Unless you just got back from Saint Petersburg, and maybe even if you did, it’s probably been a while since you had a proper Ruskie Zakuski Experience accompanied by nine shots of vodka, Siberian pelmeni in fancy broth, short rib borscht, and Russian ice cream sandwiches dipped in black currant tea milk caramel. So thank goodness for Bonnie and Israel Morales’s new Kachka.
It had indeed been a while since Michelle and I had such a lineup, and by a while, I obviously mean never, so we were pretty excited to tackle Kachka’s menu, served in their colorful new space, which shares the Buckman block with Dig a Pony and Oso Market + Bar. And it shares the inner Southeast parking wars with nearby Trifecta, Tarad, Robo Taco and Voicebox, so plan on circling the block a few times, or better yet, bike or walk. Actually, considering that one of the menu’s helpful instructions is “fill everyone’s glass with their beverage of choice (like vodka, or maybe vodka),” you should definitely walk.
Upon arrival, we spent a few moments admiring the restaurant’s homey DIY touches—bright orange and white oilcloths on the tables, ornate Russian-style nalichniki, or wooden frames, surrounding the old windows hung along the wall, eclectic artwork and family photos, and the elegant samovar en route to the restroom.
Reading over the 10 “Cold Zakuski” temptations lining the left side of the menu, we were in agony trying to make decisions, until charming owner/front of the house fellow Israel Morales pointed out that there was no need to play favorites—opt for the Ruskie Zakuski Experience for $22 per person, and we could try it all.
I would like to state for the record that the aforementioned nine shots of vodka was an accident. It’s just that, as you can see above, the Ruskie Zakuski Experience clearly states, “Don’t forget the vodka.” We wanted to be thorough, so we remembered the vodka. We forgot other things over the course of the evening, but we did NOT forget the vodka.
And what a vodka menu it is—over 50 vodkas from over a dozen countries ranging from Scandinavia to Japan to Moldova (yup, had to wiki that one), obtainable in 30, 60, and 100g. If you like your shots themed, there are six flights, we started with the $15 Russian Standard, but high rollers might want to hock a gold chain and go for the $45 Most Super Premium, a trio of Jewel of Russia Ultra, Stoli Elit, and Beluga Gold shots.
There are eight cocktails as well, I was fond of the Baba Yaga, a pretty mix of house-infused chamomile vodka, Liquore Strega and lemon, which was only $5 the time I went for happy hour (offered daily 4-6pm and 10pm-midnight).
If you aren’t into spirits, okay, fine, there are other drinks too, and admittedly, if you delve into the menu’s caviar territory, you might need a glass of Georgian sparkly or perhaps a bottle of the Henri Goutorbe Grand Cru. If you’re on the wagon, there’s Leninade.
But back to the food. When the Ruskie Zakuski Experience started, it was an onslaught of lovely chef Bonnie Morales’s beautiful bites, from brindza pashtet to Baltic sprat buterbrodi.
As dinner went on, we found ourselves measuring time in vodka shots, like, “How many shots do you think it will be before our Siberian pelmeni come?” and “Wow, you inhaled those ice cream sandwiches in one shot!” and “If you can’t stay upright in your chair, we are leaving in two shots.”
Sobriety Sidenote: If you’re a self policing type, here is a simple test for you to determine if you get to order another flight—say “Ruskie Zakuski Experience” five times fast while stacking all your existing shot glasses into pyramids without toppling them.
By the time the Ruskie Zakuski Experience concluded, we were actually quite full, but that shouldn’t hold anybody back from invading a bowl of the Siberian pelmeni, and while the classic pelmeni are great, opting for the $2 “fancy broth” upgrade shoots them into a whole different tier of dumpling deliciousness. And speaking of dumplings, if you can’t decide between savory and sweet as you near the end of your meal, try the Sour Cherry Vareniki, sour cherry stuffed dumplings with sour cream.
So far, the cold zakuski had all our attention, but the three hot zakuskis shouldn’t be overlooked, choose from dishes like fried lamb pies, super tender crispy beef tongue with sweet onion sauce, and the blintzes with mushroom gravy and smetana.
Mains include ultra comfort foods like the sweet and sour cabbage rolls with pork, chicken Kiev, a rich short rib borscht, and the beef-tongue topped stroganoff with mushrooms and cognac smetana sauce.
Since we’d already left the Ruskie Zakuski Experience and the Anti-Sobriety Experience behind us, it was time to wrap things up with the Soviet Sweets Experience. The desserts at Kachka are unique and delightful, and I will categorize them by “things that you can still stuff in after eating everything above” and “things you can technically still stuff in after eating everything above but perhaps with mild discomfort.”
Things that you can still stuff in after eating everything above:
The light as a feather Plombir Sandwiches, Russian-style ice cream sandwiches between soft wafers, with milky black currant tea caramel for dipping.
And the tea sweets—a mélange of Russian candies, chocolate kolbasa, and cookies, like the egg-shaped (or walnut shaped, technically), dulce-de-leche-filled oreshki.
And then, the Things you can technically still stuff in after eating everything above but perhaps with mild discomfort:
The sirniki & kissel: dense farmer’s cheese pancakes swimming in lingonberry sauce.
The Bird’s Milk Cake, layers of vanilla bean Bavarian cream over amaretto chiffon sponge cake with a ganache glaze.
The sour cherry vareniki: as noted above, these are on the savory menu but make an appearance on the sweet as well—a generous bowl of Oregon sour cherry stuffed dumplings swimming in sour cream and sprinkled with mint. I forgot to take a picture until I was halfway through, my apologies.
And then, it was time to relinquish our table to the next lucky diner. It had taken us five minutes to get to Kachka by car, but it was going to take us five shots to wobble home, so we pulled on our coats and started the long trudge of…well, 10 feet, which is how long it was until we decided to go to neighboring Oso Market + Bar for an after dinner drink.
Because as they say in Russia—Давайте всегда наслаждаться жизнью, как этим бокалом вина!
Kachka * 720 SE Grand Ave. * 503.235.0059 * kachkapdx.com * Daily 4pm-12am