Pierogis, Mixed Grill Special (Chicken & Kielbasa), Apple Cake
Occupation: Software Support Sales Operations
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Old Krakow
Reviewed Old Krakow: Friday, September 30, 2005
Old Krakow is a wonderful escape from the world of minimalist restaurants wrought of steel, glass, and concrete. Instead of the cold warehouse atmosphere so prevalent today, you feel as though you have been transported far away to another time and place — perhaps your grandmother’s childhood home. And, like home, you are spoiled with good, nourishing food in abundance.
In this neighborhood spot, easily accessible from the West Portal tunnel, you will not leave hungry. If you fill up a touch too much, a nice stroll up and down West Portal and its antique stores, flower shops, old and new businesses, and cafes, will round out a perfect evening. If it’s a foggy evening, and it often is, that extra bite or two of dumpling will protect you from the chill. Remember it’s FREEZING during the winter in Poland, so you are in good hands.
Old Krakow satisfies the need for comfort food that is flavorful, not just filling. Because this is a Polish restaurant serving authentic dishes, you most likely will find the experience to be an adventure to an unknown land. The selection of beets, cabbage (red and sauerkraut), pickles, winter veggies, etc., pushes you into picking things you may have never tried, yet find you like quite well. If this is the food mother made, it will be a welcome hug.
Food textures and flavors are just right. The steamed veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) are cooked to perfection. The pork cutlets are pounded paper thin, tender, and tasty with the burn of a grill mark and have a succulent pile of mushrooms to go with it. The meat stuffing, be it in the dumpling of the borscht soup or the pierogi, is packed with peppery flavor. This food is not to be confused with the boiled to death, bland diet of the UK and Ireland (and I can say that because I’m Irish and Scottish). It has spice and tang in equal amounts.
If there is one thing that you should have at Old Krakow, it’s the soup. We often forget how great soup is. After all, soup is THE comfort food of all comfort foods. Here, the soups are full of flavor and tender bits of this and that. I ate the pickle soup because I never knew such a thing existed. It was a fabulous blend of potato, carrots, dill, and chopped pickle. The flavor was almost lemony.
If there is one thing you could skip, don’t cry if you cannot manage to fit dessert. They are good but the desserts at Old Krakow will not make you swoon. Maybe the Polish cheesecake is worth the plunge. Otherwise, save those calorie coupons for your favorite bakery or ice cream elsewhere.
Finally, don’t be shy, say “thank you” in Polish (dziekuje, pronounced: dsyen-koo-yeh). I promise the server will know exactly what you said and feel touched that you did!
Occupation: CEO, founder of a wireless healthcare company
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Incanto
Reviewed Old Krakow: Friday, September 30, 2005
When thinking about fine dining, and one intersects the word “boiling” with the word “flavor,” unfortunately, flavor typically loses that battle. My recent dining experience at Old Krakow did not persuade me from that notion.
It seems that one of the main avenues of cooking traditional, simple, Polish food is to boil everything and then begin to assemble the meal. While their ingredients are first rate, and they care about what they are doing/serving, the food (flavor and texture) could not survive the effects of the boiling cooking technique.
The one way they try to compensate for this is to give you so much food, that at some point either the slight flavors are likely to emerge, or you simply give up because you are too full from trying not to disappoint them by leaving too much food on your plate.
With all the other food/dining options in the Bay Area, I would have not rushed out for Polish food. However, the whole point of this KQED experience is to try new venues, and on that note, it was fun. Overall, the vibe of the joint is a bit too stiff and staid. I would neither return to this restaurant nor recommend it to my friends.
Occupation: Dean, Science, Technology, & Allied Health Programs
Favorite Restaurant: Hard Knox Cafe
Reviewed Old Krakow: Sunday & Monday, October 2 & 3, 2005
Old Krakow is a lovely bright neighborhood restaurant in the West Portal. It is one of many ethnic restaurants, but, as you can imagine, the only Polish restaurant around. A restaurant with a name like “Old Krakow” evokes an image of Gothic darkness and Socialist drab, serving a slab of pork with potatoes or sausages and sauerkraut, but because this was a Check, Please! assignment, I knew it couldn’t be that kind of restaurant.
Large windows invite you into a well-decorated room with a small gazebo at the doorway and nice modern decorator touches highlighting traditional paintings on the walls, including one of a famous twentieth century Polish general. On the Sunday night we visited, every table was full and most of the patrons were older but they seemed to be really enjoying the experience.
It was clear that soups were a feature because there were several offered, so we tried the borscht and a cream of mushroom soup. The borscht — as clear and as beautifully deeply magenta as you can imagine — was an intense beef broth with no beets floating about, not a speck of fat, and with three or four tender meat dumplings slightly submerged in the soup. The sweetness of the beets and the stock were ideally matched. The mushroom soup was thick and foresty and so rich that it was hard to believe it was all vegetarian. We also had a simple beet salad, and it was a pleasure to eat beets without the canned taste that we remember from many buffet lines. Two or three kinds of bread came to the table. I had imagined big slabs of crusty and rye-y bread, but we received thinly-sliced baguette, and a sort of dark bread that was cut into small pieces.
The entrees were mixed. Three crepes ($12.95), folded square and fried crisply, seemed more like blintzes. They were packed with a mushroom filling that was…well, mushroomy. I felt like more variety (three crepes, three fillings) would have been more interesting, and would have better showed off the skills of the kitchen. The garnish of three slices of tomato did not do anything to highlight the dish. The side order of homemade grilled kielbasa had no garnish, so it sat on the plate pretty lonely except for a tasty mustard in a small dish. It was very meaty, but I kept thinking how delicious it would be if I had a good sourdough roll and a bit of sauerkraut and a little more fat bursting from each bite. But maybe that’s not how a real Polish sausage is eaten at dinnertime.
One entree — cabbage rolls in tomato sauce ($14.95) — included two really large rolls and two scoops of mashed potatoes with a tomato-based sauce poured over the top. (The cabbage rolls also come with a white mushroom sauce as an alternative). The filling was a mixture of meat and rice and would have been even better had it come to the table steaming hot instead of simply warm. The potatoes were fine. The other entree, a hunter stew, was also served with two scoops, but the presentation would have been improved if there had been a casserole-type server, so that there was more height to the plate. As it was, it seemed as if the stew was a sauce for the potatoes. Both entrees tasted fine — they were hearty and representative of what I imagined to be “typical” Polish cafe fare.
The servers were friendly, but when we asked what Smacznego! meant (it’s on the menu), he said that he was Russian and really didn’t know! All in all, Old Krakow is just what it claims to be: a charming place to try traditional Eastern European food. I think that I would like to try all of the soups because they seemed to be made with considerable care and they are unlike soups served elsewhere. The entrees seemed a bit too familiar — maybe it’s because the cooking styles have been integrated into what we know as American cooking.