From the street, Coney Island Avenue's Slavyanskiy Bazar does not seem like all that much. It is not flashy or gaudy like many Russian and former Soviet restaurants tend to be in Brooklyn, but inside you will find some of the best Russian food in the city. I gathered together a group of six for an outing here, two of whom were Russian, and one Ukrainian. All three of them, not to mention the rest of us, were quite happy after finishing.
The order of a Russian menu and the ordering habits of friends have taught me that there is a typical fashion that your meal should take place in, the first stage always being cold appetizers. We ordered three, including the herring seledka ($8.50, below), a handsome dish of well-prepared fish slices and pickled vegetables. Very simple and effective.
The slices were not as thick as usual in our second dish of beef tongue ($7.50, below). I thought this lent itself better to enjoy the dish more, especially when combined with the accompanying mayonnaise. Also recommended is stealing some of the purple horseradish that will be somewhere on the table.
New to my life, but very traditional apparently is the aspic ($11.50, below), curiously with an "an" in front of it on the menu, and called "xolodec" on our receipt in transliterated Russian. My friend described it to me as meat jelly, which is probably the best way to call it. The cooking process is somewhat like what happens after you put meat into your fridge after a meal and find it congealed in its own fat the next day.
The menu states this is "Jewish style" but I am fairly certain that at least part of the indiscernible meat within is pork. As you can see, the dish is served with a rather healthy steak knife and is cut into sections for everyone to try. It is served with horseradish if a kick is desired.
They have three varieties of pelmeni ($7, below), "Siberian," chicken, and veal, which all look about the same when they are put on the table. The tastes inside are also only subtly different, but my favorite is the Siberian, actually the birthplace of pelmeni in the first place. This version has lamb inside.
Customers preferring vareniki will not be disappointed either, as they have ten varieties to choose from, two of which are even sweet. We tried the vareniki with potatoes, mushrooms, and onions ($8, below), which had the three ingredients inside and were covered in them as well. These larger dumplings use a bit more dough than the pelmeni.
The borscht Ukrainian ($6.50, below) is served with three pompushkas, which are basically unsweet fried donuts. I immediately wanted to dip them into the borscht, but they do not soak up much liquid since they are already full of grease (in a good way). Note that the Russians did not try this, and probably knew better. A nice dollop of sour cream rests in the middle of the soup and is ready to be stirred in, changing the color from red to pink. The soup is excellent and filled with plenty of garlic.
The only entree we ended up ordering after our barrage of starters was the beef stew ($20.50, below), which at first is covered by a freshly baked flaky bread that rises on top of the clay pot it is served in. Also included on the polished wood carving board are small portions of cabbage and peas, used however you like.
Once the warm bread is removed, it is good for dipping into the stew or eating on its own, as it is already very moist. The beef itself comes in large hunks, and the stew takes on the flavor of the plums that are also within the recipe.
The only thing left to do after stuffing ourselves was the long walk to the Atlantic Ocean down Coney Island Avenue to Brighton Beach, to take in the late afternoon winter sunset and walk off some of the calories.
[UPDATE 12 March 2016, some photos from another meal]
Salad Odessa ($6.50)
Po gotovnosti potato with mushrooms ($20.50)
Chicken Kiev ($19.50) & beef stew ($20.50)
Pancake w/ Jello ($7.50)