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Ed sits with Ukraine at the Georgian-Russian Pomegranate

I’m kinda curious just how delicious boiled cabbage can be.

Katya recommends the Golubtsi.
Katya recommends the Golubtsi.
Place

Pomegranate Russian-Georgian Restaurant

2312 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego

In my search for Ukrainian food, I end up on ECB - El Cajon Boulevard. Talking North Park here. I’m outside Pomegranate, the Georgian-Russian restaurant of Golden Hill fame. Georgian owner Mark was the jokingest host in town. He encouraged things like dancing on the tabletops and singing soulful Georgian songs. This replacement location has a really pleasant cafe frontage outside, with a roomy patio and plum- and cream-colored exterior paint.

Hidden inside, two “Ukrainian burritos,” cabbage leaves stuffed with meats, spices.

Of course, these are crazy times. You do feel funny, entering a place selling a culture behind the Russian military right now (I’m writing this on March 15th). That’s partly why I’m here: to find out how people, Russian and Ukrainian, feel about carrying on in these circumstances. And here at least, they’re serving and eating together. (There’s also a clue on their website, a blue and yellow notice reading “We Stand With Ukraine.”)

Inside is warm and feels low and cozy. Cream walls with scratchings that turn out to be hundreds of customer-written graffiti.

“Sit anywhere. We’re a little empty tonight,” says the gal, Katya. “Not usual.” I sit down at an ebony table. “Actually, it’s ‘Ekaterina,’ like Catherine the Great,” she says. “But everybody calls me Katya.”

Cheeky Georgian cartoons dot the walls, including this old school, male-oriented joke.

The place looks well lived-in. Lots of paintings on the yellow and gray walls, a muted timber ceiling, lamps at most tables. “Usually, we are hanging flags of all the republics, but right now we are washing them,” says Katya. “Something to drink?” She hands me a couple of menus. Drinks are mostly spirits and cocktails. Also lots of beer. I look for Ukrainian brands. Ah. Avtorske Amber, $8. and Andriivskiy Golden Ale, also $8. They’re both 5.5 percent alcohol, so, something like a Bud. I go for the Andriivskiy, just because Katya says it has the more colorful label. And it is beautiful. Pic of a Ukrainian town. (See also Ian Anderson’s review in these pages back on 8/24/20).

On the food menu, first thing you notice is a warning: “Many of our items contain walnuts! Please alert your server to any allergies.” Huh. Walnuts. Katya says they are a major part of a great many Russian, Georgian and Ukrainian salads and other dishes. “This is because walnuts come from our area. They are the oldest tree food known to man.” Wow. (Actually they’re more Persian. From Iran. Seems they go back at least 7000 years. But hold it! They have even found specimens in Iraq that are 50,000 years old.) People say it’s not a coincidence that walnuts look like a mini-version of your brain, all wrinkled up and encased in a skull-like shell. It does make you think, and it does make you want to like them, because they really are excellent brain food. All those omega-3 fatty acids! I’m feeling smarter just thinking about them. For instance, consider Lobio, one of the starters ($9.50), a “traditional Georgian dish of beans,” to which they add walnuts “to awaken the appetite.” Every salad has walnuts. The Kavkaz beet salad ($9.50) and the carrot salad ($9.50) feature them and guarantee they’ll “overwhelm the defenses of all your senses.”

Inside of a Golubtsi: mostly meats. Outside: cabbage leaf and delightful gunk.

Of course, I have to have the borscht ($10.50, half portion, $6). Or, as Katya says, “‘Borsch.’ It’s the Ukrainian way of saying it.” Turns out it was the Ukrainians who created the famous red beet-based soup in the first place. There are tons of different kinds. It’s a widespread eastern European/northern Asian sour soup which comes in colors from green (using the sorrel plant) to white (using rye). They all have meat ’n bones and veggies, and a basically sour flavor. Except when Katya brings mine, it also has a sweet side to it. Nice. It’s loaded with chunks of beef, potato, beetroot, other sautéed vegetables, a scattering of dill on top, and of course a dollop of smetana, sour cream. Oh, and a large chunk of bread to dunk, with garlic butter. Dee-lish! And with all the veggies like carrots, onions, and tomatoes, it really is a meal. Except I get greedy for all these unfamiliar names, things like ikra badrijannaya ($10.75), “poor man’s caviar,” which the menu says is basically eggplant, “a vegetarian’s dream of heaven when in hell.” Oh boy. Right now, that takes on new meaning.

Red beet borscht, Ukraine’s gift to the world.

But the dish Katya recommends as “really Ukrainian” is the golubtsi. Not cheap at $21, but “very traditional in Ukraine, as well as Russia and other countries.” Golubtsi are “village-style cabbage rolls filled with a ground meat, beef and pork.” You find them all over northern and central and eastern Europe, she says. I know it is going to be too much, and cost a big chunk of change, but I can take this home, I tell myself. Besides, I’m kinda curious just how delicious boiled cabbage can be. It was the bête noir of my childhood, and I can still hear my mom’s voice echoing: “No dessert till you’ve eaten your cabbage!”

I needn’t have worried. These are like Ukrainian burritos; the cabbage is rolled around a truly scrumptious ground meat mixture and smothered in a cheesy, savory, seductive sauce. So-oo gooey and good. And positively none of that ammonia-type nostril vapor you get from home-boiled cabbage.

It’s the combo: apple, prunes, walnut, honey, ice cream, that make this so sinful.

But, best for last? I figure I may as well go whole hog, and give in to the dessert. Because the dessert on offer is “Babushka’s Surprise” ($8.50). It’s a baked apple, filled with dried fruits, walnuts (of course), and honey. Yum! Mine also has strawberries, blueberries, a couple of prunes, and ice cream. Haven’t had a baked apple for yonks. Specially with the walnuts and honey and those prunes.

All in all, it’s been a wildly indulgent night. Wallet feels light as air. But worth it? Definitely. Only thing on my conscience: enjoying the best of Ukraine when the people of Ukraine are going through this unspeakable nightmare. Just to comfort my conscience, I check their website again. Yes, it’s still there: “We Stand With Ukraine.”

  • The Place: Pomegranate Restaurant, 2312 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park, 619-298-4007
  • Hours: 5-9 pm weekdays; 4-9 pm Sundays; 5-10 pm Fridays; 4-10 pm Saturdays
  • Prices: Lobio (bean dish), $9.50; ikra badrijannaya (eggplant dish), $10.75; golubtsi (cabbage rolls filled with ground beef and pork), $21; kavkaz (beet salad), $9.50; pelmeni (Siberian meat dumplings, $11; Shashlik (meat on skewers roasted over charcoal) $19.50 (chicken), $20 (pork); chicken tabaka (fried Cornish hen), $19.50; Babushka’s Surprise (baked apple dessert), $8.50
  • Buses: 1, 6, 215
  • Nearest Bus Stops: El Cajon Blvd and Texas
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Katya recommends the Golubtsi.
Katya recommends the Golubtsi.
Place

Pomegranate Russian-Georgian Restaurant

2312 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego

In my search for Ukrainian food, I end up on ECB - El Cajon Boulevard. Talking North Park here. I’m outside Pomegranate, the Georgian-Russian restaurant of Golden Hill fame. Georgian owner Mark was the jokingest host in town. He encouraged things like dancing on the tabletops and singing soulful Georgian songs. This replacement location has a really pleasant cafe frontage outside, with a roomy patio and plum- and cream-colored exterior paint.

Hidden inside, two “Ukrainian burritos,” cabbage leaves stuffed with meats, spices.

Of course, these are crazy times. You do feel funny, entering a place selling a culture behind the Russian military right now (I’m writing this on March 15th). That’s partly why I’m here: to find out how people, Russian and Ukrainian, feel about carrying on in these circumstances. And here at least, they’re serving and eating together. (There’s also a clue on their website, a blue and yellow notice reading “We Stand With Ukraine.”)

Inside is warm and feels low and cozy. Cream walls with scratchings that turn out to be hundreds of customer-written graffiti.

“Sit anywhere. We’re a little empty tonight,” says the gal, Katya. “Not usual.” I sit down at an ebony table. “Actually, it’s ‘Ekaterina,’ like Catherine the Great,” she says. “But everybody calls me Katya.”

Cheeky Georgian cartoons dot the walls, including this old school, male-oriented joke.

The place looks well lived-in. Lots of paintings on the yellow and gray walls, a muted timber ceiling, lamps at most tables. “Usually, we are hanging flags of all the republics, but right now we are washing them,” says Katya. “Something to drink?” She hands me a couple of menus. Drinks are mostly spirits and cocktails. Also lots of beer. I look for Ukrainian brands. Ah. Avtorske Amber, $8. and Andriivskiy Golden Ale, also $8. They’re both 5.5 percent alcohol, so, something like a Bud. I go for the Andriivskiy, just because Katya says it has the more colorful label. And it is beautiful. Pic of a Ukrainian town. (See also Ian Anderson’s review in these pages back on 8/24/20).

On the food menu, first thing you notice is a warning: “Many of our items contain walnuts! Please alert your server to any allergies.” Huh. Walnuts. Katya says they are a major part of a great many Russian, Georgian and Ukrainian salads and other dishes. “This is because walnuts come from our area. They are the oldest tree food known to man.” Wow. (Actually they’re more Persian. From Iran. Seems they go back at least 7000 years. But hold it! They have even found specimens in Iraq that are 50,000 years old.) People say it’s not a coincidence that walnuts look like a mini-version of your brain, all wrinkled up and encased in a skull-like shell. It does make you think, and it does make you want to like them, because they really are excellent brain food. All those omega-3 fatty acids! I’m feeling smarter just thinking about them. For instance, consider Lobio, one of the starters ($9.50), a “traditional Georgian dish of beans,” to which they add walnuts “to awaken the appetite.” Every salad has walnuts. The Kavkaz beet salad ($9.50) and the carrot salad ($9.50) feature them and guarantee they’ll “overwhelm the defenses of all your senses.”

Inside of a Golubtsi: mostly meats. Outside: cabbage leaf and delightful gunk.

Of course, I have to have the borscht ($10.50, half portion, $6). Or, as Katya says, “‘Borsch.’ It’s the Ukrainian way of saying it.” Turns out it was the Ukrainians who created the famous red beet-based soup in the first place. There are tons of different kinds. It’s a widespread eastern European/northern Asian sour soup which comes in colors from green (using the sorrel plant) to white (using rye). They all have meat ’n bones and veggies, and a basically sour flavor. Except when Katya brings mine, it also has a sweet side to it. Nice. It’s loaded with chunks of beef, potato, beetroot, other sautéed vegetables, a scattering of dill on top, and of course a dollop of smetana, sour cream. Oh, and a large chunk of bread to dunk, with garlic butter. Dee-lish! And with all the veggies like carrots, onions, and tomatoes, it really is a meal. Except I get greedy for all these unfamiliar names, things like ikra badrijannaya ($10.75), “poor man’s caviar,” which the menu says is basically eggplant, “a vegetarian’s dream of heaven when in hell.” Oh boy. Right now, that takes on new meaning.

Red beet borscht, Ukraine’s gift to the world.

But the dish Katya recommends as “really Ukrainian” is the golubtsi. Not cheap at $21, but “very traditional in Ukraine, as well as Russia and other countries.” Golubtsi are “village-style cabbage rolls filled with a ground meat, beef and pork.” You find them all over northern and central and eastern Europe, she says. I know it is going to be too much, and cost a big chunk of change, but I can take this home, I tell myself. Besides, I’m kinda curious just how delicious boiled cabbage can be. It was the bête noir of my childhood, and I can still hear my mom’s voice echoing: “No dessert till you’ve eaten your cabbage!”

I needn’t have worried. These are like Ukrainian burritos; the cabbage is rolled around a truly scrumptious ground meat mixture and smothered in a cheesy, savory, seductive sauce. So-oo gooey and good. And positively none of that ammonia-type nostril vapor you get from home-boiled cabbage.

It’s the combo: apple, prunes, walnut, honey, ice cream, that make this so sinful.

But, best for last? I figure I may as well go whole hog, and give in to the dessert. Because the dessert on offer is “Babushka’s Surprise” ($8.50). It’s a baked apple, filled with dried fruits, walnuts (of course), and honey. Yum! Mine also has strawberries, blueberries, a couple of prunes, and ice cream. Haven’t had a baked apple for yonks. Specially with the walnuts and honey and those prunes.

All in all, it’s been a wildly indulgent night. Wallet feels light as air. But worth it? Definitely. Only thing on my conscience: enjoying the best of Ukraine when the people of Ukraine are going through this unspeakable nightmare. Just to comfort my conscience, I check their website again. Yes, it’s still there: “We Stand With Ukraine.”

  • The Place: Pomegranate Restaurant, 2312 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park, 619-298-4007
  • Hours: 5-9 pm weekdays; 4-9 pm Sundays; 5-10 pm Fridays; 4-10 pm Saturdays
  • Prices: Lobio (bean dish), $9.50; ikra badrijannaya (eggplant dish), $10.75; golubtsi (cabbage rolls filled with ground beef and pork), $21; kavkaz (beet salad), $9.50; pelmeni (Siberian meat dumplings, $11; Shashlik (meat on skewers roasted over charcoal) $19.50 (chicken), $20 (pork); chicken tabaka (fried Cornish hen), $19.50; Babushka’s Surprise (baked apple dessert), $8.50
  • Buses: 1, 6, 215
  • Nearest Bus Stops: El Cajon Blvd and Texas
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