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!