Kalina Russian Restaurant and Tea House

I came across this small family owned restaurant by way of Groupons. Kalina features a high tea meal and a brunch on Sunday. It is tucked away on the East side of Tucson and when I said small, I meant it. It is very intimate and has maybe ten tables in the whole place. Half the space is partitioned off and used for the kitchen. In the front are the tables with whimsical patterned plates and tea sets and the bold color themes of red and white.

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Because of the size, the website recommends making reservations – in case there is a rush of customers. I believe it can get quite crowded, but around 2pm on a Friday my cousin and I were the only customers in the restaurant.

We were quickly attended to by an adorable waiter (though no older than twenty-something he was clearly in charge of the whole restaurant, seeing as the older women were busy cooking or didn’t speak much English.) He saw to it that we quickly got our two teas – Cherry Sencha and Raspberry Green Tea. After letting them steep for about 5 minutes we tried them in our fanciful cups and thoroughly enjoyed the flavor. The cherry was fruity but light and the raspberry tasted like raspberries mixed with a light green tea.

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Then we made our order of appetizer, side, entrée and dessert. It sounded like a lot of food, but wasn’t overwhelming. In fact the mushroom stuffed peroshki (the fried dumpling type shape in the middle left), the cold Borscht, and salmon egg salad sandwiches all fit on one plate.

I really enjoyed the meal. It was my first time trying peroshki and borscht and I was not disappointed. The piroshki had a chewy dough and a lovely warm mushroom filling. The borscht I would describe as being sweet and refreshing. The broth was surprisingly clear (though very deep red) and the vegetables stewed in it were died a beautiful red shade (so as to make discerning which was which a near impossible task without tasting). It was a light summer soup and the sour cream really added a subtle creamy and tart addition to the flavour palette.

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Finally our desserts came. I ordered the Russian Tea Strawberry Jame Cake and my cousin, the Apple Fondant.

The jam cake was a bit disappointing, seeing as it tasted like one of those Quaker Oatmeal breakfast dessert bars. Same texture and flavor.

Though both good, the Apple Fondant was the best of the two. It was warm and light dough baked around crisp and sweet caramel baked apples. And it was just the right size to satisfy a sweet tooth without being too filling or overbearing.

Overall, it was a pleasant and quaint experience. I’m not sure I’d go again for tea (though I might be interested in trying the brunch options). But I appreciate Groupons for helping me to learn about this neat restaurant.

(Groupons by the way is an interesting mode of payment. When you buy the groupon it seems like it pays the restaurant, so when we got our bill we only had to pay tax and tip. An interesting, if off experience.)

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