Birch & Rye, a contemporary Russian restaurant headed to Noe Valley, will reinterpret food from owner Anya El-Wattar’s homeland through a Bay Area lens.
In the restaurant, classic dishes will take on modern interpretations. There will be vegan borscht, the prototypical beetroot soup, but here based on creamy cauliflower base. The magenta dish will be poured next to the table over charred cabbage and caramelized vegetables, with the option of a dollop of homemade sour cream on top.
The sourdough and other breads will be made on-site from freshly ground grains, which will also be found in pelmeni and piroshki, Russian dumplings, and meat-filled hand pies, respectively.
“The kind of food I grew up with was very traditional … very heavy and not just seasonal,” El-Wattar said. “I love California’s interpretation of local, seasonal and fresh food. I thought if I could find a way to marry the two, this would be my perfect restaurant.
El-Wattar, who grew up in Moscow, has a background in nutrition and Ayurvedic medicine. She worked as a cook at Greens, San Francisco’s famous vegetarian restaurant, and ran a restaurant business in San Francisco.
Fans of Georgian restaurant Palo Alto Bevri will be delighted to hear that she has teamed up with former chef Amiran Tskhvaradze of Birch & Rye. The restaurant will prepare three kinds of Georgian khachapuri, the popular cheese bread dish, including one with seasonal vegetables and a vegan version with beans, arugula and pickled peppers. Khachapuri dough is made from small spelled flour, a grain low in gluten, and will be baked in a wood-fired oven.
The khachapuri adrjaruli, a boat-shaped bread with cheese, butter and an egg, from Bevri to Palo Alto. Bevri’s chef heads to Birch & Rye, a new Russian restaurant opening in San Francisco.
Zakuski, the classic little bites that usually start Russian meals, are also on the menu and will include smoked and salted seafood with parsnip and avocado butter, rye bread and pickled onions.
For drinks, expect wines from California, Georgia, and France; craft beers; and a cocktail menu focused on vodka. Birch & Rye takes its name from two staples of Russian culinary culture: birch sap, which El-Wattar grew by tapping birch trees and drinking in the summer, and the hearty grain of rye. The restaurant will serve birch sap as a drink, which she says is similar to coconut water but with less sugar, and as a dessert as a jelly with fruit, caramelized pine nuts and flower petals.
Birch & Rye will have 35 seats inside, plus a chef’s counter and an outdoor patio in the back.
Russian food is not hard to find in San Francisco; Little Russia in the Richmond District is full of bakeries and markets filled with pierogi and imported Russian produce. But El-Wattar said they tend to skew the traditional and that she wants to bring something different to the table.
“I wanted a more modern interpretation of Russian cuisine. I couldn’t find it. So I had to create it in a certain way, ”she said.
Birch & Rye. Opening fall 2021. 1320 Castro St., San Francisco. birchandryesf.com/
Elena Kadvany is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ekadvany