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Piroshki Power

Russian Cafe & Deli
Christopher Gardner

Meaty Meats: Beef, ham, polish kielbasa, sausages and veal show up in dozens of home-style dishes at Campbell's Russian Cafe & Deli.

Cafe & Deli serves up inexpensive
hearty Russian fare

By Andrew X. Pham

A STURDY LITTLE bastion of good and hearty Russian fare, Russian Cafe & Deli swells with hospitable warmth and aromas of real home-style cooking. In addition to its bustling deli trade in Russian edibles--sweets, vodkas, canned goods, smoked fish and a number of European cold cuts--the cafe serves up some inexpensive Russian favorites in a homey dining room that feels like someone's modest kitchen.

The lunch combinations of soup, blintzes and piroshkis stand out as the best deals ($4.95 each). Russian chicken noodle, borscht and solyanka form a short but adequate soup selection. The solyanka emerges from our survey as the favorite for meat lovers. Practically every meat and sausage in the display case--ham, Polish kielbasa, frankfurter, sausages and veal--shows up in the soup diced, soaked with vodka and scented with bay leaves and marjoram. The clear, tomato-colored broth gets plenty of soul from pickles, dried wild mushrooms, peppercorn, capers, onion and fresh dill. Meat-sweet, pickle-sour solyanka, a traditional one-dish meal, makes even beef stew look bland and insubstantial.

Sour is the word for borscht. This beef broth infused with beet carries plenty of fruit vinegar, tomato paste, diced potatoes and cloves. The only sourness-moderating ingredient is a dollop of sour cream, which turns the broth creamy and hides a Sargasso Sea of julienned red cabbage. A real zinger.

Those of you who have acquired a taste for blintzes (also known as blinchiki or naliesniki) know what I mean by "blintz attacks"--unexplainable cravings that'll send you across town on a hunt for these petite Russian crepes. They're somewhat similar to pancake attacks, silly but powerful compulsions to eat the simplest thing. Blintzes are delicious despite the fact that only eggs, milk, flour, butter and club soda go into making these fluffy, forkable flats served with sour cream (or jam) and meat fillings (or potato).

The comrade of blintzes and solyanka is none other than the celebrated or infamous (depending on your view) piroshki. Fresh out of the deep fryer, these oval-shaped golden munchables, chock-full of beef and potatoes, have no rival. Stale piroshki, on the other hand, goes down well only as an emergency ration. It is a good thing the kitchen makes fresh piroshki and blintzes around lunch time--which, by the way, is the best time to visit.

The rest of the menu isn't priced at rock-bottom bargains, but rare and delicious finds await you. For example, the mini-bar offers a number of Eastern European beers ($3/$4). And where else can you get a red caviar ($9.50) or a liverwurst sandwich ($4.29)?

Three noteworthy entrées (soup, salad and bread included) are the beef Stroganoff ($9.95), the chicken Kiev ($10.95) and sazivi ($10.50), a salty but flavorful dish of garlic chicken simmered in walnuts and cilantro and served with saffron-butter rice, fried potatoes and fresh dill.

Russian Cafe & Deli is located at 1712 Winchester Blvd., Campbell; open Monday­Saturday, 11am­8pm; 408/379-6680.

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From the January 2-8, 1997 issue of Metro

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