What a rare and precious thing we have in Kachka. Slotted into a narrow Grand Avenue storefront, you find one of the most interesting Russian restaurants anywhere in the world.
Here—and nowhere else in the country, as far as we know—a veteran of Michelin-starred kitchens puts a contemporary sheen on the comfort food from behind Mr. Gorbachev's wall.
The interior of our 2014 Restaurant of the Year is Soviet kitsch—a pastiche of a Russian summer home, or dacha, complete with ornate window frames and tastefully tacky plastic tablecloths—but chef Bonnie Morales never trades in gimmickry.
Start with cold fish dishes and Eastern European charcuterie with nutty brown bread, or the famous herring under a fur coat, a rainbow-hued picnic dip with herring, carrots, beets, potatoes and mayonnaise. The dumplings in broth are exquisite—especially the Siberian pelmeni stuffed with beef, pork and veal and the sour cherry vareniki bathed in rich sour cream. My favorite dish of all, when you see it, is the lamb shashlik skewer ($21) served on lavash bread and brightened with pomegranate juice and kaffir lime salsa. This kebab is a Russian deep cut, pulled from the recipes reserved for warm summer nights at the dacha.
Like so much at Kachka, it's both delicious and a means of expanding our vision of the Ruskies beyond Ivan Drago, furry hats and vodka. Though there is vodka—an encyclopedic list collected from Kaliningrad to Kentucky.
Eat: I like to start with the ajvar ($6), a Balkan pepper-and-eggplant spread akin to hummus, with a meat and cheese board ($16) then get every dumpling available ($10-$13).
Drink: The vodka list is extensive and the cocktails are uniformly excellent. My favorite is the citrusy From Russia With Love ($9) with vodka, Dolin dry, orange bitters, olive and a lemon twist.
Most popular dish: Siberian pelmeni.
Noise level: 51/100
Expected wait: It's usually possible to be seated if you're not picky about avoiding the bar or the back room.
Who you'll eat with: Russians from East Portland, New Yorkers and trendy young Portlanders.
Year opened: 2014