Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Restaurant Remix 2: Veselka

LOCATION: 144 2nd Avenue
DATE: July 24, 2005
FOOD: Deluxe Meat Combination Plate (with substitutions) – Cup of Lentil Soup; Salad; 1 Meatless Stuffed Cabbage; Grilled Kielbasa; 1 Spinach and Cheese, 1 Sweet Potato, 1 Sauerkraut and Mushroom Pierogies. Dessert – Pear, Blueberry and Almond Tart a la Mode; Sticky Bun; Chocolate Cupcake.
BEVERAGE: Tap Water; Decaf Coffee
PRICE: $29.00

Old habits die hard. Or perhaps, old habits are really old friends and they shouldn’t die at all. While new experiences are all well and good, when it comes to comfort food, especially late night comfort food, novelty just isn’t an option. Thus, while a disappointing Bigos experience had left me wondering whether to return to Veselka, my late night standby, in the end, I knew I couldn’t leave New York without one more trip to the 24 hour East Village Ukranian.

Veselka deserved another chance. It had provided more than enough memories to warrant my forgiveness. From our first drunken gorging, to less intoxicated discussions on life’s complexities, to more drunken binges (including one following a meal at WD-50 that would be impossible for me to forget), Veselka has been Danny and my stand-by, the place we affectionately refer to as “our place”. Outsiders have accompanied us, but on our final visit, it was only the two of us and all our New York reminiscences.

On such a memory ridden, and somewhat bittersweet occasion, I had no intention of ordering anything new. I was returning to my Veselka favorites – the hearty Ukranian fare that sticks to the ribs and lasts even the longest of winters. I might not be a hunter (and have ideological qualms with the activity in general), but that wasn’t going to stop me from eating like one.

So with all the difficulty of Meg Ryan’s Sally in When Harry Met Sally, I ordered the Deluxe Meat Combination Plate, only to substitute until all of the beef items had been replaced by their corresponding vegetable renditions (I wanted the kielbasa – somehow pork is okay). I was bringing in scabs, but I didn’t care. All that mattered was that the job of feasting got done.

The lentil soup starter was thick, only lightly salted, and most importantly, fresh. Unlike canned lentil soups (Progresso, I’m looking in your direction) Veselka’s soup could in no way be called watery. The house salad, with a tangy lemon and dill vinaigrette was equally simple and equally delicious. It was the type of no nonsense cuisine that endeared Veselka to me in the first place.

But then came the gist of the order. A meatless stuffed cabbage, covered in white mushroom gravy, was a viable alternative to its meat filled cousin. The cabbage was crisp instead of limpid, the rice and ground vegetable filling creating a surprisingly light take on a dish traditionally as heavy as Ukranian snowfall. The kielbasa was tender with a crusty skin providing a pleasant chew. And of course, the pierogies, the tasty dumplings that Veselka seems to do better than anyone else. The sweet potato is perhaps the best, an unadulterated filling complimenting its familial, unsweetened brethren, used as the wrapping.

However, the meal was far from over. Ever since our first visit last June, Veselka has gained in stature in the minds of both Danny and myself largely because of its desserts. Pierogies are all well and good, but a dumpling can’t touch my sweet tooth fit for a saber-toothed tiger. Thus, in accordance with so many past gluttonies come and gone, I ordered a three course dessert mania that would have left even Jacques Torres speechless. I had tried the banana and vanilla cupcakes on previous Veselka splurges, but the chocolate cupcake surpassed both of these for moistness and flavor. The icing had the perfect restrained sweetness I desire in a cupcake. And as the night was about old friends, I found great solace in the sticky bun, lacquered with enough pecans to make a pie, the pastry, akin to the cupcake, was soft and moist. The caramel coating was sugary enough to be a dessert, but mild enough for breakfast. But the hands down winner of the impromptu dessert competition was the pear and blueberry tart, an unexpected innovative turn from the Veselka bakery. While the blueberries should have been better integrated into the rest of the tart’s damp, fruity texture, the tart was half cake, half pie, and completely wonderful.

Thus, while it might have been our last visit to Veselka, it was one of the best. Even as melancholy feelings melted within me like the ice cream a la mode on my tart, I was heartened that Veselka was there, everyday, 24 hours a day, open and consistent. It might take a while for me to get back to New York, but oddly, its reassuring to know that no matter where I am, Veselka will be open and waiting for one more late night bout of revelry.

RATING: 7.8/10

1 comment:

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