Several months back, I wrote enthusiastically about a plate of stuffed cabbage made by a local market vendor and caterer. One reader responded by recommending the same dish, made by La Mesa restaurant, The Village House Kalina. Which is why I recently found myself pulling into the parking lot of a 7-11 just off Fletcher Parkway.
The Village House Kalina sits next door to the convenience store, advertising Ukrainian and Russian cuisine. Little from the outside suggests the place would be homey, but that’s what you find when you walk inside. Eastern European folk instruments and kitchen utensils hang around the dining room, and there are window frames on one wall, panes painted to create the illusion there’s a quaint village on the other side, rather than a slurpee machine.
There’s a lot more than stuffed cabbage to be found here. A well-rounded menu features many dishes, including recipes handed down or inspired by the owner’s babyshka (grandmother). There’s beef stroganoff, of course, and chicken and vegetarian versions. On weekends, the restaurant offers several types of shashlik, the Russian take on shish kabobs.
And, any day of the week, you can count on borscht, either vegetarian or beef. I don’t generally adore beets, but the beet-based soup, swimming with vegetables and cubed beef, and topped by a dollop of sour cream, goes down easy. One try, the broth was a little thinner than I’d like, but that aligns with my impression of Soviet-era borscht anyhow.
As promised, the stuffed cabbage was a highlight. In this Ukrainian version, the tomato sauce poured over the top is chunky with additional cabbage and other finely chopped vegetables. There’s a pleasing sourness to the cabbage, and the combined brightness of the vegetables lifts up the savory beef within.
In terms of direct comparison, I still prefer Taste of Poland by a nose. But The Village House Kalina is open every day, dishing up family-style cooking. If it’s a little inconsistent, that’s only part of its Eastern rustic charm.
However, there’s a distinctly less charming aspect I feel I must point out. When I ordered my customary sparkling mineral water, I was initially delighted when an unfamiliar bottle appeared at my table. I’ve tried many an Italian mineral water, plus French, German, and Mexican, and the subtle differences have been interesting to enjoy.
But this bottle of Sevan, with a label reading, “made in Armenia,” makes a case that going for Eastern European authenticity has its failings. Salty, earthy, and not all that clean tasting, I’m not sure this beverage is babyshka approved.