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VALLEY LIFE | restaurant review

Polish Solidarity

Polka offers hearty fare that's a far cry from California cuisine.

September 08, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Polka, a storefront restaurant in Glassell Park just over the Glendale city line, exudes the sort of old-world charm that makes you wonder why Polish food has never really gained a following in California.

It's a sweet, somewhat cramped jewel box of a room, with red curtains and all sorts of oddments on the walls and hanging from the ceiling: fish mobiles, ceramic pigs playing the cello, license plates, you name it.

Entrees come with soup and salad. The tripe soup flaczki, available on weekends, is rich and filling. One evening there was spinach soup served in a delicate hand-painted cup. The house salad has a surprising Asian cast, thanks to a sesame-oil dressing.

Practically everyone comes for the delicious ravioli-like pierogi, filled with either meat, sauerkraut (soaked to tame its sourness) or potatoes and farmer's cheese.

The meat pierogi, particularly the ones with minced pork, are about as close as Europe comes to a steamed Chinese dumpling; the dough has the same delightfully al dente character, and the filling is only a salt-and-pepper-shake away from tasting Chinese as well. I like pierogi as an appetizer, but many Poles eat them as a main course.

The entrees can be mercilessly filling. I can never pass up the watrobka (va-TROOP-ka). It's just chicken livers sauteed with onions, which may sound simple, but try to duplicate its crisp texture at home. For heartier appetites, there is klopsy, cutlets of ground meat in a substantial brown gravy.

Polish cooks are justly famous for their stuffed cabbage, known as golabki (go-WAWMP-ki). Polka's version is on the light side, as cabbage rolls go. The filling is a mixture of beef, pork and chicken, and the tomato sauce is lighter than an Italian marinara.

Then there are the roast meats, which come with roast potatoes, carrots, corn, green beans and broccoli. Pieczen, described on the menu as well-done roast beef, is more like a pot roast, so tender that it almost flakes into chunks at the touch of a fork. Baranina is roast lamb, not quite as tender as the beef, but brown and crunchy around the edges. It's as good a roast lamb dish as I've had anywhere in the city.

Dessert is included with your entree. The only dessert I've had here has been a rather uninspiring strudel, but there is a nice selection of herb teas to finish off the meal.

When you call to make a reservation, the owners will tell you to bring your own wine, if you wish. What you'll really need to bring, though, is your appetite. These dishes may be light as Polish food goes, but nobody will ever mistake them for California cuisine.

BE THERE

Polka, 4112 Verdugo Road, Los Angeles. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Parking in lot. No alcohol. MasterCard and Visa. Dinner for two, $21-$32. Suggested dishes: watrobka, $7.59; pierogi, $8.99; pieczen, $9.99; baranina, $9.99. Call (323) 255-7887.

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