While living in Florence, one of the things I missed most about the US was variety, especially in food. Sure, there was variety of Italian food, everything edible between Milan and Sicily, but not much in the way of international fare.
A few overpriced sushi spots, some mediocre Indian restaurants, a couple burger places, and the ubiquitous kebab vendors— none of them really fantastic either. For the most part (and there were occasional exceptions) they were places where you went to get a burrito fix or quell a California roll craving.
But in New York, it seems cuisine from every corner of the world is represented, and a lot of times it’s pretty good. All the standards like Mexican, Italian and Chinese but also more unexpected, interesting ones like Afghani, Tibetan and Ukrainian.
It was this last one that I recently had at Veselka, a 24-hour East Village eatery serving Ukrainian “soul food.”
I had been there before, during my first ever visit to the city a few years ago, but it was one of those 4-day sightseeing whirlwinds where everything ends up blurring together. So I gave it another go.
Not really sure what to get, mostly because I didn’t really know what anything was, I ordered what seemed to have a little bit of everything: the meat combination plate. Cup of soup and salad, one meat stuffed cabbage, two meat and two potato pierogi, beet salad and apple sauce. (What can I say? I like variety.)
The waitress recommended the borscht, a typical Ukranian soup, and since it seemed to be the most authentic, I went with it. Made with beets (which give the soup it’s deep, purplish red hue) onions, carrots, and some other veggies I couldn’t make out, this soup was tasty but not heavy. It seemed like something your Ukranian Grandma Ola would slave over for hours in the winter… if you know, you had a Ukranian Grandma Ola.
The salad was good, nothing fancy but with a tangy, vinaigrette-style dressing.
Next up was the main event, the meat plate. The pierogi, Ukranian boiled dumplings were soft, doughy pockets stuffed with meat and potatoes. But unlike Asian dumplings, the dough used in these was a bit thicker, making these pretty filling.
But I wasn’t going to let a little pierogi stop me, so I moved on to the stuffed cabbage. This hearty hunk of moist, tasty ground meat wrapped in a soft cabbage leaf and topped with a creamy sauce was my favorite part of the meal but even more filling than the pierogi, so that by the time I finished it, I was completely stuffed.
The apple sauce, only a couple spoonfuls worth, was the perfect small taste of something sweet to the end the meal with.
I rarely say this, but I was so full I couldn’t even think of dessert. Veselka did have some nice looking sweets though, including cakes and cupcakes.
(I made a mental note for next time.)