chaika russian cafe
On Saturday night Eric and I met our friend Derek in Takadanobaba for dinner at Chaika, the Russian restaurant we had been meaning to try out for the past few months. None of us had much experience with Russian food outside of what I learned through four years of Russian language classes in High School (so mostly how to make borsht and buy cookies, black bread, and piroshkis), and we didn’t know quite know what to expect, but were intrigued at the chance to try something new.
It turned out to be much more popular with the locals than expected, and we had to wait nearly a full 30 minutes to be seated after arrival. We took the time to look over the menu outside and make our decisions on what to order.
Two items caught my eye immediately, the borsht, and a chicken, mushroom & cream tsuboyaki (one pot dish, not sure what the name was in Russian) that looked similar to chicken pot pie. Since both items were included in the set Eric wanted, we decided to split those items, while I ordered a separate entree and salad.
Eventually we were led to a table toward the back of the restaurant, and we ordered a few drinks to try out as we were seated. I stuck with a Russian fruit juice that I was told was made from a fruit that was “not a berry, but like a berry” (our best guess once it arrived was lingonberry juice), while the boys each ordered a shot of flavored vodka. Jasmine for Derek, and cinnamon for Eric.
The tomato salad I picked from the menu did not disappoint, and came with six fat slices of tomato encircling a bed of lettuce and onion. The volume was a lot more than I’d expected, which made me very happy. Derek and Eric had both ordered the same set, which came with a plate of assorted appetizers (mostly meat and seafood based) which they both really enjoyed.
Our appetizers were followed quickly by the two stars of the entire evening. First came the borsht, which was beautifully presented with sour cream and fresh dill on top of a two toned soup. It was lighter than I’d expected, and I had a hard time sticking to just my allotted half portion, which surprised me a little. On the side we had a few slices of a house made rye bread which, despite being one of my favorite parts of the meal, I somehow forgot to take a picture of.
Next up was the mini tsuboyaki, which was possibly our collective favorite item of the evening. It was a rich cream stew with pieces of mushroom and supposedly chicken (though I didn’t find any) mixed in. It was thick enough to almost remind me of chawanmushi (a savory Japanese egg custard), but not quite as set. Eric and I came close to fighting over the last few bites of this!
Sadly, the weak link of the evening was the entrees.
I went with the chicken kiev. I don’t usually like ordering chicken dishes in Japan, as I’m very particular about chicken and often disappointed with the way it is cooked here, but I took a chance and went with it on this, hoping it might be alright since it was a stuffed dish. (I will eventually write up something on my food philosophies/preferences, but for now just remember that generally the only meat I eat is chicken breast, and occasionally at best.)
Sadly, they chose to stuff a drumstick, so I did not particularly enjoy this. I finished my sides and had about 1/3
– 1/2 of the chicken at most. Eric and Derek had similarly lukewarm reactions to their beef stroganoff, which they said was pretty average. Moral of the story? Next time skip the entrees.
The dessert of the day and Russian chai with jam came included with the set, and I chose to tack on an order of blini, which here meant two plain crepes served alongside sour cream (more like creme fraiche) and more (lingonberry?) jam. The blini were the clear winner in the dessert battle. Holy yum!
Overall we were impressed with the offerings and atmosphere at Chaika, and I’m looking forward to going back again and ordering the smaller set featuring borsht and a full-sized tsuboyaki.
After dinner we headed over to a small bar called the Glass Onion that I’d spotted earlier. It ended up being a cute and cozy little place done up in a Beatles/70s music theme. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that collectively the Japanese are probably the most Beatles obsessed society in existence.
The special cocktails adhered to the theme and were mostly named after Beatles songs. Eric and Derek tried several of them, while I stuck to the house special “Grass Onion”, which was a mix of Bailey’s, Kahlua, and milk. We assumed that the drink was meant to reflect the name of the bar and had been the victim of an unfortunate mis-transliteration (a very common occurrence in Japan).
We grabbed a table and talked while absently watching a live DVD of a recent Paul McCartney concert (later replaced by an Eric Clapton show from the 70s or so) play on a screen in the corner. The atmosphere was fun and a bit nostalgic, though I admit I wasn’t quite expecting to see naked John and Yoko staring back at me via the Two Virgins album cover when I went to the bathroom.
Have you ever had Russian Food before?