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[whitespace] Fima, Rimma Brisker
Raise a Glasnost: Husband and wife team Fima (left) and Rimma Brisker make Nevsky's a friendly stop for enjoying Russian specialties like hearty borscht and beef stroganoff.

Czar Quality

From its vodka to its borscht, Nevsky's delivers freshly prepared, authentic Russian fare with family-style warmth and skill

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

I'VE PASSED NEVSKY'S so many times on my treks up and down Winchester Boulevard I couldn't begin to count. And each time I've gone by, the restaurant's sign has prompted me to contemplate, quite naturally, Russia and the former Soviet Union. I think of Lenin and Tolstoy and the raw onions and lemon that Jerzy Kozinski ate in the film Reds. I see dishes of stroganoff laden with sour cream, then caviar, beet soup and shots of icy vodka. Given the power of the latter images in particular, it's a wonder it took me so long to finally visit this establishment. But I made it on a recent weekday evening and it was well worth the wait.

Nevsky's has been in business for more than 14 years. It started out as a deli serving authentic Russian dishes and recently has expanded its enterprise to include a full-fledged dinner house where diners can sit down at linen covered tables and have a long, leisurely meal.

We inaugurated ours with shots of vodka--the real stuff--strong and eye opening. We finished our meal with another round, only this time mixed with blackcurrant juice. According to our host it sweetens the vodka. But in truth, it disguises the potency so you can drink more. It's delicious, but don't be fooled.

The proprietors, a husband and wife team from Leningrad, came here in 1979. They christened the place Nevsky, after a famous street in that city. Throughout the evening their rich accents sang through the dining room, creating an ambience with their voices alone. As we said our good-byes at the door, I was again reminded how important on-the-job owners are to their restaurant. They are the heart and soul, and without this family there to greet guests at the door and cook for them, Nevsky's would probably close. "You get the feeling that this is the food they serve in their home," one of our guests observed that night.

Truly, all dishes we sampled tasted fresh and homemade. The food proved to be everything one would imagine from a culture that struggles with intense cold: it's earthy and simple and wholesome beyond words. Another guest called it "grounding," and that it is. After a meal here, you'll know you're solidly planted on this earth and a good thing too, if you've had one too many shots of vodka.

After catching our breath from our bout with Russia's national drink, we turned to the appetizers, which hit the table straight from the pans. The stand-out among the three we sampled was the Georgian-style eggplant ($8.95) cut into thin slices and rolled around a mince of walnut, coriander and slivers of raw garlic. Each bite melted in the mouth. Alternating sensations of lightness and richness were dramatically achieved with skilled handling of clock and fire.

Our blinis with red Caviar ($14.50) took a little longer because the delicate pancakes were made to order. They came to the table hot and airy with a generous serving of salmon roe. Those who have not acquired a taste for caviar can opt to have their blinis with sour cream instead. With the pancakes we had a taste of Russia's famous turnover, the piroshki ($3.50), a light, golden-hued rendition filled with tender juicy cabbage.

A round of borscht ($3.25) followed. The real test here was the nod from my guest who started out explaining how much he hated beets, but ended up loving Nevsky's beet soup--full of vegetables under a floating dollop of sour cream.

The members of our table agreed that the cabbage rolls ($12.50) stuffed with rice and ground beef were the standout. They were fresh, moist and obviously cooked slowly to succulence in the sweet juices of the cabbage.

Nevsky's version of Beef Stroganoff (12.95), a favorite of the house, was also very good. The nuggets of beef--though slightly dry--were simmered in a stout gravy induced to richness with sour cream. A rugged, Georgian table red, called Mukuzani, stood up nicely to this dish.

The owner sold us on our third entree, claiming it was one of Russia's most delicious chicken dishes. It's called Chicken Tabake ($16.95), and what I liked most about this it was its simplicity. No heavy seasonings or leaden gravies marred a fresh and perfectly roasted chicken which depended mainly on its own juices for flavor and moistness.

Like everything else on the menu at Nevsky's, desserts are authentic and flown in every other day from Russian bakeries in New York and Los Angeles. The sour cherry strudel won our affections with its ethereal crust and delicate snap of the tart fruit.

Although you can't tell it from the sterile exterior storefront, the interior of this restaurant is a warm, utilitarian space, neatly kept and very clean. It has the feel of a European country restaurant where the owners and their friends gather at the bar and talk about life over drinks and food.

If you haven't tried Russian cuisine before, Nevsky's is the place to sample it for the first time. You won't find anything more authentic.

Nevsky Restaurant and Deli
Address: 1740 Winchester Blvd., Campbell
Phone: 408.379.1126
Hours: L: 11am-3pm daily; D: 6-9pm, until midnight Sat.
Price Range: $8-$15
Cuisine: Russian food/homemade and family style

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From the July 20-26, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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