Day 65: Bulgaria
Things seem to have settled down a little. After getting home from San Diego with GirlfriendBites and finding our house broken into, I’m ready for an easy lunch that isn’t too far away. Danube Restaurant in Westwood is a pretty short jaunt from my house, so I pick up my mother and head over. Our weekday lunches are becoming a fairly regular occurrence, though we have been getting pretty concerned with all the heavy eating of late. I usually just ask our server what they recommend as being their favorite, or the most typical meal of the country, and have been given some pretty unhealthy meals because of it. I’m no health nut or anything, but isn’t there a country out there whose national dish is an arugula salad with olive oil and lemon juice? I really do love most of the food I’ve been eating, but I’ve also probably cut four or five years off the end of my life by now.
Mr. Meatball has warned me that he’s not crazy about Danube, but I’ve heard some positive things, so I’m giving it a shot. When MamaBites and I sit down, we can tell right away that service is going to be slow. The dining room is full and there is a young, Bulgarian meerkat-like server running around trying to do everything by himself. Eventually, when he’s done filling up a tray with six sodas and bringing them to a large table, he arrives to take our order. He recommends three appetizers “Which one do you like the best?” I ask. “This one,” he says, pointing. Oh great. The fried one. What about entrées? Giant sausages? Perfect. What should I get on the side? Rice? What’s the most typical? “Oh, you should get cheese fries.” There are cheese fries in Bulgaria? I love cheese fries, but I also love having a heartbeat. Oh well. In the words of Steven Wright, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”
The chushka burek arrives first. An egg battered and breaded, large green chili pepper stuffed with herbs and Bulgarian feta cheese, served with slices of fresh tomato. The breading is very soft and the pepper surprisingly spicy— not by Korean standards or anything, just spicier than you’d expect. The tartness of the feta cheese is really nice and mom says “It’s like a chile relleno. And I love chile relleno. But I like this better. It’s lighter.” The bright flavor of the cheese really helps to balance it out, as does laying a bite on a segment of tomato and popping the whole thing in your mouth. This one definitely falls into the “I don’t care if it’s bad for me, it’s just good,” category. MamaBites mousaka comes next. Ground beef, potatoes and beschamel layered together and served with salad and sour cream. By itself, it’s a little exhausting. The consistently soft texture and the lack of much accent makes it feel like an extremely dressed up baked potato and has me preferring the Greek version, which is usually has a little more sauce and acidity to it. But when you drag a bite through the side of sour cream, the whole thing works a lot better and has that counter balance it was sorely lacking. The salad, meanwhile, is very familiar. Vinegar, oil, chopped up lettuce and a lot of herbs. We’ve been seeing this thing a lot in the Eastern Europe/Middle East/Mediterranean influenced countries so far.
Now the kebabche (“Bulgarian specialty” and yet another version of the famed force meat sausage) with cheese fries. Oof. Three fat, juicy hunks of cylindrical ground pork, glistening, sweating and almost pulsating in the harsh light of day. Feta covers the pile of french fries like an artery clogging, snow topped mountain range. The sausages are pliable, bending with the pressure sent down from the side of my fork. Eventually, the only slightly crispy skin relents, the meat tube opens and juice dribbles out slowly from its vaguely pink pores. I stab the severed portion of this dying creature, then take my first bite. Crushing the meat between my teeth, I can feel the fat that has coated the outside of my lips. It is looking for a host, but quick to defuse its plans, I wipe the greasy organism onto my napkin where it will hopefully die. As for the sausage itself? Picture a sausage at Denny’s. Now picture it with pure ground pork. Now make it eight times bigger. Now soak it in liquid fat for a few hours. That’s roughly what it’s like. Tasty? To be sure. But it may also be turning into some kind of pork fat monster which will start trying to take over the world, fulfilling Joe Biden’s prophecy that Obama will be tested within the first six months of his presidency. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And don’t try to combat it with cheese fries. I’m trying that now and, while crispy, fresh and tartly cheesy, it does not a well balanced meal make. Mamabites says “I should have gotten the salad.” Yes, you should have. We all should have.
1303 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Food Breakdown: 1 non-alcoholic beverage, 1 appetizer, 2 entrées
Distance From My House: 3.7 miles