I am shamelessly addicted to good food. To me, good food isn't defined by culture, region or nationality. Every place, every culture in this great big world has its own glorious dishes to offer, and luckily for me, some of them can be found in surprising little nooks and crannies around the Treasure Valley.
Thankfully, I have an adventurous husband and enough good foodie friends who are eager to pull up a chair and dig into a new culinary adventure. Ready to explore a new hidden treasure, we entered the Russian Bear Cafe, quietly nestled in a strip mall in Eagle.
My husband and I joined our good friends Frank and Kerrigan for lunch on a Saturday. Frank, a longtime local chef and caterer, has wanted to join me on a food review for some time. He and I eagerly attacked the menu as our quieter, less food-obsessed counterparts resigned graciously to eating whatever we chose. And as usual, after our food arrived, I suffered plate envy.
We foodies agreed that my husband got the best dish of the day. He ordered the cabbage rolls ($9.78) stuffed with beef and turkey, swimming in a pool of delicate tomato-based sauce. Flavor-wise, the cabbage rolls were mellow, almost indistinct, but the stuffing was made of quality meat, and the cabbage was tender and rolled well. The winner was the tomato-based sauce, which had the essence of a smooth, rich broth.
Kerrigan ordered the lunch special ($9.97), which included a bowl of borscht, two blinis (Russian crepes)—one with ham and cheese, the other with mixed fruit jam.
I've had borscht before, but it's not something I often seek out. Because it's made with beets, borscht generally gets a bum rap. I'm not sure if I was caught up in the owner's enthusiasm as he talked lovingly about his food, but I can say without any doubt that the borscht I tasted at Russian Bear Cafe was the best I've ever had and definitely something I'll try again.
Chef Frank ordered the beef stroganoff ($14.35), which came in an enormous portion, loading down the plate with skin-on mashed red potatoes and roasted grains. The roasted grains were a nice blend of corn, barley, wild rice, buckwheat and black beans and each of us greedily poked our forks in to get another bite. Every morsel of beef was extremely tender, but we all felt the plate was a little spendy for lunch.
I tried the potato pancakes with Polish sausage and sour cream ($8.75). The pancakes were a nice blend of textures with crispy outsides and soft middles. I didn't feel any overwhelming love for my dish though; the sausages weren't anything special and the pancakes weren't spectacular either.
On the plus side, the blinis were very good. Also, the beer I ordered (a 16.9-ounce Baltika No. 6 for $5.99) was very good, and something I look forward to tasting again.
The owners do everything from serving to cooking all the food from scratch, using recipes passed down from their ancestors. With rich, lyrical accents they invite you in, and you'll definitely feel welcome. Russian Bear Cafe is nicely decorated in warm colors and bright pictures of the owners' homeland. It has a casual cafe feel: homey and comfortable. The food we tried was better than average but not four stars. We definitely found a few dishes we really liked, but others we thought were so-so. However, I am looking forward to taking my family and friends back to try blinis again, and I'll definitely have more beer. Frank gave it a rating of seven and a half out of ten, and I gave it a B-plus. Was it a Treasure Valley find? Maybe not a diamond, but definitely a gem nonetheless.
—Rachel Abrahamson is not Stalin to Putin her two cents.