One in an occasional series, Around the World in 80 Meals, focusing on ethnic dining in North Texas.
Anyone looking for a refined foodie experience generally doesn't opt for Eastern European dining. It's usually a stomach-busting, artery-choking cuisine fit for withstanding snowbound winters and trudging long distances across frozen steppes.
Unsurprisingly then, two of the purveyors of such fare in North Texas -- Taste of Europe in Arlington and For You, Taste of Poland in Plano -- feel more like having a family meal in someone's home rather than going out for some sumptuous culinary experience. While Taste of Europe is mostly Russian (with hints of Hungary and Germany) and For You, Taste of Poland is obviously Polish, the array of blintzes, sausages, pancakes and pickled and preserved items underscores similarities.
Upon entering Taste of Europe, you're not sure whether to eat or shop. Most of the space is devoted to owner Mikhail Frumkin's fascinating and massive collection of pre-Soviet and Soviet-era artifacts, including heavy army jackets, ornate chess sets and gorgeously crafted nesting dolls. The store also carries a variety of Russian foodstuffs and CDs for homesick or Texas-born Russophiles.
The meals seem equally authentic and very much like what a Russian mom would make. The Hungarian goulash ($11.95) features surprisingly tender chunks of beef cooked with tomatoes, bell peppers and onions over pasta, but it's very basic stuff. More notable is Siberian pelmeni ($8.95 for 12 pieces, $11.95 for 18), sort of a Russian take on ravioli stuffed with a savory beef and pork combo. An order of potato pancakes ($9.95) gives you a good amount for your money -- five large pancakes -- but they are rather greasy and underwhelming.
Similarly, the crepes with white cherries offered for dessert ($6.45) were disappointing, as they come neither stuffed nor slathered but only with a small amount of cherries on the side.
But Taste of Europe has a long menu that might take as long to get through as the journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. The lunch menu even has wraps made from crepes -- including a sturgeon crepe wrap ($6.95) and red salmon crepe wrap ($5.95). And, no doubt, all of this hearty stuff will appeal to Guy Fieri, who filmed here for an episode of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives this season.
For You, Taste of Poland has a sleeker, chrome-and-black setting, but the food and atmosphere feels equally homespun. (The night we were there, there was a large Polish family celebration taking place.)
If you order the namesake Taste of Poland ($25.95), you get a huge sampler platter (enough for two people) with pierogi (pasta stuffed with beef, like the pelmeni), potato dumplings, bigos (a cabbage stew), sausage, golabki (cabbage rolls) and potato pancakes. If you're not familiar with Polish cuisine, this seems by far the best option as everything was fresh and flavorful, and the pancakes are addictive.
If you don't want to drop 25 bucks, or are dining solo, the appetizers -- like the pierogi ($9.95, available in sauerkraut and mushroom, potato and cheese, spinach, and the aforementioned beef) or the potato pancakes with apple sauce or sour cream ($6.95) -- are a good choice. The cheese-filled blintzes offered for dessert ($6.95) are a good way to top off an evening celebrating the wonders of the carbohydrate.
Much less impressive was the bland pan-seared chicken breast ($11.25). That underscores Rule No. 1 when eating Eastern European food: Don't even think about trying to be healthy.