The New York Times published an article about “Belarussian Xata” restaurant in Brooklyn, NY, that will make you drop everything and fly straight to Belarus.
We’ve never read a text describing the Belarusian cuisine with so much love and appreciation before. Enjoy it with us!
Warning: Don’t read it on an empty stomach, unless you’re into drooling uncontrollably!
Belarusian magic at work
At Belarussian Xata in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, birch sap comes in a tall carafe, unclouded and pure.
The taste is close to water, only water as if just rained down and sipped from a blossom, with a delicate, attenuated sweetness: what a dryad might live on.
The Belarusians have drunk birch sap for centuries. Now some in the United States extol the drink as a rival to coconut water, for its supposed restorative powers. We are late to the party.
Read also: 11 places to eat Belarusian in Minsk. Part 1
Certainly there is an odd magic at work at Belarussian Xata, where, as the meal progresses, the food grows increasingly rich — a kind of homage to hyperphagia, the fattening period before hibernation — yet the spirit stays light.
“My mother’s is better”
And it’s only to whet your appetite so to say!
To solve the mystery behind the hearty but still light dishes, the bold reviewer goes for a horseradish-spiked vodka and suddenly finds himself in the middle of the Belarusian feast.
It could be the birch sap or the horseradish-spiked vodka, scouring tongue and soul; the postcard-pretty tables draped with rushnyky, ceremonial embroidered linen towels that follow Belarusians from birth to death, and surrounded by wooden fences with upturned pitchers hanging from the posts; or a shyly charming waiter who whispers, of one particular dish: “Of course my mother’s is better.”
“To begin: zakuski, small plates that are not so small. Hog ears are fried into strips, with more crunch than fat.
A sushi board becomes a platform for open-faced herring sandwiches, built not on bread but rounds of potato, cucumber and hard-boiled egg.
The brininess is tempered by sour cream and a confetti of red onion.”
Chef from heart of Belarus
As soon as the critic had a bite, he feels it’s hight time to make new acquaintances and have a few words with those feeding him so generously like only Belarusians do.
“The chef, Ilya Frolov, was born in Minsk, the Belarusian capital. He makes honorable, old-country draniki, cakes of grated potato, bound by egg and bronzed in a pan.
They might be interleaved with slices of pork neck under a mantle of melted cheese, but are just as good with nothing but sour cream.
Kolduni start with the same potato batter, only inside is buried treasure — meat or mushrooms, in a creamy lather.”
Why does it feel like heaven?
Fanned out on a platter are swirled bouquets of salo (cured fatback), in three varieties: Belarusian, plush and quick to liquid on the tongue; smoked, its flavor shading toward aged Cheddar; and Hungarian, aflutter with paprika.
Stalks of green onion, cherry tomatoes and a broken-down head of garlic crowd around, with splendidly fuming potatoes in a skillet alongside.
A more modest, singular helping of salo is accompanied by batons of rye bread as fat as French fries, crisped in butter, rubbed with garlic and tumbled into a cone of newspaper.
Read also: 11 places to eat Belarusian in Minsk. Part 2
In borscht, the sweetness of the beets is kept in check by salty nubs of pork and beef.
Yellow split pea soup, soothing and mild, lands on the table with a pork rib jutting out, the hilt thoughtfully wrapped in foil and the meat smoke incarnate.
The main courses bring more pork.
For machanka, hunks of rib, shoulder and a peasant-style sausage made in-house are left to commune in a pot for hours and presented with draniki or kerchiefs of blini, the better to soak up the stew.
Neat bundles of cabbage divulge pork, beef and carrots, gently sweet.
A monumental pork knuckle is braised and then baked until the fat wobbles off its flanks, calling to mind a slow avalanche.
Like at home or better
We doubt you’ve managed to read to this point instead of packing your bags and ordering tickets but if so, you can satify your dessert cravings here.
The Belarussian Xata opened in Brooklyn this past September, taking over a two-story building.
The restaurant is run by a businessman from Minsk and his hospitable family, this is why one can be sure he will be fed, watered and entertained like at home or even better!