Ukrainian Restaurant Ruta Shines Near Eastern Market

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Heading the kitchen at Ruta Ukrainian Restaurant (near Eastern Market), is Chef Dima and Sous Chef Mykola Yudin who prepare authentic dishes from their homeland.

June–and restaurants–are bursting out all over. Well, not exactly, but Capitol Hill has gained so many new establishments, and they are winners.

Ukrainian Power

Near Eastern Market, the eagerly awaited Ruta Ukrainian Restaurant quietly opened late last month at 327 Seventh St. SE. Ruta, named after a red flower from ancient folklore, is reportedly Washington’s only Ukrainian restaurant. Heading Chef Dima Martseniuk’s menu is Ukrainian borscht, potato pancakes (similar to latkes), varenykys (like pierogis), chicken Kyiv, beef stroganoff and a smattering of salads and burgers. There’s also a brief wine and beer listing.

On a chilly mid-week evening, we were grateful for our 7:30 reservations. The place was packed–humming with positive energy. Our pleasant server warned us that service would be slow. No problem; we were busy admiring the colorful Ukrainian paintings and other ethnic motifs.

At Ruta, a plate of varenyky –with assorted fillings—make a delicious shareable appetizer.

Sipping our drinks–California Cabernet Sauvignon and a Lvivke 1715 Ukrainian beer–we perused the brief but comprehensive menu. We launched our repast by sharing a bowl of borscht–a hearty mélange of beef, cabbage and potatoes presented with the obligatory sour cream. (You can also opt for a veggie version.) Then we tackled a plate of varenykys with various fillings: Buffalo chicken, short ribs, potato/sauerkraut.

We barely found space for our entrée: chicken Kyiv. The signature dish–chicken breast wrapped around melted cheese–outshone the rendition we experienced on a long ago visit to Kyiv, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

Dinner for two with a drink apiece came to $87. Service, rendered by Dora, was thoughtful and friendly. For now, Ruta is open for dinner only; for more information and reservations (highly recommended!), visit rutadc.us.

New on Barracks Row

At Akeno Sushi Bar & Thai (Barracks Row), Thai-born Chef Jack creates delicious sushi and sashimi plus other Asian dishes.

Barracks Row welcomes Akeno Sushi Bar & Thai, 524 Eighth St. SE (upstairs), where Nooshi used to be. Here we find Japanese and Siamese cuisine all under one roof, this time featuring a festive rooftop bar.

Akeno, Japanese for “sunrise,” is a spinoff of the same-named restaurant in Alexandria. Crafted by Thai-born Chef Jack, the eclectic menu showcases marvelous sushi and sashimi. The upscale lineup includes maguro (bluefin tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), unagi (broiled eel), uni (sea urchin), sake (salmon), tako (octopus) and combo plates. Since Chef Jack hails from Thailand, his menu offers dishes like Pad Thai, drunken beef (noodles), Ka Prow beef and assorted curries.

Chef Jack’s “Sashimi Tasting” is a trio of seared halibut, salmon and yellowtail crowned with jalapeno pepper circlets.

We were beyond amazed; Akeno’s kitchen does some serious cooking. Unable to choose from the mind-boggling selection–we ordered the chef’s sashimi “tasting.” The beautifully presented trio was composed of slivers of gently seared halibut; silken textured salmon, subtly perfumed with truffles and hamachi (yellowtail) crowned with jalapeno circles. The ethereal sashimi practically levitated off the handsome ebony-hued platter.

On the Thai menu, Panang curry was replete with chunks of white chicken meat in a savory coconut/based sauce which delivered just the right balance of hot and sweet.

The bar pours exotic cocktails like Akeno-tini (sake and Cointreau), Lavender gin fizzes and Togarashi passion margaritas, all decorated with orchids and other blossoms.  This time we stuck to warm sake and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, which complemented our repast. Dinner for two with a drink apiece came to $78.85 before tip. Service was excellent.

For reservations, hours and more information visit www.akenosushuibar.com.

And…

Nearby: I Egg You, the latest offspring of the popular sandwich group, is opening soon–if not already–at 423 Eighth St. SE. Visit www.ieggyou.com.

Taco Winner

After visiting our Waterside Fitness & Swim Club on a dreary May afternoon, Peter and I sauntered over to the District Wharf. There we checked out bartaco, 645 Wharf St. SW.

Our experience certainly exceeded expectations. We thought the attractive, sprightly three-month-old bartaco would be a casual taco eatery rather than an outstanding Latino restaurant. Every morsel on the menu was delicious, service was prompt, and prices were reasonable. Our most expensive food selection was a tangy, spicy ceviche at $9.50, followed by flavorful gazpacho ($6.50) with croutons that added an agreeable crunch. We also ordered a small bowl of chunky guacamole ($6.75) along with three types of small tacos: plump fried oysters ($5.95); firm baja fish ($3.95), and seared chorizo ($2.95). We washed down our meals with a glass of Torremoron tempranillo vino ($10) and my unsweetened tea ($4) served in a huge carafe.

Bartaco’s tangy ceviche is replete with seafood and tongue-torching jalapeno peppers.

Presented on metal trays, other taco items included glazed pork belly, roast duck, ahi tuna, and cauliflower, as well as “not tacos” like chicken tortilla soup, street corn and roasted half chicken. There’s also an array of rice bowls and a kids’ menu. We were so sated at meal’s end that we took home our dessert, a jar of key lime pie ($7).  Our total bill was only $62. We will return. For hours and more information visit bartaco.com.

And…

Nearby, at 676 Maine Ave. SW, the Wharf spinoff of Milk & Honey opened recently. The 10-member, local restaurant group is known for panko-crusted deviled eggs, seafood Cobb salads, blackened salmon BLTs, catfish & grits, chicken & biscuits. (There’s another M & H at 1116 H St. NE in the Atlas District.)  For now, the Wharf newcomer has no alcohol license. For updates visit www.milknhoneycafe.com.

Market Watch

While searching for baklava–the Greek honey-soaked, phyllo encased dessert–we stumbled upon Loza Egyptian Pastries at Eastern Market. We settled on baalawa, similar to baklava. How is it different? “Baalawa (stuffed with pistachios and walnuts) has less sugar than baklava, and it is crisper and fluffier,” proprietor Asmaa Bassuny, who comes from Cairo, explained.

Loza also carries basboussa (semolina cake), kamafah (shredded pastry layers filled with milk pudding), Egyptian biscuits, cookies and boxes of assorted goodies. You’ll find Loza–which also ships her products–most Saturdays and Sundays at the Market’s farmers line. For more information visit www.lozapastry.com.