Guam Diner Bytes: Izba Fusion Russian
Since their opening in January of this year, Izba Fusion Russian Restaurant has seen a steady rise in traffic as customers (both Russian visitors) and local residents walk in to this chic and modern designed restaurant that has an understated charm. For locals, it has to really be a curiosity to venture out and try Russian cuisine. I had wanted to visit Izba but wanted to wait until they were “ready” (or as close to ready) as they could be. I also wanted to get a Russian perspective on the food at Izba so we (Zee & I) made a date with our friend, Vasili Mladinov, who has Guam Voyage (a Russian tour company) and also jumps out of planes at Sky Dive Guam! Joining our dinner were work colleagues, Mark and Aileen. We also were joined by Natalya Burykina, owner of Izba. Natalya was a most gracious and entertaining hostess and we communicated with Vasili’s translations . The dinner conversation was quite animated and we literally broke bread as we shared a closeness one can only find around a happy dinner table. The word “Izba” means a small wooden chalet, which made our experience more intimate and homey.
We ordered a wide variety of food selections, which I thought would be the best way to appreciate the breadth and scope of Izba’s menu offerings. We focused on the key Russian entrees. The first thing we tried were Piroshki, which were delicious soft warm rolls with a jelly filling. Piroshki often have meat or something savory inside, so the jelly was a treat. These are baked fresh every day!
Next to arrive was Olivie ($8.00), which is a Russian home-style salad served cold with eggs, potatoes, carrots, chilled beef, and pickles. This was formed in a mold and garnished with parsley. The flavors were rather muted, yet you could distinguish each ingredient. The Smoked Salmon slices ($7.00) we had as an appetizer.
We had ordered Shashlik ($18), which is Marinated Pork Loin Grilled with Vegetables and Potatoes. This has a dramatic “grilled” presentation as it comes in a foil wrapper and the meat is quite good. The cauliflower, green onion, bell pepper, broccoli, zucchini, and tomato were all grilled perfectly. Of course, mashed potatoes were as they should be - prevalent throughout the meal although rice was an option!
Natalya had ordered a Greek Salad ($13) which we shared. It had the usual Feta cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, olives, and peppers, but also had basil and walnuts, giving it a different spin. Again, all ingredients were very fresh and delighted the palates with their crunchiness.
What would a Russian meal be without Beef Stroganoff? That was what arrived next to everyone’s delight. It’s always been a favorite food for many and Izba’s Beef Stroganoff ($19), doesn’t disappoint. It had thinly sliced beef rib eye sauteed with onions and mushrooms with a cream sauce and mashed potatoes. We were sharing these dishes and I’m glad we did because I could have tackled this one alone! The next two dishes were the Pelmini with Bouillon ($8.00), which is a Russian style dumpling made with ground beef and pork, served in a savory bouillon. The other version of the Pelmini was served out of the broth in a bowl, and you would add sour cream on top. Pelmeni are often called Siberian dumplings - maybe because they could be made up and put outside where they would remain frozen until you needed them. They are akin to pot stickers, dim sum and pierogies.
Finally we were served the Borsch (which we had ordered earlier, but the order was somehow mixed up and the soups came delayed and without much temperature). Borsch is the traditional Russian soup made with beets, carrots, cabbage, onions, and garlic, then simmered in a meat bouillon. This gets served with sour cream and bread. A higher temperature would have melted the sour cream, however, the flavor of the broth and taste of the ingredients was exquisite. This comes in a large size ($8) and a small one ($5). The bread we had was fresh baked rye, which was notably delicious. It was then that we found out that our old friend Chef Joe Borja was baking his great breads there!
Unfortunately, we didn’t have an intermission so the food kept coming out! Next was the Golubtsy (Cabbage Roll- $11.00), which has fresh ground meat and rice rolled in a steamed cabbage then baked in a homemade sour cream and tomato sauce. This was another great surprise! I liked these ingredients and have always enjoyed cabbage. A little more salt enhanced the flavors.
Our final entree was one I had really anticipated having when I’d ordered it! It was the Chicken Tabaka ($17.00). The description alone sells this dish! “Young Chicken Fried under a press with garlic sauce and served with mashed potatoes”! Doesn’t that sound appealing? By this time in the dinner, everyone else had slowed down and I was able to enjoy the lion’s share of this grilled fowl!
It would not have been right if we left without trying dessert - Blinis were brought out! These Russian pancakes or crepes are a royal Russian breakfast/dessert, and are best when eaten with sour cream, honey, and jam. Of course these were eaten and enjoyed by all...they are light and people love a little honey in their lives!
We were very well served by the staff at Izba Russian Fusion Restaurant. The only hiccup was with the Borsch but that was understandable with the volume of food we’d ordered. I can absolutely recommend Izba Russian Fusion Restaurant as a fascinating place to cross over the cultural culinary gaps between us. We definitely can learn more with our mouths and palates than we can just using our heads! We must and will return to try more items on their menu! Kudos to Natalya and her team. Thank you Vasili for your patience, grace, and humor! We enjoy life!
Ken “The Guam Food Guy” Stewart