The Borscht Beltway
D.C.’s isn’t exactly awash in Eastern European fare, one reason two recent additions to the dining scene are so welcome. In January, Russian restaurant Mari Vanna opened in Dupont Circle and Serbian eatery Ambar debuted on Barracks Row. Sure, you probably know your borscht and blinis. Here are some other dishes you’ll want to try—and pronounce correctly.
523 8th St. SE
This minced beef and pork sausage is traditionally served with raw onions and a pitalike bread or fries. At Ambar, it comes in a cast iron skillet on a bed of roasted red peppers with an aged cow cheese on top, plus pickled onions and roasted potato wedges on the side. It’s Ambar’s most popular dish.
You’ll find this comfort food on nearly every table in Serbia. It’s typically served for breakfast or lunch and accompanied by a yogurt drink. Ambar’s phyillo-wrapped version comes with a cucumber yogurt and red pepper spread.
Grilled bacon-wrapped prunes
pronunciation: Grill-oh-VEN-ay SHLEE-vay
Plums (and prunes) are common in Serbian cuisine and traditionally paired with bacon. Ambar’s modernized version is stuffed with goat cheese and almonds, wrapped in bacon, and topped with a blueberry balsamic reduction. The prunes are presented on a stone with skewers.
1141 Connecticut Ave. NW
pronunciation: SAH-lat oh-liv-yay
This dish is named after Belgian chef Lucien Olivier, who worked at Hermitage, a famed Moscow restaurant, in the mid-1800s. According to Mari Vanna chef Vitalii Kovalev, Olivier took all the ingredients he didn’t need and put them in a mixing bowl, and when he tried it, he discovered it was actually pretty good. As the story goes, Olivier was secretive about his recipe, and today, every city has its own style of the dish. Mari Vanna’s version is composed of diced potatoes, carrots, green peas, black olives, sour pickles, and a choice of diced Bologna or partridge with a homemade mayonnaise and quail eggs on top. In Russia, the Olivier salad is often served during holiday celebrations.
Salt-cured pork fatback is a traditional dish in western Russia and Ukraine, Kovalev says. Mari Vanna serves an assortment of three types—paprika, pepper, and white (plain)—with onion, garlic, rye toast, and Russian mustard. Kovalev suggests eating it with vodka.
pronunciation: Beef stroh-gah-nov
You know how to say this one. Named after a Russian count, the dish uses filet mignon strips sauteed with butter, garlic, onion, and heavy cream with sour cream added at the end. It’s served with a side of sour pickles at the restaurant. And unlike American versions of the dish that use egg noodles, Mari Vanna’s stroganoff is served with a buckwheat kasha.
Mari Vanna photos by Travis Vaughn. Ambar photos by Goranfoto.