Dish Review

The borscht whisperer

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The soup at Taste of Ukraine would soothe the palate of even the angriest Cossack

The interior of Taste of Ukraine is nothing like what you’d expect, given the stark, concrete structure that houses it. But while the outside is dated and worn, the inside is beautifully decorated, with flowers and traditional fabrics adding colour and warmth to the surroundings. My wife and I found ourselves seated in an area with a straw pseudo-roof and a fence made of twigs, and were served by a helpful, friendly woman wearing a lovely traditional Ukrainian outfit—but don’t think it was tacky. If anything, Taste of Ukraine is a classy, well-above-average restaurant, perfect for a romantic evening out but still casual enough for a birthday party with a large group of friends (the loud table to our right was, apparently, the latter).

When we arrived on a miserably grey Saturday evening, we were both in the mood for a good glass of beer. For my wife, I recommended a bottle of Obolon ($6.95), a Ukrainian beer that I’d rank amongst my favourite brews from eastern Europe; for myself, I picked a glass of their house draft amber ale ($5.95), which is apparently brewed for them by a local microbrewery. Curious, I asked the server about the “Cossack” serving size, which she described as being noticeably larger than a pint (which, it turns out, it was).

Our server left us with plenty of time to mull over the menu, frequently checking in to see how we were doing. We selected our appetizers quickly enough, choosing a bowl of borscht ($5.95) for myself, and a Hutzul Salad ($6.95, a pleasant-sounding mix of cukes, tomatoes, red and green peppers, onions, feta, olive oil and three seasoned vinegars) for my wife. Borscht, a beet-rich soup that features a variety of other root veggies, is a personal favourite. If they could deliver a good bowl of borscht, I knew I’d walk away with a smile on my face.

Choosing the rest of our meal took us far longer, mostly because at Taste of Ukraine, you have to order your main dish in three parts: the entrée, plus an additional two side dishes. There are lots of options to choose from, which inevitably makes choosing fairly difficult. Do I get the perogies (if yes, what kind?), or do I get the sauerkraut? Maybe both? After much discussion, my wife chose the Dnipro Dream ($15.95), a baked salmon-filled puff pastry with a creamy lemon dill sauce, plus the baked kapusta (sauerkraut) and potatoes in a dill cream sauce as her side dishes. While I was tempted to try the Chicken Kiev, I settled on a dish called Shashlyk ($15.95), which was described as being skewers of seasoned chicken marinated in secret ingredients (Ooooo! Secret!), and slowly grilled to perfection. Since I couldn’t possibly visit a Ukrainian restaurant without trying the perogies, I picked the cheddar-and-potato variety as side dish number one, and cabbage rolls as side dish number two. And with that, our server left us to enjoy both the surroundings and the glasses of delicious beer in front of us.

When the borscht arrived, it was accompanied by a small serving of sour cream and a couple of garlic pampushky (a small, Timbit-sized bun that tasted lightly of garlic). The borscht was excellent, with a hearty mix of grated veggies and that trademark deep purple/red hue cherished by everyone who loves a good bowl of borscht. The seasoning was subtle but perfect, with just enough dill and a balanced mix of sweet and sour flavours. My wife loved her salad, which was almost large enough to qualify as a meal unto itself. The lettuce and veggies were fresh and crisp, and they didn’t skimp on the feta. If this was any indication as to what the rest of the meal was going to be like, we couldn’t wait to get on with the main course.

After a fairly long delay, our plates finally arrived. My wife enthusiastically dug into her salmon, which she absolutely loved. After finishing her giant salad, she had a difficult time finding room for the accompanying sides (both of which she also liked). Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky. My skewers of chicken were slightly undercooked (certainly not “grilled to perfection,” anyway), and the quality of the meat was not all that impressive. While the secret seasoning was nice enough, the chicken was both rubbery and fatty. Thankfully, my sides were better, even though the perogies were a bit too gummy and over-boiled for my liking, and the cabbage rolls were kind of mushy. The flavour was all there, but the texture just wasn’t right. I had expected to love the meal, especially after the flawless borscht, but it just didn’t happen.

I have a feeling that my disappointing main course was an unfortunate anomaly, and I’d be happy to make a return visit to prove my suspicion right. The borscht was outstanding, my wife certainly enjoyed her salmon and everyone around me seemed to be loving their meals. At just shy of $58 before tax and tip, the price was reasonable, especially given the quality of the service and atmosphere. Too bad about the chicken, though. V

Taste of Ukraine
12210 Jasper Ave • 453-2040

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