I still remember my first Russian meal in Brookline; a bunch of us slurping down bowls of borscht over lace tablecloths, while a fellow diner warbled Tchaikovsky over the tinny notes of an upright piano in the corner.
That place has since closed, and Stoli Bar and Restaurant is decidedly more posh than that restaurant of my memories. Stoli is a tiny place, with red leather booths and a TV looping rap performances over a bar that’s well-stocked with vodka. The housemade infused vodkas at Stoli, like black currant, cranberry, and mint, are smooth, juicy, and perfect for sipping. We loved the honey vodka, which was soft and sweet, but I’ve also heard that the horseradish vodka makes a killer bloody mary.
Start with an appetizer like Samsa ($7), pockets of puff pastry filled with lamb, beef, and onions served with fresh dill and a yogurt dressing. Or, enjoy the Russian tower ($12), an artful layering of favorite Russian elements that blend into lovely roundness of flavor. Each bite offers a bit of chewy blintz, smooth sour cream, the saltish depth of smoked salmon, and savory caviar, which linger gently together in the mouth.
A plateful of Manti ($18), steamed dumplings filled with minced lamb, enticed with its pure lamb flavor and chewy housemade dough. True to form, there’s a lot of meat, fish, and dough on this menu, but offering a bit of balance is a selection of salads and vegetables, like the arugula salad ($8) or eggplant with garlic, tomatoes, and walnut sauce ($7).
Beef stroganoff ($19) is here in its essential form--tender strips of beef, meaty mushrooms, and onion swimming in a velvety sauce of cream, butter, and dill. It’s fantastically rich, and I found myself scraping the bottom of the dish for more.
Kulebyaka ($20), a filet of salmon over slivered vegetables, arrived wrapped in a fish-shaped puff pastry, complete with an olive staring back at you in place of an eye. The vegetables and salmon were pleasantly spiced, but this dish requires a careful eye for timing in the oven, and our salmon was woefully overdone.
Stoli’s recipe for borscht ($5), laced with caraway seeds and fresh dill, doesn’t use beef broth like most do; it’s entirely vegetarian, which may be the reason behind its slightly thin, sweetish qualities. This bowl was fine, but I yearned for the full-bodied savory flavors that I’ve come to expect from this bright red soup.
The dessert menu offers intriguing choices like apple “schtrudel” to Cherry Vareniki, homemade dumplings with a cherry- and whipped-cream finish. We chose fruit blintzes ($6), filled with apples, bananas, and strawberries sauteed in red wine, and then indulged in blintzes with warm chocolate mousse ($7), which spilled a river of incredible warm chocolate onto the plate as we forked into it.
So maybe there was no Tchaikovsky, but there was a skillful accordion player, who plays at Stoli every weekend. We dined to tunes like “The Girl from Ipanema” and relished our meals that came from Russia (or at least from Brookline Village), with love.
Stoli Bar and Restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday, 12pm-12am. 213 Washington Street, Brookline Village. MBTA: Green Line (D) to Brookline Village.