Russian dining destination Kachka’s sister restaurant, Kachinka, opened this Friday, attracting national attention for chef Bonnie Morales’ version of drinking snacks — an even more playful concept for an already playful chef. Morales litters the menu with cheekily-named dishes like adjika-dotted Vladimir Poutine or the Red October meatball sub, served alongside Moscow mule slushies or her famous horseradish vodka. The food itself, however, is something to behold, fun but also meticulous, served in the small, homey birthplace of the family’s flagship restaurant.
Kachinka is, in many ways, an extension of Kachka’s popular happy hour, which has developed its own following for inexpensive plates of dumplings and cocktails. “We thought it deserved its own little world,” the James Beard-nominated chef says. “We’re making it a place that’s really accessible and fun.”
Even so, Morales’ dedication to foods rich with context or personal history remains intact. Her meatball subs, her drinking board, and even a flaming sausage aren’t just eye-catching and fun; in true Kachka fashion, they have everything to do with family. Consider, for instance, the Flaming Hunter’s Sausage: Her grandfather rubbed sausages with rubbing alcohol and set them aflame, partially to sanitize, but also to create the “blistered and charred and smoky” quality Morales wanted to emulate. Her version rubs salami with drinking alcohol, arriving at the table on a bed of vegetables.
Still, she says Kachinka should be enjoyed by all, even without the backstory. “In general, the way that I cook, I really like reference points. It’s really important to be grounded in my family, but it’s not always that,” she says. “People don’t need to know the history to enjoy it, but it’s important to me.” She mentions her Red October, in which she braises cabbage and meatballs in a sweet-and-sour tomato sauce; the dish is a take on a Russian dish called “lazy cabbage rolls.” “It’s a meatball sub; you can enjoy it as a meatball sub,” Morales says. “You don’t need to know it translates to lenivye golubtsy... If you’re curious, you can ask, but that’s not the central point of it.”
Overall, Kachinka serves as a place that doesn’t have to be a special occasion, a spot that doesn’t require a reservation weeks in advance — Kachinka doesn’t take them, except for parties over 10. It’s a place you can pop in for a hot dog nestled in a scratch pumpernickel bun, a cup of $5 pickle soup, a bowl of dumplings. It’s hard to beat that for a weeknight meal. And for those craving the celebratory quality of the original restaurant, Kachka will reopen down the street sooner than you think.
• Kachinka/Kachka [Official]
• Kachka’s Casual, Affordable Sister Restaurant Opens Tonight [EPDX]
• Kachka’s Casual Counterpart, Kachinka, Debuts in Portland [Eater]
• Here Are the 2018 Portland James Beard Nominees [EPDX]
• With new restaurant, Kachka looks to give Russian food a bigger place at America’s table [The Oregonian]
• All Kachka coverage [EPDX]