Sunday, August 17, 2014


Clipped newspaper articles and email messages had been arriving for months- a new Russian restaurant was preparing to open in Portland and my family was psyched.

My aunt's excitement was understandable, as she has studied the language for years and visited Mari Vanna, Russian Samovar, the Vodka Room, and other renowned Russki restaurants of New York. My parents' enthusiasm, not so much. Years ago D and I brought a bag of decidedly unspectacular frozen pelmeni from a local import store to share with them and I'm surprised they would give anything serving pelmeni a second chance after surviving that bag. Mysterious reasons aside, now that we're in Portland it was really nice to all meet up and have a little taste of the food that D and I had grown so used to.

Kachka bills itself as a dealer of vodka, zukuski, pelmeni, in other words standard fare for Kharkov but considered more of a luxury in this town. One hundred grams of Russian Standard (vodka) will set you back $12. That's a mindboggling sum to my Ukrainian-ized pocketbook (4 bottles of champagne! a whole bottle of imported high-end booze!) but it's a price preceded with "mere" or "only" in the US. And they're crazy if they think I'll pay 26 uah for some sunflower seeds, but no one else at the table batted an eye at that scandal.

Sticker shock aside, though, the food and drinks hit the spot.

Take the drinks, for example. There's the Baba Yaga (chamomile vodka, liquore strega, and lemon) and the Cheburashka (dark rum, orange, Baltika #9). I tried the Laika 5 (tarragon vodka, grapefruit, tonic). My mom went for the Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger beer, lime). And at $5 each during happy hour, it's a price my brain can accept, the same as a visit to Kharkiv Palace.
Before you get all excited- it's just water :p
Happy hour offers some strange pickings for food, like the Soviet hot dog and the Red October (the men in our group loved this open-faced sandwich... maybe because bread is a safe option in any culture) as well as a couple of things I wish I could sit you down and put on a plate in front of you: the most perfect vareniki, filled with a tart and light tvorog, and beautifully handcrafted pelemni.

And, of course, salo. The last salo I had was straight from a village, covered in coarse black hair and served along with pictures of the pig it had come from ("He was a good pig", said the friend who served us the salo). Kachka's salo was more like the politically correct version of the snack. Delicious nonetheless!

$8. Served with mustard, thinly sliced garlic, pickles, and honey.
I wish I'd taken full-size photos of the interior to share here but old habits die hard (Devushka, no foto! no kamera!) so here are a few words instead: wooden tables, wallpaper, and the ever-present propaganda posters that are found in any Russian restaurant in America.

Our waiter was a nice guy, unabashedly Oregonian. Translation: a beard and a flannel shirt. My mom wouldn't rest, asking waiter after waiter if they spoke Russian, until she found one who had briefly lived abroad and could still remember some of the language. The owner spoke better Russian, he told us. (She turned out to be of Belorussian descent, according to this article that explains the restaurant's name).

If we weren't so woefully unemployed at the moment, I'd definitely go back for a plate of golubtsi, a side of eggplant rolls, and a big crispy cheburek (total: $33). Instead, we've been staving off cravings by having blini with jam... off now to the kitchen to make some for breakfast!

Click here for extra credit: a fun interview with the owner of Kachka!


  1. Samovar! Every "Russian" restaurant here has a samovar on display. Have you ever seen a samovar in Ukraine? Strange enough, most of the restaurants in Istanbul I have visited got a working devise. That is how they drink tea in Turkey. Turkish name for it...: "samovar"!

    1. Not as often as I'd expected to... but one occasion stands out- a gigantic golden man-sized samovar in Poltava!

      Wow, I had heard that tea was popular in Turkey, didn't know they used samovars. Cool : )

  2. I am experiencing similar on my return to UK after 24 years away!

    Tesco do "Morrocan Flat Bread", the last time i purchased in Middle East it was fresh from the oven and wrapped in newspaper, costing a fraction of UK ethnic food prices :-(

    1. Ой, 24 years away,? I hope it's not been too rough a readjustment for you!

  3. Do you know that Kachka made into the list of 2015 semi-finalists for James Beard Best Restaurant Award?

    1. Hi Sergey! I hadn't heard that, thank you for the news : ) It does seem to be a very popular place here!