From Russia With Love 

If you like to experiment, check out Little Europa.

Little Europa is yet another West End restaurant offering something exceedingly different and infinitely more satisfying than you can get at most strip-mall eateries. The food, service and atmosphere transport you away from the milquetoast surroundings outside. It’s the type of place where you want to take six or eight friends and spend a few hours laughing like jowly politicians, telling the waitress, “More, more.”

The menu is flesh-heavy, and the kitchen knows how to crank it out. The lamb, pork and chicken in the special kebobs ($12.90 — a steal) must be simmered for hours before they are grilled and slathered with a rich tomato sauce. Served over small, chunky fried potatoes with a side of julienned onions, the meat really does melt in your mouth. Likewise, the strips of beef in the stroganoff ($12.50) and the Cornish hens ($17.50) are as tender as a first kiss.

I may say it too often, but simple food is the best food if it is executed properly. Little Europa proves the case in point. The menu is long on appetizers, and one could make a meal out of these. The beans Georgian-style ($7.50), made with kidney beans, onions, walnuts and cilantro, are a superb spread over the heavy black rye bread that you can buy in the deli. If you’re with a group, order the seafood platter ($17.50) as an appetizer and pass it around. Billed as a true Russian delicacy, the platter is loaded with cold smoked salmon, red caviar, smoked mackerel, sturgeon and sprats. Again, black bread and the pickle platter ($7.50) make excellent sides. The most important piece of advice is to take your time, particularly if you visit Thursday through Saturday. This is not to say that the service is vexing; on the contrary, the staff is efficient and loaded with smiles. But on the weekends, you are afforded not only the food and service, but the showgirls.

Our first night we noticed that our waitress had disappeared shortly after bringing us a couple of tall Russian ales. The fellow playing the rockin’ version of “Hava Nagila” on his Stratocaster switched to something very folky, and out she came from one of the doors in the rear of the dining room. For the next 20 or 30 minutes we watched as she performed traditional Russian dances in a variety of outfits. She finished, Eric Clapton’s music gave us something a little lighter, and a few minutes later, the dancer returned in her black and whites to clear our plates. There was something both surreal and endearing about this. I don’t know what more to say about it. We had some pahlova and strudel ($3.50), paid our tab, and headed over to our favorite watering hole for an after-dinner drink. When we got there, a few friends were sitting together and the first words out of my mouth were, “Man, you’ve got to check out this restaurant where we just had dinner.” I’ve been saying it ever since. S

Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years and has filled every job from dish washer to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.

Little Europa ($$)
1308 Gaskins Road
754-4477
Lunch: Sunday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner: Sunday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Closed Mondays

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