San Francisco is a small city, but sometimes the whole idea of getting on MUNI and riding out to say, the Richmond District, can be exhausting. It's a bus trip only for those of us with no car and when you stop at every other corner, it can take a toll, some time, mental anguish, etc. Because my friend Ms. O works out that way, every now and then I'll text her up and say "hey, how 'bout I come out your way to try some place there." That's what happened a few weeks ago when I deliriously decided to take something besides the 38 Geary. Instead, I opted for the 1 California just to be different. Yes, it was a slow slog, but then the driver decided that one particular stop was his last before turning around or going on break or something and we all had to get off roughly 10 blocks from where we all thought the end run was gonna be. Ugh, MUNI. Needless to say, after a transfer, I reached my destination and me and O met up at Cafe Europa (oddly, they have no website).
To be honest, I'd never heard of the place and found it on that review site I don't like, but use for aggregate listings of places in particular hoods. Walking up to it, I want to say I vaguely remember this place as being an Irish themed bar sometime ago, but decades run together after awhile so hard to be sure. Either way, it looked cute and we got there just as they opened (only for dinner) which sometimes can be a good thing as food is practically made to order and you are the only ones being waited on. We'll see. The theme is definitely what the sign says--"Eastern European comfort food." It's a mix of Russian, German and Polish foods, so I think they've got it covered. Both of us were hungry, meaning we are going full on apps, entrees and desserts.
First up--borscht! Served hot (more like warm) and topped with sour cream, it's everything you think of in a traditional beet soup. I'm a beet fan and here they are shredded a plenty in the thin broth. For the most part it was good, though could have used a little seasoning, mostly salt or a larger dollop or sour cream. The slices of rye bread help sop up and add a little extra. As a starter, it was a decent basic bowl of soup. Not overly exciting, but filling and comforting on a chilly day for sure.
Second up--pierogi's. They are like a ravioli meets a potsticker. Pillows of boiled dough filled with either potatoes or cabbage and mushroom, served another, larger plop of sour cream (I'm guessing this is staple in many Eastern European dishes). These were cooked perfectly, not too doughy or chewy, very light and soft. For me I felt the filling needed to be upped as I had trouble telling which was potato and which was cabbage mushroom. I really wanted these flavors to come through more. I think I ended up just smearing everything in sour cream to finish since it didn't really matter. Outer shell nice, filling, eh.
I can't go to a place like this and not get schnitzel. We got the pork served with a side of sautéed potatoes, mushroom gravy and baked sauerkraut. This was a winner, winner schnitzel dinner. The pork was pounded thin then coated and deep fried to a lovely golden brown. It was tender and tasty, seasoned just right and not weighed down with the outer batter. They were evenly mixed and we both really liked this. For me, I didn't even need the gravy, the meat was great on its own. The potatoes were pretty basic so the gravy came in more handy for them to spruce them up a bit. The sauerkraut, while Ms. O wasn't the biggest fan, I freakin' loved it. Turns out it is sautéed with bacon, mixed with all spice and then baked. Bacon adds a nice smokiness to it and the all spice gives it a Middle Eastern kick that surprisingly blends well with the fermented cabbage. I have to say, this is some of the best sauerkraut I've had and would probably fix this as a side dish all the time if I could replicate it. Even if you don't get the schnitzel you should definitely try this variation of sauerkraut as a side dish.
Then it was beef stroganoff (another dish that uses sour cream as an additive) with German egg noodles. Tender bits of beef and mushroom in a creamy gravy served over perfectly cooked noodles. This dish as also a favorite of us both. Much like the schnitzel, the serving size is huge which allows you to both share and dig into a plate that tastes good, fills you up and makes you feel warm inside. You know, that whole comfort food thing. Very well done and highly recommended. Neither of us finished our entrees and got the leftovers to go, because, well, duh, of course we wanted to try dessert.
Blintz with farmers cheese and strawberry puree. These are basically crepes with a ricotta like filling and a puree that was more like jam. If you don't like desserts that are too sweet and are light and airy then these are perfect. Much like the dollops of cream, they have a touch of sweetness and you feel like you've eaten a whole cake when you are done. I mostly liked them as far as their execution and something different for a change. But you know me, I like my stuff with a little more heft. That's a personal choice as opposed to a knock on this dessert.
Thus a reason to also try the apple cake. Like a flat sheet cake, it is 2 layers of moist yellow cake with a layer of apple, cinnamon, brown sugar compote mixture spread through the middle. Again, this wasn't an overly sweet dessert and that work here as the slight tartness of the apples balanced the sugar and cake. But it was definitely dense and moist and for me, the idea of dessert. It was kind of like a strudel in cake form. We both give this a thumbs up.
Beyond the just okay appetizers, both me and Ms. O really liked this place. The server was friendly and attentive, the atmosphere was relaxed and the main entrees were really very good. This is an Inner Richmond gem that was worth the MUNI hassles to get there. If you are in the mood for some of that "Eastern European comfort food," Cafe Europa is definitely worth a try. And yes, I'll say it again--try the sauerkraut!