Tuesday, October 25, 2011

We'll Take a Side Order of Everything

Ukrainian Borscht -- Veselka

We think we have determined why we do not like Veselka as much as we should.

Renowned as a 24-hour Ukrainian comfort food eatery in the East Village, Veselka is beloved among both late night munchers and, even more so, recovering hangover sufferers.  All two times that we have now been to Veselka, we have decided that their food would taste great if we were hungover.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), we are hardly ever hungover.

We always have our cocktails much too early in the day for that nonsense.

Arriving at Veselka after our blintz brunch at B&H Dairy a block a way, we are none too excited for the Best Thing I Ever Ate course on the menu: the Ukrainian borscht, chosen by Ted Allen on the IN A BOWL episode.
Borscht = the Frau Blucher of Soups
Our problem with the borscht concept is that neither of us likes beets ("Beets taste like dirt to me," says Ginger), and beets are kind of the whole point of the soup.  We mean, it is purple, after all.
Or Fire Engine Red, Depending on Your Camera Exposure
Already hopping with straggly-looking revelers by the time we arrive, the Veselka hostess gives us the choice to wait fifteen minutes for a table inside, or to sit outside immediately.

"Outside," Vodka says, never afraid of a little 50-degree breeze.

"Nooo," Ginger moans, but she is more afraid of making Vodka wait not-so-patiently than she is of freezing to death, so she relents.  (Ironically, when we are given our glasses of water, Vodka's has five times the amount of ice as Ginger's; clearly, the staff at Veselka have a sixth sense about which one of us is a polar bear).
Well Played, Veselka
"Can we get a side order of kielbasi?" Vodka asks when the waitress appears.  "And a side order of potato pierogies, not fried?  And a small bowl of borscht?"

"Essentially, a small order of everything," Ginger mumbles under her breath. 

Our borscht arrives a minute later, and we both examine it with fear in our eyes.  It is indeed Barney purple, but thicker and less baby food-like than we had anticipated.  Ginger is taken with the smattering of dill that has been sprinkled on top, and Vodka with the side of sour cream and solitary piece of bread.
No Need to Call in the Gerber Baby for This One
"They only gave us one spoon, so you're going to have to take the plunge first," Vodka tells Ginger.  Reluctantly, Ginger scoops our lone spoon into the soup.
It Was a One-Bowl, One-Spoon Flyin' Purple People Eater
Swallowing her first taste of borscht, Ginger has only one illogical comment: "Should the beets be removed it would be delicious."

As we pass the spoon back and forth like refugees, and as Vodka adds more and more sour cream to the proceedings, we come to the conclusion that this borscht concoction is significantly better than we ever thought it would be.  It is thick and hearty, and while we had feared that we would be swallowing spoonful after spoonful of those dreaded beets, we instead find beans, carrots, potatoes, and meat also swimming in the broth.  The sour cream certainly helps, but overall, the borscht is pretty good, especially considering both of us hate its main component.
Could We Just Get Three More Pints of Sour Cream, Please?
The pierogies are fairly tasty - they are much better when they're only boiled, as Veselka, like B&H Dairy, likes to fry things until they are almost unrecognizable.  Vodka believes they could use butter, but considering she consumes most of the plate herself, she's not complaining too much.
We Title This "Still Life of Pierogie"
The same leniency cannot be granted to the kielbasi, which Vodka leaves to Ginger to finish after she finds it way too tough and rubbery (this is a Ukrainian restaurant, after all, and Vodka is used to such delicacies prepared the Polish way).
That Knife Is a Bit Ambitious for the Size of That Sausage, No?
As we wait for our check, Ginger mutilates her last bite of kielbasi ("I'm trying to scrape off this gunky part," she explains maturely) while Vodka looks on in confusion.
Someone Give This Girl a Butter Knife
In fact, we're not sure what's more perplexing: Ginger's murderous tendencies towards a slab of garlic sausage, or the fact that a whole half of our bowl of borscht has actually disappeared.

Veselka's Ukrainian Borscht: 3 stars

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