Food in LA: Warszwa

So busy running around LA visiting friends and family that I’m a week behind in reading subscriptions and responding to comments – but I want to keep the posts uninterrupted so here’s another!

Polish restaurants fall into a category of dining experiences that rarely hit my radar screen.  I’ve been to them perhaps twice before in my life, enjoying both times but not feeling so compelled that I rushed back.  Plus, given my circle of friends and where I live, it is much more likely that I’ll end out at a restaurant serving Asian food rather than Polish.  They say vacation is an opportunity to gather new experiences and perspectives, so it was fitting when one of my high school friends suggested we go to Warszwa, a Polish restaurant in downtown Santa Monica.

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Warszwa relocated from Berkeley, where it was a neighbor to a recently-opened Chez Panisse, to the LA area in 1979.  For the past 25 years it has occupied a former house on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica.  As you walk through the different small dining rooms, you get this sense of being in your Polish great grandmother’s home rather than being in a restaurant.  Service is friendly and efficient, making for an enjoyable dining experience.

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I started out with the borscht, a beet-based soup that is a staple of Polish and Russian cuisine.  Because it is summer (or, at least, is supposed to be summer), they were serving a chilled borscht, which has buttermilk, sour cream, and cucumbers and is rich, tangy, and very refreshing.  I’ve experimented with borscht and would like to try making this chilled version.

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The six of us shared two appetizers – the first was crispy fried potato pancakes (similar, but more refined, than most latkes I’ve had) served with cinnamon apples and dried plum compote and a dollop of sour cream and chives.  Very tasty starter.  

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Handmade pierogi – Polish raviolis – with three fillings: white cheese, potato puree, and caramelized onions; wild mushrooms with shredded cabbage; and chicken breast with herbs, served with sorrel sauce (on the right).  All were very enjoyable and different than I expected. 

The main courses mostly had a similar look and feel, as most were accompanied by the same side dishes.

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Lamb dumplings served with a Dijon sauce, which the menu claims is an Eastern Polish specialty.  These were tasty.

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Tawn had a variation of the dumplings filled with salmon, served with a basil sauce.  Also tasty, although as we were sharing these two dumpling dishes, we filled up quickly!

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One friend had cabbage leaves stuffed with beef, jasmine rice, and sauteed onions, baked in a tomato and paprika broth.  Now, my mother made stuffed peppers a lot when I was a child and I think this stuffed cabbage calls forth certain pleasant childhood memories.

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Schnitzel – either pork or chicken, I don’t remember – which is a fillet that is pounded thin, breaded, and fried.  Kind of a Polish katsu, if you will.  The meat was tasty, although it is hard to describe it as anything other than fried meat.  Not much nuance.

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The specialty of the evening was a fish dish, served in a cream sauce.  Tasty, too!

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Our group after a delightful, if slightly filling, meal – Tawn, Anita, Lilian, Samantha, Lalima, and me.  If you are craving something different and find yourself on the west side of Los Angeles, a visit to Warszawa may be just what the doctor ordered!

 

0 thoughts on “Food in LA: Warszwa

  1. Yum. (except for the schnitzel) I’m a fan of the mashed potato and the potato pancakes look very tasty (my mouth is watering). Looks like you are having a fun vacation!!

  2. My grandmother used to make a wonderful borscht with sour cream. I loved it and not just ’cause pink was my favorite color. I think you should think about a new career as a food critic. You certainly seem to love eating out and have a knack for reporting your experiences with different cuisines. Makes me hungry!

  3. My dad is completely Polish – though he was born in the U.S. As such, I grew up getting foods like you described whenever I would go to his mom’s house (we called her Busza, the Polish word for grandma.) I’m familiar with all the foods you mentioned – but I admit, although I’m purely Polish on my dad’s side I never gained a true fondness for the culture – give me American, Italian or Asian food any day! But anyway – thanks for sharing this experience – it made me think of my gram and smile.

  4. You had a meal that I have not had for many years. I am Russian/Hungarian so those dishes were prepared by my grandmother for “festive” occasions. Yes, I do miss them.

  5. German schnitzel is generally made with veal, a much lighter flavor than pork or chicken. The breading on this looked pretty thick. What I’ve had in the past is pretty light giving the veal a chance to shine through. Perhaps the Polish use a different meat. It all looks delicious. I’ve never had borscht cold, but do fix beets or cucumbers in yogurt during hot weather. I’ll have to try this.

  6. Oh my God this is making me so hungry.I really wanna try the borscht. It looks strange though, but that makes me want to try it more. Although the pink makes it seem like it should be cotton-candy flavored or something.

  7. Aw this makes me miss Poland! The food there is so good! But my family never makes cold barszcz- it’s always hot. My favorite thing to eat in Poland is “pyzy”. You should try them sometime! 🙂

  8. the Stuffed Cabbage Leaves and the potato pancakes for my dinner please…..I like chilled soup in a Hot summer day…soo refreshing!

  9. PIEROGIIII….!! OMGosh, how i MISS pierogi. such delectable pieces of heaven to the mouth. can’t find any of those in this country. sigh…

  10. @rudyhou – Perhaps you will have to make them yourself?@Jewelbeetle – Is there a particular recipe you use for pierogi and stuffed cabbage that you could share?  I’d like to make them.@agmhkg – Chilled soups are perfect on a warm day, especially here in Bangkok.@yang1815 – Yes, it was.@Pysia89 – The Pyzy sound a bit like gnocchi, no?@Annizka – Rest assured, it doesn’t taste at all like cotton candy!  =D@jandsschultz – Basically, puree the beets in yogurt, thin it with buttermilk, and you’re pretty much at this chilled borscht.@ZSA_MD – Or skip the relatives and just stop at all the good restaurants!  =D@Fatcat723 – I bet you have any number of pleasant memories tied up with this type of food.@bittersweetreflections – Oh, but you should try them, at least a bite.  They really aren’t all that strange and are quite tasty.@lcfu – I’m sure you’ll write all about it, won’t you?@brooklyn2028 – Love, love, love potato pancakes.@Passionflwr86 – That’s wonderful, Meg.  Glad I could ignite those memories for you.@The_Eyes_Of_A_Painter – What DID I drink?  Maybe ordered a glass of wine?  Can’t remember.  Obviously, it didn’t make much of an impression!  Ha ha…@ElusiveWords – Yes… which is why a little goes a long way.@CurryPuffy – You’ve been!@awoolham – Thanks for the recommendation.  Hope you get a chance to visit LA soon and you should visit CurryPuffy’s blog to get some dining recommendations.  He’s where I learn about most of my LA restaurants.@murisopsis – Not a schnitzel girl, huh?@nurseynursey – I think the pink color is reason enough to eat it, as we don’t have nearly enough pink food.  The fact that it is tasty and healthy is just icing on the proverbial cake.@slmret – It really was.  Glad you enjoyed.

  11. There are so many recipes for these dishes. It seems every family makes them a bit different. For the stuffed cabbage, we called Gowumpky (spelled phonetically) my mother mixed ground beef with rice, sauteed onion and garlic, salt, pepper, and egg. Plopped a half cup or so on a softened cooked cabbage leaf, rolled it up and baked them in tomato soup. My mother in law mixed pork and beef, cooked them on the stove top in ketchup and water. Others bake them in tomatoes. I continue to use my mother’s recipe, but on watching a Czech cook on TV, add a touch of clove to the meat mixture and to the tomato soup. My favorite pierogis are made with a simple egg noodle dough, flour, water, butter, eggs, salt. I make a sour kraut filling with chopped sour kraut (rinse it if you don’t like it too sour), sauteed onion, celery seed, chives, salt and pepper. My favorite potato filling is simple. Potato, sauteed onion, butter, salt and pepper. Stir with a fork to keep the potatoes from becoming like mashed potatoes. I bought a Polish cookbook, “The New Polish Cuisine” by Chef Michail J. Baruch. He grew up on the Northwest side of Chicago. Huge Polish population in Chicago. Lots of Polish food restaurants. You might want to check out his beautiful cook book.

  12. I’ve made pork and chicken schnitzel with well seasoned (sometimes even Panko)bread crumbs of oregano, basil, sweet paprika, even Parmigiano-Regiano cheese, fried perfectly in a cast iron skillet. I’ve eaten very good veal schnitzel in a Hungarian restaurant made with fine bread crumbs, seasoned with salt, pepper and parsley and served with a lemon wedge. I think the secret of a good veal schnitzel is keeping the seasoning simple and frying it perfectly so it is golden and not oil soaked.

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