Dark woods of the waiting area bar opened up into a large expanse of redone industrial in white alternating with bare brick, with high ceilings and cross-beams. Six of us, including haggisthesecond, naxos, aca, easterbunny, and C., settled down in a table surrounded by other tables, a lively restaurant on a Tuesday night. The hard walls bounced the sounds around enough to make it hard to talk from one end of the table to the other, although not so problematic from side to side. With tasty, rich breads and a light horseradish spready to keep us going, we settled down to peruse the menu.
It was rich with eastern European mystery, dishes whose names none of us recognized. It reflected my ignorance of Eastern European cuisine; the restaurant may be called Baltic, but knowing I was equally seeing Hungarian dishes on the menu, I realized how few of them I could accurately categorize. Dish names were described, but not always to full enlightenment. Barszcz, for example, is a "clear beetroot soup with krokiecik".
I started with a vivid sour cherry soup, a smooth purée of cherry, perhaps rounded out by a light complement of potato, with a large number of pitted cherries lurking under the surface. Its relaxed, soothingly sweet (not TOO sweet) taste made me think it would be as good for dessert as appetizer. I tried one of easterbunny's pierogis, precisely formed dumplings with crisply defined edges, soft and tasty.
Operating on the logic that when indecisive, order the dish I lease understand or would be otherwise likely to eat, I had the salt beef with beetroot botwinka for my main. I asked the waitress for a recommendation of a side to complement the dish, but was underwhelmed by the chive mash, both for its flavor and consistency, but also because the botwinka involved potato. The salt beef, however, was superb: pink, tender, tasty, robust. The sweetness of the cooked beetroot complemented the meat's sweetness and flavor. Other sides were better, particularly the kasza and bacon, and the very garlicky green beans.
Despite the relative heartiness of the meal, we succumbed to dessert (except for naxos). For all the choices, we all went for the chocolate and and hazelnut torta with honeycomb ice cream. It was disappointing, its flavors all very low-key. Fortunately, we ordered a bottle of Tokaji 5 Puttonyos to share, the dense, smooth dessert wine whose delights eclipsed the dullness of the torta.
We started with pleasantly light cocktails and moved on to water and wine. C. is still gushing over the Frederic Mabileau Cabernet Sauvignon (2005). The Domaine Jacques Rouzé Quincy (2006) smelled of pear and grass, its taste a rather dry, light blend of lemon, pear, and hints of walnut. Service was reasonably good, and coat check service excellent.
By and large, the food was quite good, well-chosen and executed. When it disappointed, it was dull, not bad. I would happily go back; but I would equally happily try out other eastern European restaurants, to better learn just how to divide the dishes down further by country.