is a traditional stuffed cabbage with ground beef and vegetables. My mom used to make a similar dish for us when I was younger, so I think I might try to come up with a vegetarian version sometime soon. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of any of the entrees - we just dug right in and devoured everything in a frenzy before we knew it. I think I even might have blacked out.
Considering the restaurant is named Russian Tea Time, we had to get tea and their pastry sampler after dinner. I had the house Russian tea, which is a combination of ceylon, darjeeling, and black currant teas, served in the glass on the left. It was delicious - a perfect end to the meal - and it helped that the wait staff was constantly keeping it warm and filling it to the top. My mom ordered a pot of the citron green, which was served in a super-cute English teapot. We sat for a while, sipping our tea, and noshing on cookies and pastries until we had reached our absolute maximum intake levels - it was fabulous.Although I don't think much can compare to the experience we had at Russian Tea Time, I did have a really spectacular brunch on my way out of town on Sunday at Wishbone in the West Loop area. They describe their style of food as "southern reconstruction cooking," and they had a wide selection of appetizing and affordable selections on their brunch menu. I got the Corn Cakes, pictured here, which were soft and fluffy cornmeal pancakes with fresh corn and scallions baked into the batter. They were served with a sweet red pepper sauce which complimented it really nicely. The cheese grits that my husband ordered were really fantastic as well, obviously made with a lot of great-tasting, sharp cheddar cheese. Being from North Carolina, grits are a breakfast staple that we don't see much of in Indiana.