Saturday, October 1, 2011

Firebird was Bright

Firebird Russian Restaurant and Gallery on Urbanspoon

my first borscht
I'm not a beet fan. It's probably because I didn't grow up with them except for seeing the canned type. As an adult I've taken opportunities to try new produce and have learned to like spaghetti squash, jalapenos, and figs. But beets, although I've tried them, are not something I will order at a restaurant. And I didn't this time either. Suzanne did.

We were at Firebird Russian Restaurant in Carmichael. I had bought a half-off deal a while ago and Suzanne agreed to go with me since she's never had Russian food before. Myself, the last Russian restaurant I had been to had been a hole-in-the-wall sort of place in North Highlands. 

We drove up to find Firebird pretty much near the corner of Manzanita and Fair Oaks. The restaurant is located in a strip building but occupies most of the footage. At one end was a sign saying it used to have a deli/store, but it was now completely empty and it looked like they were converting that end into a dance floor for a night club.



The restaurant was attractive enough with a nice bar, tables, and booths. We also noticed a set of buffet tables with labels on the sneeze guard. I'm guessing that they have lunch buffets, but not at dinner. 

We were the only ones there on a Friday night (until a bit later). We got to choose our table and found it pre-set with the menus already out. The menus have quite a selection of cold and hot appetizers to the desserts. It took us a while to choose, but we ended up selecting the most commonly perceived Russian dishes. (Note that the menu on the website does not match the restaurant menu, perhaps a bit outdated.) 

 vareniki with farmer cheese filling
Under the heading of Dumplings and Doughs were several dishes of ravioli type dumplings and some blinis. We chose the varenki filled with farmer cheese to share as an appetizer. They arrived piping hot, drizzled with butter, and served with a cup of sour cream. This threw me a bit because I thought it was going to have a sour cream sauce. Still, they were very tasty and cooked tender. The tangy farmer cheese was a nice filling on its own, but the contrast with a dab of cold sour cream was nice too.

Olivie Russian style potato salad
We decided we would share whatever we ordered. Suzanne's selections were the olivie potato salad and borscht. I had skipped over the salad selection and definitely over the olivie salad because that automatically implied olives, which I hate. It is only a name and the salad consisted of chopped bits of cooked tomato, carrots, and ham, mixed with peas in a light cream dressing. As you can see, the plating was lovely. The salad was cool and on the light side even though it appears heavy. It was a hefty portion and we ended up taking half of it home with us.

Next was our large bowl of borscht. As I said, it wasn't something I would have ordered, not only because of the beets, but because I wouldn't have ordered soup when I was ordering an entree. Suzanne was aiming for the lighter side only to receive another large helping. We split it into another bowl so I could have some as well. We ordered ours with beef added. The scarlet liquid was teeming with shreds of beets, onions, and parsley. I had the misconception that borscht was a cold soup, but this was steaming hot and comforting. The flavor surprised me in that it tasted very similar to tomato soup. It certainly wasn't 'beety'. It was intriguing enough for me to be willing to make it sometime in the future.

Chicken Kiev
I do have some experience with Chicken Kiev. As a teenager at boarding school in Virginia, I would go to my aunt/uncle's house for the holidays. At Thanksgiving they would have chicken Kiev instead of turkey, I guess because they must not have liked turkey. Suzanne had never had it. 

This is the one item that I am unsure about in terms of whether it is truly made in house. I see no reason why it wouldn't be, since everything else was, but it was too perfect in shape and form. You see the perfect oval shape. The chicken was covered in a super crunchy layer of fine bread crumbs. Inside it oozed cheese and melted herbed butter. No matter how it looked, it was a delight to eat - the crunch of the breading, tender chicken, and melty cheese. We had been asked if we wanted a side and so we added spinach blini. The three blini were filled with a sauteed spinach. I'm not sure if the spinach was sauteed in garlic butter or the finished blini were basted with garlic butter, either way, there was lovely garlic butter to make them oh so good. The salad you see was sliced cucumbers and radishes tossed with the same light cream dressing.

berry puffs
As many know, I cannot turn away from a Napoleon. The berry puff dessert was described as their version of a Napoleon, and so we ordered it to split. We received the two lovely stacks of pillowy puffs drizzled with a berry sauce and an interesting cream. We enjoyed every bit.

Towards the end of our meal a Russian couple came in for dinner. Natives eating at an ethnic restaurant is always good to see.

Despite some poor reviews I had come across, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal and taste of Russia. I'd be interested in returning to try some of the less known Russian dishes.
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