Victor’s Café

Like walking through the pages of Dostoevsky — in a good way
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  March 2, 2006
2.0 2.0 Stars

ONE OF A KIND: Victor's offers a unique fusion of Russian and Ukrainian fare.Victor’s is a small storefront done up with linen and elegant lacy napkins to suggest a kind of budget-gourmet experience. That’s about what it can deliver, with a little Russian and Ukrainian heartiness and a little French technique for good measure. It isn’t a polished fusion, but there are things about it that cannot be duplicated elsewhere, starting with the sound of rapid-fire Hebrew, Russian, and English, with switching and various accents.

At dinner food starts modestly with small, warm rolls that are mostly good for melting a little butter. But soups and appetizers are a strength of Russian cuisine, and the soups here ($4/cup; $6/bowl) are outstanding. As you might expect, the cup is about the size of an American cereal bowl, and the bowl is a modest dinner.

Not surprisingly, the cabbage borscht (the alternative is spinach) has lots of red beets and a bit of sour cream as well as cabbage, but it’s interestingly flavored with fresh dill. A “vegetable and meat” soup of the day is all of that with dill and capers, too. Another day I had tomato-ham, which also contained vegetables, but this time there were a few batons of potato and quite a few capers.

Other starters include crêpes with various fillings, smoked seafood, and small plates, but we picked out a couple of pickled salads. Sauerkraut ($6) was barely fermented, more like a slightly pickled slaw, and very refreshing, with sweet-pepper slices. Marinated mushrooms ($6) garnished with pickled onion and bell pepper were all enoki and oyster mushrooms, also very mildly pickled to preserve the delicate mushroom flavors.

Dinner entrées escalate to a steak and a rack of lamb, but I wanted pelmeni ($10/lunch; $15/dinner), a baker’s dozen of the dumplings. You’ve always wanted to have an entire dinner of Peking ravioli, right? Well, here you are, with a big plate of the same general meat-stuffed raviolis the Mongols took all over Eurasia, minus the ginger and soy but with the Russian complements of sour cream, butter, and pepper. All entrées come with a fascinating decoration: a long slice of cucumber wrapped into a double cone, with halved grape tomatoes or strawberries as “eyes.” I don’t know if these eyes go with the large-eyed faces in the wall art or represent timeless paranoia, but they are cool.

You’ll need a side vegetable ($4, but included with many dinner entrées), and I had “spring mix,” a typical mesclun salad made special with thinly sliced pickled shiitake mushrooms as good as any in the marinated-mushroom appetizer.

For a more conventional continental entrée, baked jumbo shrimp ($18) are five very large shrimp stuffed with chopped walnuts, in a dandy garlic sauce, served in a scallop shell. This comes with a side dish, and we just had to have the potato pancake. It was almost 10 inches of shredded potato with a little onion, folded over sautéed vegetables, and it was almost as good as one of my own la tk es.

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