In some ways the owners of Stoli are wonderfully naïve about American culture; in others, wonderfully sophisticated and knowing. The menu satirically puts an adjective on every single dish. So it is soothing mushroom soup, enticing chicken on the grill, honorable chicken kebab, and noteworthy grilled portobello mushroom. The appetizers have more adjectives than the Boy Scouts: fun, distinguished, elegant, famous, fashionable, delicious, trendy, home-style, noteworthy, low-calorie, and lavish. New dishes will surely be invented for upright, reverent, and cheerful. Some things are a mixture of American and non-American culture: the bar has a plasma TV, but it’s tuned to Animal Planet, not the Red Sox game. So the biggest impending series in this restaurant is the meekrats, not the Toronto Blue Jays.
Stoli: From Russia, with good food.
Food starts off solidly with a basket of dense Russian-rye slices and sweet butter. If you don’t finish the bread, it will be sent home in your doggy bag, which is a wonderful idea. Celebrated “Ukrainsky” borsch ($4) is a hearty vegan soup made mostly of cabbage and some carrot, and subtly flavored with cloves. A few beets give the soup a pink tint, and it’s served in what most Bostonians will describe as a bean pot, with a dollop of sour cream on the side.
Renowned vareniki with potatoes ($8) is starch heaven: eight dumplings in the shape of fat Peking ravioli, stuffed with a mashed potato. It’s served with a cabbage-and-mushroom relish and more sour cream, which makes for a fine sauce. The distinguished Russian tower ($12) is a pile of folded blintzes topped with smoked salmon. Large salmon caviar, capers, and onions are served on the side.
The fashionable Atlantic smoked eel ($9) is actually a salad, though fans of Japanese restaurants’ grilled eel will not be overwhelmed. The eel here is cold, not very smoky, and more fish-flavored. It does, however, offer a nice salad of field greens. The home-style thick-cut grilled eggplant ($7) is an outstanding starter, as the eggplant is cold, marinated, and served with a sharp walnut sauce/stuffing.
Moving on to the entrées, the adjectives are right on. Popular beef Stroganoff ($17) deserves to be popular if it isn’t already. The strips of steak and mushrooms in a savory cream sauce are hard to beat, especially when mixed with excellent mashed potatoes and vegetables (zucchini, carrots). It’s served in a bean pot as well. The indulgent duck-breast dish ($18) offers nicely sautéed medallions served with a cranberry-sauce-stuffed baked apple. It also comes with more of those mashed potatoes and token veggies.
Praiseworthy Karsky lamb ($23) is one of the best racks around at its price. It comes with four cooked-to-order baby chops, oven-fried potatoes, a few veggies, and a spicy sauce. Succulent veal chops ($26) are not the large rib chops we usually see, but baby ones arranged in a similar boned-up cage and well-seasoned with a dark, peppery jus along with mashed potatoes and vegetables.