When Trina Quinn gave her current wife, Jessica Quinn, a cookbook called “A Gift to Young Housewives” at the beginning of their relationship, which was first published in Russia in 1861, it was mostly a gag. Both women are professional chefs, and Jessica, a Long Island-born daughter of immigrants from Latvia and Ukraine, is fluent in Russian. The instructions in the book were intended for both housewives and their servants who would actually prepare the macaroni-stuffed roast goose and fish roulade. Jessica appreciated the joke but didn’t bother studying the book at the time. Neither she nor Trina had imagined that years later it would become a symbol of their joint careers.
Jessica, who graduated from cookery school, attributes her interest in food to her upbringing – both grandmothers were excellent home cooks – but Trina recently recalled, “The first time we went out, I didn’t even know it was her Eastern European. “Eventually, Jessica took them to family dinners and to Brighton Beach, where they would buy piroshki, or Russian pies, from street vendors and shop at specialty markets. Trina, who broke veganism to try chilled cow tongue and pickled herring, thought the food was ‘mind-boggling’ At first Jessica resisted the idea of serving it at dinner parties – “She just said, ‘Nobody wants to eat this,'” Trina said – but dishes like Georgian-style fried chicken tobacco and caviar on buttered black bread turned out to be under her friends as a great success.
Then, in March last year, Trina was fired from her job as sous-chef at the Red Hook Tavern in Brooklyn. Although Jessica retained her position as pastry chef at Manhattan’s Rezdôra, her hours were cut short. The more they cooked Eastern European food at home, the more excited they were. By October, they had decided to open Dacha 46, a pop-up from their Bed Stuy apartment. (A dacha in Russia is a country house, often with a vegetable garden; 1946 is the year Jessica’s mother was born.) “There is a stigma attached to Eastern European food because it is very plain, very brown, very heavy.” Said Jessica. Guided by Jessica’s nostalgia and Trina’s penchant for near-academic research (she became familiar with “A Gift to Young Housewives”, among other things), they have skilfully broken this misunderstanding and offer menus that span centuries of the region’s history, countries and cultures away.
Her pastry repertoire includes versions of the courtly, finely layered Russian honey cake from the imperial era known as Medovik, as well as Kievsky, a decidedly Soviet cake made from meringue, hazelnut and chocolate, first made in 1956 by Karl Marx in the Kiev confectionery factory. One afternoon last month, I took two orders from Pelmeni – small, circular dumplings, arguably ancient in origin, made by the Quinns with a honeycomb shape from the Soviet era. I assumed they could take several meals; a single bite of a slippery, thin-skinned package and so much on top of that. The first batch, filled with tender ground pork and grated onions, was tossed lightly into smetana (a cousin of the crème fraîche) and topped off with freshly cracked pepper and dill. The second variety, a tribute to the Georgian cheese bread khachapuri, contained a rich, salty mix of feta, ricotta, mozzarella, and goat cheese.
Luckily, pelmeni – among a rotating row of sumac-dusted beef and lamb lyulya kebabs with cumin plov (also known as pilaf) and vatrushki, buns with sweet cheese and sour cherries – are available for weekly pre-order, at least for the next one Year in Dacha’s new semi-permanent home. The Quinns are among the earliest chefs to set up shop in the restaurant, formerly known as MeMe’s Diner, since its tenant, cook Libby Willis, turned it into a food business incubator called Keep in Touch. (Pastries $ 6- $ 12, pelmeni and kebab plates $ 17- $ 30.) ♦