By Nancy Tannler
720 SE Grand Ave.
Open daily 4 pm – 12 am
Portland has a large Russian population but not that many places to enjoy Russian food. Fortunately for the locals, we are able to experience this cuisine right here in SE at Kachka.
Bonnie Morales and her husband Israel opened the restaurant in 2014 and have been sharing traditional and innovative Russian food to the delight of dinners ever since.
Although it seems as though restaurants somehow magically appear, there’s always an interesting back story leading to a person’s decision to take on this rewarding yet challenging occupation.
Bonnie’s parents immigrated from Belarus to Chicago before she was born. (Belarus is a landlocked country bordered by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and the Second Polish Republic.)She first moved to New York to work in the high tech industrial design business. In her free time, Bonnie often found herself luxuriating over the beautiful food selections at the Union Square Farmers Market where she began to feel her affinity to food and its possibilities for enjoyment. Once the thrill of the design industry was gone, she attended culinary school.
Bonnie met Israel while working at the world-renowned restaurant Tru that served progressive French cuisine. They worked both the front of the house and the kitchen, learning the language and the needs of both the dining room attendants and the chefs. She said it is really important that these two areas work as a team so everyone knows what to do to keep the flow of the restaurant seamless.
After long hours at the restaurant, they weren’t that interested in cooking more. “We relied on a Russian staple, frozen dumplings,” Bonnie said. “They are comforting and delicious.” She recalled the story of how the families in Russia would make huge batches of dumplings and throw them out the window onto the snow to freeze for use all winter long.
The idea to open a restaurant that featured the best Russian cuisine began to germinate in part due to the dumplings and also because of the experience of her family’s dinners. In Russia the ritual surrounding the meal goes clink, drink, eat and repeat. The toasting gives the diners an opportunity to speak out about something special, another person or just life in general – kind of like a spontaneous game of “Table Topics”. It gives an intimate quality to the dinner.
“All we needed was the dare from my brother, already living in Portland, to say to us, if not now when? He was right and we decided to move here and open Kachka in 2014,” Bonnie said.
The long, narrow building has a certain charm combining an old world quality with modern day Portland. The ceiling of the backroom is made of embossed metal in the style of the borders on religious Russian icons and visually aesthetic.
Because the Russian winters are long, traditional food was preserved in different ways. Pickling is especially popular and Kachka offers choices of sauerkraut, cucumbers, cauliflower, red peppers and shiitakes served as sides and combined in dinners.
The litovsky cheese is a hard cheese high in proteinases, a digestive aid, similar to the probiotics of pickled food. Other cured menu items include basturma, a dried, aged beef that resembles salami only with different spices; herring, beet-cured steelhead; cold smoked capitan and wonderful horseradish and mustard sauces.
The menu is all available online at katchkapdx.com but to whet your appetite for something different there’s the Herring Under a Fur Coat, the Russian version of a seven layer salad that includes herring, potatoes, onions, carrots, beets mayo and eggs; and the Siberian Pelmeni (dumpling) made with beef, pork veal and onion.
Happy Hour is an opportunity to enjoy zakuski, or Russian hot and cold hors d’oeuvres. For dessert, Russian style ice cream sandwich (plombir) and the sour cherry vareniki (dumpling) are a few of the offerings.
Of course let’s not forget the importance of the vodka. They bottle their own Kachka Horseradish Vodka to sip or shoot between bites of food (available here or at New Deal Distillery).
There’s an extensive selection of drinks and infusions available for you to enjoy while you clink, eat, drink, repeat.