Is it fall yet? Eating seasonal is fun, even if the differences between those seasons aren't always apparent around here. But you can usually get a good idea of what time of year it is by seeing what's on the tables at the various farmers markets. As the peaches go, you can start to get excited about yams and pomegranates, as well as kitchens full of heartier, hotter fare. Goulash, a traditionally Hungarian soup/stew, is one of those comforting foods which, while easy to find year-round, doesn't feel totally appropriate to eat wearing cargo shorts and sandals. Goulash is also one of the more ubiquitous foods in much of Europe, with versions cropping up throughout the continent. In honor of that, and the supposed change of season, we trotted out to see how the dish came out in both a Polish and a German restaurant.
Polka, a Polish spot near the Glendale/Eagle Rock border, hidden in the corner of a mini-mall, feels like what would happen if a Polish grandmother converted her living room into restaurant. Charmingly cluttered with various signs and knickknacks, and with its tablecloths covered in plastic, it is difficult to sit down here without finding yourself in a relaxed and pleasant mood. Before we even bothered to order, we were presented with a salty pea and potato soup, and shortly after ordering our lunch, we were brought a green salad. Then the goulash (here spelled “gulasz“) arrived, served with kopytka — their house-made potato dumplings — and a side of vegetables. The goulash was nicely seasoned, with a strong, soothing gravy. The pieces of meat themselves were certainly not tough, but could also have been a bit more tender. The dumplings were pleasant — though a touch gummier than ideal — and complimented the sauce well. The vegetables were disappointing, with plain cooked carrot pieces, a single piece of mushy broccoli, and corn which, from every indication, came from a can. But then, this is a simple place, and it delivered a more than satisfying meal.
For our second stop, we visited the “German Gasthaus” Red Lion Tavern in Silverlake, known less as a restaurant than as a bar with a biergarten which happens to serve food. Should we have known better than to come on a weekday afternoon as opposed to a Thursday night? Should we have ordered our food after drinking a few large glasses of Spaten? Of course. The “Hungarian Goulash” came to our table frighteningly soon after it was ordered, which is not necessarily a bad thing with goulash, or the accompanying red cabbage. It was, however, a clearly incriminating factor for the limp, thin, and tragically overcooked noodles. And while you can certainly re-heat goulash and red cabbage, it works better if it tastes good in the first place. The sauce for the goulash was excessively salty, and the meat was a bit chewy. The cabbage, meanwhile, was overly spiced and bore very little balance or nuance. While it would have been better with a few more beers, it also would have been better if it had been replaced by a bratwurst.
So it is with little surprise that we announce Polka as the victor in this battle. But to be fair, we should also point out that both restaurants certainly have their welcome place in Los Angeles, and both will be visited again in the future — albeit in some cases, under some very specific circumstances.