When my kids found out my grandmother was Polish they stopped telling Polish jokes. And my dad loved Polish food. So it was with some nostalgia that I went to the Warszawa restaurant the other day, for the first time in about 25 years. Yes, it’s been there that long, so that says something for it.
We were greeted by a lovely young woman from Warsaw, who seated us in one of the several small rooms. The restaurant seems to be in an old house, and each of the four or five rooms seats only a few tables, so it’s always quiet. In fact, the Wednesday evening that we were there only one table in each of the three rooms I saw was occupied.
I went with a specific menu in mind. I wanted to taste the mushroom pierogi, a typical Polish dish. It’s something like a large ravioli, but a bit more chewy. As expected, it was delicious, and the plate of pierogi for $15 was probably enough for dinner. Fortunately my friends Alain and Thierry shared the plate with me.
I took a spoonful of Alain’s cold beet borscht, and found it much like a beet gazpacho, and quite nice. Thierry had a Warszawa salad, which was a mix of carrots, apples, onion and sauerkraut. He liked it but it’s not to my taste.
And so my duck arrived, and my friends each had the pork schnitzel. When you live in Los Angeles, all pork schnitzel has to be compared to that of Wolfgang Puck’s at Spago. As expected, this one was smaller in size (that’s good) but not as delicious. Still, it was quite good, a good “B” said Alain, and at $18 worth ordering when you are in that mood.
But my duck was a bit of a disappointment. It looked good, and the roasted apples and other fruits on the side were quite delicious, but the duck itself had not been cooked at a low enough heat for a long enough time. And it was over-salted.
Well-cooked duck has to be cooked at a low temperature until the leg can be pulled off the body easily, and the duck fat still makes the flesh glow. This leg totally resisted efforts to detach it short of surgery, and the meat was a bit dry from cooking at too high a temperature.
Perhaps because it wasn’t very busy, the service was extraordinary, and very friendly. After dinner, and before dessert, we were served a complimentary sliovitch, a Polish eau-de-vie that was always in our home when I was growing up. This was, perhaps, one of the most delicious parts of the meal.
We shared a few desserts, which were perfectly adequate, and the total bill of around $50 per person, plus the cost of a bottle of 2004 Chateauneuf du Pape and a domestic Cabernet, both reasonably priced, seemed fair. All in all we had a pleasant dinner. The surroundings are delightful — nothing like the loud, gaudy restaurants now in vogue. If you stick to the Polish specialties the food is good, and it’s a nice break to eat a different ethnic food sometimes that’s not Asian and not Italian.
Not that Italian food can be considered ethic now: hamburgers and fried chicken used to be the most purchased foods in the United States. Now it’s pizza. What a great melting pot we live in!
Warszawa Polish Cuisine
Tuesday — Saturday, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Patio bar available
1414 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, Calif. 90401. Telephone: (310) 393-8831.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org