Review: Baltic Amber in Largo serves up good Polish comfort food

LARGO — Comfort food can take many forms. Mac and cheese. Mashed potatoes. Ice cream. Pizza.

If you grew up someplace like the upper regions of Poland along the Baltic Sea, or are a descendant of anyone who did, comfort is a plate full of pierogi, golobki or kielbasa. It's the kind of food you can wear like a warm blanket, and you need all the warm blankets you can get around the Baltic Sea.

You rarely need warm blankets in Largo, so maybe consider the offerings at Baltic Amber a snug sweater.

Richard and Eva Sikorski opened the restaurant on Clearwater-Largo Road in July as an extension of their Polish deli around the corner on West Bay Drive. The deli has since closed and is moving next door to the restaurant.

In a clear sign that someone in the kitchen wants to make the customer happy, there is a Polish sampler plate. It comes in large and small and includes all the traditional favorites. Each platter has a lightly smoked kielbasa on top of a very sweet sauerkraut and a golobki, which is cabbage stuffed with meat and rice and draped in a mushroom sauce.

The small platter has four pierogi, pasta pockets stuffed with potato and cheese and served with sauteed onion. The large platter yields a few more in an assortment of the potato and cheese pierogi, as well as meat-filled and mushroom and sauerkraut versions. The large platter also has a potato pancake. Large or small, this plate is the Polish playbook. It is probably intended as an entree, but we split them as appetizers and were very, very happy about it.

The platter is always available as a special, but sometimes the items are changed. Which is sort of a shame, because the composition on the nights we went was perfect.

The rest of the menu was a little more hit and miss.

The biggest hit was the boeuf strogonow ($16.79), which, despite the spelling, is pronounced beef stroganoff. Which makes sense, since that's what it is. Braised chunks of beef are served in a creamy mushroom sauce alongside perfectly uniform potato dumplings, which, if this were an Italian restaurant, would be gnocchi. A pickle on the side seems an odd garnish until you taste it and find that the acidity counters the heavy sauce.

Two other favorites were similar to each other. The cutlet a'la Potocki ($13.95) is a pounded-thin slice of pork tenderloin, breaded and fried and served with potato puree and sauerkraut. The veal a'la Chopin ($19.95) is similarly cut and cooked pieces of veal with butter-braised mushrooms. It was surprising that the pork was a little more tender than the veal, but the veal got an added flavor boost from the mushrooms.

Some other dishes were less successful. Braised pork shank ($15.95) is always a favorite, and the pork itself was soft and tender here, but the best part of a braised dish is the sauce that develops from the long cook, and the dish didn't include any sauce. Which was a shame expounded by the presence of very good potato puree, a perfect vehicle for it. Also, the shank still had the skin on it. There are excellent applications for pork skin, but on a braised shank is not one. It was unattractive and difficult to get around.

The Amber duck ($19.95) is an interesting idea — a deboned duck stuffed with ground duck and vegetables and baked with an orange sauce — but was a bit dry.

For dessert, the apple fritter ($7.95) was a nice surprise: slices of fresh apple in a fried batter with a Polish berry sauce.

Service was a bit of an issue. Servers were perfectly amicable, but some of the menu requires further explanation for the uninitiated — particularly with many items scratched out and written over — and answers to direct questions were sometimes vague.

The four dining rooms are painted in elaborate murals reflecting the seasons. On weekends, the main dining room — summer — gets a dance floor and a polka band. The band makes for a festive evening, but would be even better with the volume turned down a bit. The room isn't big enough for the volume they were playing.

And it is probably just a trick of the mind, but the winter-themed dining room actually seemed colder than the others.

Jim Webster can be reached at jwebster@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

Baltic Amber

552 Clearwater-Largo Road, Largo; (727) 286-6111;

thebalticamber.com

Cuisine: Polish

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Details: Amex, V, MC, Discover; reservations accepted; beer and wine.

Prices: Entrees $7 to $12

Rating out of four stars: Food: ★★½ Service: ★½ Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★

Clarification

Ya ahla, in the context intended at Beirut Café in St. Petersburg, translates to "welcome." The context mentioned in a review of the restaurant on Oct. 13 was incorrect.

Review: Baltic Amber in Largo serves up good Polish comfort food 10/19/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 12:38pm]

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