At this moment in time, more than ever, the world needs to be brought together via the healing power of food. And as a freedom loving American, I figured what better what to show my support for the people of Ukraine than by eating some traditional, authentic Ukrainian food. A while ago, someone had recommended Traktir in West Hollywood for an authentic Russian and Ukrainian culinary experience and so I figured now would be as good a time as ever to go.
Right off the bat, to drink we started off with some vodka and a big mug of Kvass. For the vodka, they served it in many different flavors like cranberry, lemon, pepper garlic and even horseradish. I didn’t know which one to get so I asked the waiter what his favorite was. He said horseradish, so horseradish it was. Luckily, like the Polish vodka we tried a few months ago, this horseradish vodka also went down super smooth and was able to be sipped on throughout the entire dinner. No shooters here.
I had never heard of Kvass, but it’s described on the menu as a fermented beverage made from rye bread. Apparently the drink is all over the world. It was served cold and actually tasted pretty pleasant, almost like a thicker, less sweet Coke. Would definitely drink again, which is good news because apparently they sell it by the bottleful at the marketplace next door.
To start, I opted for the Traditional Ukrainian Borscht. Despite living in Budapest for a hot second, I had never had had borscht before. And because I love beets, I was super excited to try this traditional dish. Apparently borscht is Ukraine’s national dish and after a few spoonfuls in, I could see why. The beef was fantastically cooked, the beets were incredibly flavorful and the thick potatoes inside provided for a nice contrast to the cabbage and beef strewn throughout. It had a great, great unique flavor. Plus, the cheesy toast it was served with was absolutely bomb, and made for a wonderful vehicle to sop up all the borscht remnants from the bowl.
The entrees on the menu were pretty kebab/meat chop heavy and I was really looking to try something I had never heard of before. Because of this, I went with the Kotleti. They are basically ground chicken meatballs and… they were alright, nothing fantastic. With chicken meatballs, you kind of know what you’re getting here. I wish there was a little more seasoning and flavor in the meatballs and they were seared for a bit more of an exterior char. But otherwise, they came with incredibly fluffy mashed potatoes and nice & light cabbage salad. The entree itself was incredibly filling but unfortunately relatively standard on the flavor scale. I would probably try the shashlik next time.
For dessert, I asked the server what his favorite thing on the menu was and he recommended the cheese Vareniki. Now, I had never heard of Vareniki before and I was expecting maybe two or three little sweet dumpling things, but I was completely shellshocked when the waiter brought out a fat bowl of NINE of these puppies. They were literally like little sweet ravioli dumplings that, when coupled with the strawberry preserve sauce and sour cream, turned into little melt in your mouth warm, sweet cheesy delights. For a dessert, they were soooo heavy and no one person has any business singlehandedly taking down NINE of them, but luckily I don’t back down from a challenge and demolished the entire thing. Delicious, highly recommend.
For a little homestyle taste of the Eastern bloc, look no further than Traktir in West Hollywood (and they have a location in Tarzana too, apparently).