Edinburgh Restaurant Report: Yellow Bench

In addition to my New York restaurant reviews, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on random Eastern European restaurants I visit during my various trips. These posts may not always have the depth of my traditional reviews, so I won’t provide any ratings. I’m also unlikely to write about a place if it’s not noteworthy in some capacity.

Yellow Bench RestaurantScotland isn’t reknowned for its Eastern European food, and it takes some dedication to find restaurants from the other side of the Iron Curtain. Glasgow has U Jarka (“Polish and European cuisine, with the good old traditions”) and Cossachok (“Scotland’s first and only authentic Russian Restaurant which represents people from former USSR in cooking, culture, and hospitality”). But if you’re in Edinburgh these days, like I was during my family holiday trip, then Yellow Bench, a Polish hole-in-the-wall in Leith, might very well be your only option.

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Restaurant Review: Revisiting Karczma

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

I reviewed Karczma in Greenpoint nearly a year and a half ago, but two more recent visits prompted an update. Not that the menu has changed — I think it’s totally identical — but I feel that many of the dishes that were already good picks tasted slightly better than I remembered.

The blood sausage, for example, has been unanimously praised by our party. Properly grilled and served warmed, the mix of buckwheat, blood and pork fat tasted well-balanced. Similarly, the thick slabs of hearty bacon were the perfect accompaniment to the vodka, the meat pierogis were airy and flavorful, and the sauerkraut in the bigos made me forget I don’t like sauerkraut all that much.

I also got to try more dishes. The steak tartare was rather good, though it would benefit from being ground from a better cut of meat. The peasant-style lard, similar to French rillettes but made almost exclusively of pork fat, was another favorite with the vodka drinkers. The tripe soup was nice, neither too strong nor too bland. The cooks even managed to keep the pork and chicken kebabs pretty moist.

If you’re in a “festive” mood, you can order bottles of Polish vodka at the decent prices of $65 for 750 ml, or $80 for 1 l.

My overall appreciation of the restaurant remains the same (“the food was authentic and rather good, for a very reasonable price”), but I’d like to modify the conclusion as follows:

Picks: grilled blood sausage, meat pierogis, white borsch, plate of Polish specialties, karkowka
Food: 7/10

Restaurant Review: Krolewskie Jadlo

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Krolewskie Jadło, in Greenpoint, is easy to find. Not just thanks to its proximity to the subway, but because the owners chose to get all medieval — the restaurant name means royal food in Polish — and install two imposing armored knights in front of the doors. Inside, the decor is equally cheesy, with portraits of kings, a profusion of swords and wall chandeliers that make the cardboard Valentine’s Day hearts and the surveillance cameras slightly out of place.

The extensive menu covers most if not all of Polish cuisine. You can choose from no less than 4 kinds of borscht and 5 different pierogies, of course there’s stuffed cabbage and hunter’s  stew, and the koryto platter combines all the sausages and grilled meats you can dream of. But what really drew my attention was the large selection of game dishes. Wild boar, pheasant, venison! If it wasn’t for the decor and the low prices, you could almost imagine you’re looking at Daniel Boulud’s game dinner menu.

The meal started with the bread plate accompanied by some slices of cucumber that none of us really cared for, and a ramekin of good, rich, lard spread.

The rest of the dishes came in seemingly random order with a complete lack of timing and disregard for available table space.

The prunes wrapped in bacon were pleasant, but this has to be the simplest dish ever served in a restaurant. I don’t think we touched the salad, which seemed to suffer from some kind of chromatic disorder — I was always told that salad was green, not yellow.

The beef tartar arrived already mixed — I prefer combining the ingredients myself. It tasted a bit too vinegary (something that typically happens when you don’t drain the pickles enough before mixing them), and the ingredients were a bit too coarsely chopped.

The chef’s pierogies with chanterelle sauce were large, enjoyable dumplings filled with goat cheese and spinach, and covered with a sauce that really did taste like chanterelles.

The “little bags full of pheasant” in blackcurrant sauce were an original idea. The filling of ground pheasant and minced vegetables could have used more salt, but the result was nice.

No surprise with the grilled kielbasa: the sausage, topped with sautéed onions, was good, smoky and juicy. Too bad the fries were just OK.

The hunter’s stew (bigos in Polish) consisted of very tender pork meat with sauerkraut. I’m not even going to start my customary bitching about the plating and the straight-to-garbage garnishes; the picture speaks for itself.

The gołąbki, cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and meat and cooked tomato sauce, were slightly bland and needed more salt. This dish often tends to be left cooking for much too long, which explains why the flavors end up being so indistinguishable, and the cabbage leaves so pale.

The venison walnut meatballs were nice, but the combination of the nuts and excessive cooking made them rather dry. The sauce of black trumpets with truffle oil had a very pleasant taste. The garden dumplings, rather doughy and boring, came in a totally disproportionate amount and there wasn’t enough sauce to coat them with.

The stuffed wild boar suffered from some of the same faults. The kind of roulade stuffed with spinach and red pepper was way too dry, so much so that the cognac sauce hardly helped. The horseradish potato purée, a massive mound with a rosemary bush dominating the center of the plate, could have fed, though not really satisfied, a small family.

If you have room for dessert, you can order sweet pierogies and pancakes, or a few more “conventional” desserts.

The warm chocolate cake had little going for itself. The chocolate was of poor quality, and so was the ice cream, which hardly had any flavor. The whole suggested heavy use of cheap store-bought products (whipped cream and maraschino cherry anybody?) and minimal labor.

On the other hand, we had to try the homemade apple pie. I wouldn’t really call it a pie, as it was more like a cake. Save for the American habit of systematically pairing apple with excessive amounts of cinnamon, it provided a pleasing end to the meal. The strawberry sauce was equally good.

Krolewskie Jadło clearly put some thought and effort into creating its menu, and it’s too bad the execution doesn’t keep up. I would greatly prefer half the quantity of food if the quality was twice as high — I don’t go to restaurants with the intent to fill my fridge with leftovers! It also seems to me that by reducing the number of dishes offered, the kitchen wouldn’t need to cook many of the dishes so much in advance that they end up overcooked, bland or dry.

Cuisine: Polish
Picks: little bags full of pheasant, chef’s pierogies with chanterelle sauce, homemade apple pie
Food: 6 / 10

Restaurant Review: Karczma

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Karczma, which means inn in Polish, is a nice little restaurant that opened in 2007 and was voted best Polish of 2008 by the Village Voice. It is located near the Greenpoint Avenue subway stop, and also a convenient car service.

The interior intends to reproduce a farmhouse: waitstaff wear traditional dresses and the decor is resolutely peasant kitsch.

We were happy to notice that the menu is almost 100% Polish. This means a lot of pork and potatoes.  And large plates.

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