Baltica - Russian, Filipino, and Texas BBQ (San Mateo)

Russian and Filipino was the eclectic mix of cuisines that Baltica started with in 2014. They’ve trimmed several items from the menu, mostly the Filipino ones, since then, and added a page of Texas BBQ.

I’m happy to report that the vareniki are still as good as when I got them in 2014. Except for maybe Cafe Europa, these are likely the best vareniki/pierogi for sale in the Bay Area. Floury aroma, not too thick except maybe at the pleats of the crescent shapes, and crumbly housemade cheese inside. I don’t know what they’re thinking putting on shreds of Parmesan? as garnish, but they scraped off easily.

The “marinated cabbage” is identical to some NY coleslaw in my memory banks, and deliciousness and nostalgia swayed me into devouring the entire bowl. It’s cabbage and carrots in a vinegar sauce, probably sugar, no mayo or celery seed.

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What about that Winter Palace Cake - still on the menu?

What constitutes “Texas BBQ” in this place? Have you indulged?

We went to Baltica Dec 2015. Here’s a summary of our experience:

Decided to try three of the starters, all of them ground meat pies. They sounded similar, but we were hopeful they would show distinct differences: beef blintzes, chebureki, and Central Asian belyashi.

The belyashi and chebureki came first. The latter is a half-moon of thin flat-bread pastry, the edges crimped just enough to seal in a filling of half lamb, half beef. Pan-fried to an almost perfect brown, the chebureki is crispy and flaky with a tasty filling. If you enjoy quesadillas, this is an excellent Russian version sans cheese. Anyone who enjoys Armenian flatbread pizzas or Xinjiang goosh nan meat pies, would like this. The lamb flavor is prominent in this hand-pie.

The belyashi, which is also a lamb and beef filling, is completely different in flavor and texture. The flavor of the filling is evenly balanced between lamb and beef. The dough is buttery, not oily. It’s a yeasted dough so it’s a thick, puffy round, a cross between tender brioche and a butter croissant. It is very soft and soaked full of meat juices. The belyashi is smaller and fatter than the chebureki, wrapped around the filling with a center hole on top, looking for all the world like a stuffed doughnut, but tasting far more sublime than any Krispy Kreme ever will.

The blintzes arrived next. There are four, and they are small thin buckwheat crepes, folded around an all-ground beef filling. Pan-frying gives a slight, pleasing crispness to the exterior. They are served with sour cream, which I appropriated for myself since DH loathes the stuff.

Comparing the blintzes with the chebureki and belyashi makes the sweetness of the all-beef filling evident. Lamb shows its meatier taste in the belyashi, and the even higher percentage of it in the chebureki gives that gamier-tasting edge we enjoy. The beef modifies it just enough so even non-lamb lovers might still be okay with the chebureki.

All three are very good. It was fun to see how different they tasted despite very plain seasonings. It was a rare pleasure to do a side-by-side comparison of three similar yet distinct ethnic specialties.

Roasted grape salad, more than big enough to share for 2-3. This was young arugula, simply dressed with toasted walnuts and caramelized roasted grapes. The grapes had a thin wash of honey before being roasted, adding a nice undertone to their sweetness. There was the faintest touch of fresh onion juice in the dressing, so well balanced DH missed it until I asked him if he could taste it. A good restaurant makes its own vinaigrettes; this one was made by someone who has a good palate.

Zimniy, Winter Palace Cake, something we’d never heard of. It was described as “a cake based on an egg-white soufflé, served with whipped cream.” This turned out to be a fresh meringue cake, layered with a good pastry cream and whipped cream, topped with a thin browned meringue layer. It was several levels too sweet for us, but with coffee – which wasn’t exceptional but was fresh and decent – we finished most of it. We probably would not order it again, but it was interesting and worth trying. Would appeal mostly to meringue lovers.

We couldn’t ignore the BBQ menu, even though we were full. We decided to order take-out, choosing two of the sausages from that menu to bring home for dinner. The BBQ items all come with potato salad and baked beans. The baked beans are okay, less tomato-ey and sweet than Campbell’s (which is good). The potato salad has finely chopped sour pickles (not dill) in it, so you might like it or not. DH was okay with it; I was “meh”.

The bratwurst was a perfect fat hot dog, pink with a nice snap to its casing. The hot link was reasonably spicy, not super hot, with a coarser and more interesting texture. However, good sausages abound in the Bay Area, so these didn’t impress us. They were good but nothing remarkable.

We would stick to the Eastern European food; harder to find and more distinctive.

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The regular menu doesn’t list desserts. Better call to ask!

@Lethe2020 I really like their roasted grape salad as well! Onion juice might be a common thread in their dressings – –the clear dressing for their marinated cabbage tasted of white or yellow onions, but no matter how far I searched in the bowl I didn’t see any evidence of them. The onion flavor was stronger than the slices of scallions would impart. The server said that it had lemon juice and a secret ingredient, and I think you nailed it!

@bbqboy I haven’t tried their “Texas” barbecue, and haven’t had a chance to ask what that means

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold