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It wasn't exactly what I expected, having grown up -- like most Americans -- thinking of "stroganoff" as a dish of seared, cubed meat served in a sauce of butter, mushrooms, cream, and spices. The sauceless Ukrainian version at Moscow Nights tasted fair and utterly bland but looked just like my mother's leftover pot roast. The mashed potatoes, sprinkled with dill, were at least more interesting-looking, tinted a bright yellow from some spice. Turmeric? Saffron? I asked the server, who shrugged: "It is a secret powder we get from Russia."
Later, I called the restaurant to ask the same question, and Vladimir took the phone into the kitchen but sighed: "The label is in Russian. I don't read Russian."
The chicken Kiev ($14.95) my dining companion ordered also came with a big portion of the yellow mashed potatoes, at his request, and he proclaimed them "delicious."
I had always assumed that chicken Kiev, a breaded chicken cutlet, was a strictly American invention, like any kind of fried chicken. But in Please to the Table, the writers explain that the dish, a butter-stuffed boned chicken breast, probably started out as a classic French recipe that got a Russian spin.
At Moscow Nights, the chicken breast has been ground before being mixed with butter and chives, rolled in coarse bread crumbs and deep-fried, so the exterior is crusty and hot, the chicken inside tender and buttery. It's very, very good. There's also a Moscow-style spring chicken ($15.95), served pressed and fried on the menu, as well as grilled shrimp in sour cream sauce and a couple of grilled seafood choices. Those with bigger appetites can add a side dish of Siberian steamed dumplings ($7.95) stuffed with ground meat and served with butter, vinegar, and sour cream.
We decided to sacrifice the dumplings for dessert, which are either made in the restaurant, said the server, "or brought from a Russian bakery in New York." He raved about something called an Odessa Cake, which arrived as a wedge of iced layer cake, each layer a different cake flavor, separated by either a swath of sugary buttercream frosting or a layer of cherry-flavor gelatin. It was festive-looking but dull-tasting. The intensely strong coffee more than made up for the blandness of the dessert.
Moscow Nights also serves lunch in the Kansas daylight, but be warned: That disco ball looks pretty sad and listless in the noonday sun.
Contact Charles Ferruzza at 816-218-6925 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moscow Nights4515 W. 90th St., Prairie Village, Kan.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight daily
FOOD: Two Stars
SERVICE: Three Stars
ATMOSPHERE: Three Stars
OVERALL: Three Stars