Tonight was a bittersweet celebration of my dear friend Kiloran, who’s moving to San Francisco to pursue her dream of getting as far out of New York as humanly possible. Not everyone is as obsessed with this place as I am, I’m learning. For the occasion, our coworker Ryan decided to choose the Ukrainian restaurant Veselka – a place one would naturally choose for a diverse, picky crowd…right?
After eyeing the menu that consisted of borscht and smoked fish, I didn’t get that surge of excitement I usually get in anticipation of trying a new place. I wasn’t the only one silently freaking out about the food either – I witnessed an email battle initiated by a few people voting for a location change – some even dropped out of the party as a result. It’s not an understatement to say that all Hell broke loose over the matter. Let’s just be honest, people don’t generally rave about Ukrainian food (I know I’ll get flack for saying that when I become famous). But in the end, it actually ended up exceeding all of our expectations (the ones who stuck through the challenge).
Firstly, the Bowery location is 10 steps above Veselka’s sister diner just blocks away. The space is huge, completely framed by glass with high ceilings and plenty of space for a crowd. The familiarity of the modern aesthetic relaxed me, and soon enough I was on my way to having a thorough love affair with Ukrainian cuisine.
Between the array that I had ordered for the table, the cheese blintz and the cheese plate were the stand outs. I would have been perfectly happy with these dairy laden plates on their own, but I had to try the equally healthy fried cheese and potato pierogis with apple sauce and sour cream, the boiled beet and goat cheese pierogis, the smoked trout salad with radish and apple, and a little bit of the Ukrainian feta on brioche that came atop the beautifully arranged veggie board.
Had I known I would become stuffed after the first round, I wouldn’t have ordered a cheese burger. A combo of an intense meat craving and a fear of ordering something totally foul (after seeing Kiloran’s garbage bowl of magenta borscht) guided my decision, but with no real regrets. Thick patty, medium rare with cheddar cheese on a sesame brioche bun. Aside from the various Ukrainian chutney-like condiments that I threw on the bun, this was as solidly Americanly delicious as it gets, despite severely missing the red onion. Ryan chose to order the more “authentic” version – a kielbasa burger with thin layers of kielbasa, and a kielbasa and ground chuck patty combo. One bite was just enough for me to confirm that I’d get thoroughly ill after finishing the whole sandwich.
Given the celebration, we decided to go all the way and sample a few desserts. Kiloran and I were both blown away by the baked chocolate custard, which in essence was the densest, richest chocolate pudding we’ve ever tasted. The baked kiev was an interesting combo of beet ice cream, vanilla ice cream, chocolate cake, and burnt meringue. Sadly, I’m just now realizing the origin of its name. I can’t say that I’d dream about beet ice cream at night, but it actually tasted and looked just like strawberry.
Would I choose to go back there? Probably not. Not because the quality of food or service didn’t impress me, or because I didn’t like the feel of the space. It’s simply due to realism. In a city when I can choose from a thousand other restaurants serving the type of cuisine that I seek (namely italian and Japanese), why would I opt for Ukrainian if I’m not a die hard pierogi or borscht fan? Please tell me.
Location: 9 East 1st Street off Bowery