A svelte brunette croons "Besame Mucho" to the small crowd, her smooth voice accompanied by a computer-driven soundtrack. The song runs seamlessly into the next, a dreamy Russian folk tune. She doesn't mind that no one applauds. She's creating atmosphere.
More features create atmosphere at Old Village Restaurant: a wall mural of the Georgian countryside, the deep Slavic accents of the waitress and maitre d', footed cut-glass bowls, silver-plated utensils and linen tablecloths create a sense of place that belie the mini-mall parking lot outside. I feel like I'm in a dining scene from Anna Karenina, but one at Konstantin Levin's less formal country home.
Old Village was my choice for Mother's Day dinner. I don't have an ounce of Russian blood in my veins but the culture has appealed to me ever since my mother took me there when I was 13. I don't remember the food but I do recall being pushed violently through the GUM department store in Moscow. The Russians have a reputation for being brusque. To some, the maitre d' at Old Village may come across that way but we found his gruffness charming.
Every menu item we tried was unique and delicious. We stuck with the house specialties (designated by a little red crown) and were never disappointed. The olivieh salad ($7.99), always eaten for luck on New Year's Day, was delicious on Mother's Day as well. A cousin to American potato salad, this dish has smaller bits of chopped potato, egg, chicken and pickles with peas and lots of fresh dill. We ordered a second bowl. It goes well with the fragrant (and complimentary) Russian bread and garlic butter.
More porcelain bowls arrived, one carrying satsivi, a cold Russian stew ($14.99). Chunks of chicken lounge in a thick sauce made with ground walnuts, stewed onions and herbs like coriander, saffron and cinnamon. It was cool and refreshing on a warm evening. More commonly chilled, the borsche at Old Village is served hot ($7.99). The warmth brings out the remarkable flavors and textures. Earthy beets and rich beef broth are foremost on the palate, then onions, parsley and other crispy, fresh vegetables come into play. If borsche is the gold standard of Russian soups, then kharcho is the Georgian vanguard. Hot and spicy, this one wakes up your throat with paprika, cilantro and a robust lamb flavor ($7.99).
They were out of the pizza-like khachapuri so we got the blinchiky instead. Thin pancakes are stuffed with meat, folded over and grilled. We called them chicken crepes with the Crunch Wrap Supreme effect. (If you're a Taco Bell fan, you know what I'm talking about.) Finally, we indulged in their famous khincali. The round, twisted purses of dough and meat are reminiscent of Shanghai-style dumplings — they squirt hot broth when you cut them open — but these are as big as hamburgers. The dough is thicker and the seasonings of black pepper and caraway are far from East Asian. At $1.99 each, they make a great snack.
Parking is tricky and there's no liquor license at this time but the cold Russian compote fruit drink ($2.99) is delightful. The whole evening was fun and full of adventurous eating. Our only issue was over-ordering due to a language barrier. We ate it all anyway. I can't wait to go back and try the rest of the menu.
What: Old Village Restaurant
Where: 1100 S. Central Ave., Glendale
When: Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, Salads, Soups $1.99 to $19.99; Entrees $12.99 to $24.99
More info: (818) 551-2000, www.oldvillrestaurant.com
--LISA DUPUY has written about area restaurants since 2008. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.